Monday, August 26, 2013


The Great Wall

China is a fascinating country.  The fact that it is the most populous country in the world with the communist regime keeping a check on every citizen's fundamental rights is something that I have not experienced in India or the United States.  Though, with all the dangers that behold the world, no country can safely say that it does not monitor its citizens.

Exploring other cultures and understanding their day to day lifestyle is a great aspect of travel.  Anyway, I was on a one week business trip to China and my trip was filled with interesting experiences.

Day 0 - Vegetarian
The start could not have been worse.  As I got into the flight, I realized that I did not mention about my dietary requirements at the time of booking.  So, I asked the stewardess if there was any option of me getting a vegetarian meal.

She asked me,  "Have you mentioned it at the time of booking?"

I said, "No"

"Then sorry.  We don't bring vegetarian meals unless specified."

Anyway, for one of the meals, the stewardess said that there is vegetarian option and I can have it.

"Are you sure there's no meat?", I asked.

"Of course.  It's only quiche."

As I took the lid off the bowl, I noticed a beef patty lurking in the corner."

There went my vegetarian option.

Dal Makhani and Rice
But, when I checked into the hotel, I was surprised to find Dal Makhani as one of the options for dinner.  I gladly ordered that and went into a three hour sleep before jet lag set in.

Day 1 - The tryst with the strangers

Smog, not fog
I drew the blinds aside, and saw a very cloudy morning.  It was in stark contrast to the massive heat of the previous day.  I quickly got ready and headed out to catch the shuttle bus to the satellite office, and that, after a heavy breakfast.  There was a lot of traffic on the streets and people were crossing the roads in exactly the same manner as it was done in India.  It was pretty haphazard.

Just like India

Waiting for the bus
After we completed the official activities of the day, my colleague and I decided to take the Subway to the Tian'anmen Square station.  As we reached the Square and as I was clicking some photographs, I was interrupted by a stranger.  They were very friendly.  We said we were here for the first time.  They said they were students and that they were in Beijing on a short tour.  The conversation went on for some time.


"Since you guys are anyway hanging out here, why don't we take a small walk around the place?"

We didn't see the harm in it.  And as we walked on the small street adjacent to the Square, we came across a tea shop.

They said, "OK, we are going to have some tea and then move on.  Why don't you guys join us?"
I was in no mood for tea, but then, we agreed to get in.

They ordered tea, and some beer for my colleague.

We continued talking.

I was already in a hurry to leave.  I mean, I didn't want to spend the little time I had in a tea shop.  In spite of my badgering, they ordered some red wine.  It was supposedly a 1994 Cabernet.  I politely declined.

After some time, when they saw that I really wanted to leave, they asked the waitress to bring the bill.  My colleague volunteered to pay the cheque using his card.  We saw it was about 298 RMB (50 USD).    Then, the waitress came back after some time and said, "The card's not going through.  We need cash."

It was only then that we saw that the bill was not 298 RMB but 2980 RMB.  We almost freaked out.  500 USD for tea, beer and wine.  We immediately knew it was a scam.  We argued with them for about 45 minutes, and finally ended up paying 100 USD and walked out.

It was foolish on our part, but a lesson well learnt for a few dollars.

When I came back to the US, I narrated this to my friend who has been to China multiple times.  He told me that it was very common and that he had told me about this after his first visit.  He told me that he had mentioned it on his blog as well.

Maybe I had forgotten.  But, now I will never forget this incident.

Day 2 - Pure Lotus
What an exotic restaurant

Four of us in the evening decided to have a hearty meal.  So, we decided to take a visit to a pure vegetarian place (Pure Lotus) thanks to my boss's insistence.  We had to take two subways to reach the place.  It did take a little bit of hunting to get to the place.  We had to take a deviation on the main road to go through a narrow alley to reach the place.  As we reached the entrance, a person holding a huge lamp guided us to the hotel.  From there, the owner took us inside and after walking a few meters, took us to a waiting area.  The place was truly exotic.  It was modeled on the theme of caves found near the Silk Road(or Route) in Chengdu and has some kind of historic significance.

This was fantastic

Trip Advisor calls this as a classy restaurant in the region.  When we told the waitress if the food is really good here, she just said,

"We don't claim anything.  It's just that everybody who comes here says the food is good."

Modesty, we thought.

Anyway, we soon got to the dining area after a wait time of about 30 minutes.  The food was truly exotic and so was the price.  It was really expensive.  The food was good too.


We ate heartily, and walked back two and a half miles back to the hotel.  On the way back, we admired the tall structures and wondered how China had transformed itself in the last twenty years.

Day 3 - Peking Duck
On day 3 evening, the local folks took us to a fancy traditional Chinese restaurant.  It happened to be one of the good places for the famous Beijing ducks.  As soon as I saw the ducks at the entrance, I realized it's going to be hard for a vegetarian.  I ended up getting some fruits coated in sugar, sweet potatoes, some spinach and fried rice.  I am the sort of guy who would ask "No meat right?" even in a vegetarian restaurant.  So, I had a hard time explaining to them that I need food not cooked in animal fat, no meat and no fish.  All the usual blah blahs.

The place was crowded on a weekday.  And the Beijing traffic was so intense that we had to wait in the traffic for about 45 minutes just to get to this place during peak hour.

I also told my colleagues that I am taking a one day tour to Great Wall the next day.  They were like, "Did you research properly? Don't be too adventurous."

At the restaurant
Day 4 - The Great Wall and Usain Bolt

The Great Wall
I had booked a one day tour as mentioned previously to the Great Wall and Ming's tomb.  I was to be picked up at the hotel at 7 in the morning.  The Great Wall is a magnificent structure.  No wonder the Mongols couldn't enter China.  We went to the old Badaling section of the wall, where it's less crowded.  The new area is more like a traffic jam swarmed with people.  The climb to the top was excruciatingly tough.  I pride myself to be a good hiker but this was elevation at its worst.  The Fitbit which I had indicated that it was equivalent to climbing 150 floors.  The view from the top was beautiful.
The new Usain Bolt
We then went to Ming's tomb, and on the way back dropped me at the Olympic stadium.  The Beijing 2008 Olympics is one of the best games till date thanks to the mammoth effort put forth by the Chinese.  I was really happy to see the Bird's Nest, the place where Usain Bolt shot to the 100 and 200 m World Record.  I couldn't stay up till late to see the lights.  I headed straight to Silk Market after that to see all the fake items of the big name products in the US.  I went to a shop and the lady handed out a Louis Vuitton catalog book and asked me to pick any bag I wanted from the list.  The fake produce is truly rampant.

Silk Market
Beijing International Airport
I got back to the hotel, had a fantastic swim, and retired for the night.  I had my flight the following morning.

It was an eventful trip, and just like any travel, I had experiences only to gain. 


  1. good one...
    For your ref:

    1. I have read your post before. Maybe I didn't care much about the last para

      Rob explained how he was coned by some girls in Shanghai downtown. He said he met group of girls who looked like they were tourists. They were a gang of six and they started talking to him in broken English. They said they were students from Beijing and wanted to see Shanghai. They were going for a famous tea-tasting ceremony and invited Rob to join them. He agreed and went inside the place. After tasting 10 different types of tea (spoons), they were given a bill of 6000 RMB. That is like US $1000. Rob was shocked to see that bill but the girls all paid up immediately looking at Rob to pay his part. He managed to get out of there by paying 600 RMB.