My first few nights were spent at StayinBeijing Studio Serviced Apartments. Cheap, located in a good area with lots of shopping (New World Shopping Center and the SoShow), super silly cheesy decor, and though it was not as clean as I would hoped it would be, it was good enough. I ventured out on the first evening while it was still light out to grab some food, check out the area, and see if I could buy train tickets to Mongolia.
The first 3 things I noticed about Beijing:
Bellies. Men show their bellies, all kinds of bellies from thin and wrinkly ones to big beachball-eque ones that resemble a fat happy Buddha sculpture. No shirts, or baggy undershirts rolled up to your nipples, are in this season!
Spitting. My Lonely Planet said, "Spitting in China is only slightly less popular than badmiton," and it's true. Furthermore, people spit like they grabbed that loogie from the depths of their being and dragged it through swaps and miles of rough mountainous terrain before placing it in your path. Spitting in China is quite performative. It has a song and a dance completely unlike the spitting I've seen anywhere else. Phlegm is flung onto the pavement like it was always meant to be there; that's its home... and the same seems to go for the trash. A Chinese trash can has an uncanny resemblance to the street, and there is no shame in doing these things.
Good Street Food. I purchased a huge slice of some kind of melon for 1Yeun, or "quai" as they would say. I love fruit on a stick!
I successfully found the train station, but was a complete failure when it came to buying tickets. First of all, nothing--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING--is in English. All the ticket booths are outside along a huge square filled with people who just plopped themselves down, on a piece of newspaper or whatever, and had made themselves at home while waiting for their train. There I was wandering around for about an hour looking for the International Booking Office that doesn't exist. I finally found one window with a little piece of paper in the corner that said something in English, "For international train tickets please visit the CITS at the Beijing Tourism Building @ No. 28 Jian guo men wai st. near Gloria Plaza Hotel. 6515-8010 or 8516-2288 ext. 2110." Of course, by that time they were closed, so I wandered back to where I would rest my head. However, I couldn't resist going to a couple grocery stores before calling it a day. I found so much good stuff!
At the grocery store I bought:
a tube of colgate
travel wet towel thingies
a funny little drink
tide (in bar form?)
Ramen (just in case I encounter culture shock and need to be reminded of Korea)
a yogurt drink with acidophilus (good for your tummy)
chocolate ice cream bar
bar of oil of olay soap
Bottle of Tsingtao
= 28 CYN or about $3.50
I went to sleep pleased. No tickets for Mongolia yet, but all in all a fantastic first day in China!