I'm clueless about how to begin telling you lot about our trip to Beijing. We packed so much into 9 days that when I've spoken about Beijing to my friends and family I just jabber about random things. How about a list of adjectives:
Beijing was beautiful, cheap, crowded, huge, smelly, delicious, disgusting, ancient, modern, cold, cruel, dirty, colourful and bleak. I found it equal parts frustrating, depressing, exhilarating and exciting.
The first day we dropped our bags at our hostel and went to Silk Street. Silk Street is Beijing's haggling mecca, with over 1,700 stalls hawking everything from fake shoes and handbags to pearls, coats, glasses and of course, silk. As you walk past, each of the stall owners call out to you in English, Mandarin or Russian (and a few in Korean) asking you to come and check out their goods. I was too overwhelmed to take pictures so below is one I nabbed from here.
All of the stalls are selling almost the same thing, after a while the calls became repetitive and it sounded like I was walking past a bunch of those parrot toys that screech at you when you activate their motion sensor. The prices they offer you at first are hugely inflated, so it's your job to haggle them down to something reasonable. Tom and Lauren had done some research which helped us get an idea of what we should expect to pay and what the sellers would use against us. Apparently, if the sellers ask you to shop with them again, you've paid too much (they asked me a couple of times, fail).
Some of the things sellers will tell you:
'This is a New Years special price'
'I'll give you this price because I like your hair.'
'I'll lose money! I'll lose money!'
'You bought a bag? You want one more bag?'
'What price? Give me your not joking price.'
'You have a hard heart.'
I thought I'd hate it as I'm no good at haggling, but it was actually pretty fun. I paid 100 yuan (about $19) for a fake Ferragamo bag (far too much), and I got some chopsticks too. Tom bought some prescription sunglasses for Y180 ($35!) arguing the seller down from Y900. The most badass bargainer was Lauren, who got one seller down to Y100 from Y1500, and was then told she was hard hearted. She was delighted!
After several hours wandering around the 5 floors of goods on offer, we went and got some dinner - dumplings! There was a poky little dumpling place about 5 minutes from our hostel, and for less than $25 we got 5 plates of dumplings - duck, veggie, chicken, pork and lamb.
On the street we also picked up some dessert. There are fruit kebab sellers dotted all over the main tourist areas, and for Y2 (40c) you can get a stick of Hawthorn berries dipped in melted sugar. They're tart and sweet and it's like eating a stick of tiny toffee apples. Oh man, I want one right now! I ate probably about 12 of these during our stay, and some sugar-coated strawberries which were also damned good. Also it's impossible to look demure whilst eating them.
Stay tuned for part two.