Wednesday, January 23, 2008

wo qu beijing (finally!)

Well, I am behind in my travelblogging, but I no longer have to wear a mask when I talk to my co-workers -- and not just because I'm in China now, where it takes more than a little sniffle to warrant biohazard protection.

On the flight into China, they give you a form to fill out with checkboxes indicating which of the following potential bird flu symptoms you might have experienced. With trepidation, I checked the box for "cough", since I didn't think the odds were good on my making it through an interview without coughing. I passed on the box for "snivelling". I know, "snivelling" is a real word, but it's kind of humorous to see it on a form.

Anyhow, I decided I was merely coffy, not snivellous. And as it turned out, no one checked the form, just like the Canadian one.


At immigration, you (the immigration customer) get a little panel to rate the officer for level of service. You can choose between very happy face, kind of happy face, okay face, unhappy face, and super unhappy face. I pushed the button for very happy face. He was fast.

I really wish USCIS would add buttons like the Chinese service has. For instance, the USCIS official who stamped the boy's passport with a negative date range in 2007? He would SO get the super unhappy face. And the guy who told me to go to Tijuana to get a visa stamp? super unhappy face.

But I liked the Chinese official. He was nice and efficient. Americans: you could learn something here.

Our hotel is the Beijing Hotel, on Chang An Jie. It's steps from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. This is particularly amusing because Chang An Jie is one of the Canonical Street Names Used In Chinese Lessons, and Beijing Fandian is the Canonical Hotel used in How To Ask Directions examples. I didn't plan it this way, but let me tell you, when getting into a cab, my pronounciation is stellar.

Sadly, Chang An Jie is really really really far from the office. It's 90 min by car in rush hour traffic, and 60 by subway. I should probably move (this is about what my regular commute is at home) but I love being steps from downtown, even if I was too cheap to spring the extra 250 yuan (35 USD) a night for the view.

Beijing Fandian was built around 1900 and feels like an old railway hotel. My room is huge. And we're steps from the subway station.


I am really wishing I had studied harder in class. I have the most basic Chinese vocabulary, and everything here works through bargaining. I got my host at the office to negotiate laundry service for me. It's hard to find a laundrette, so you have to pay by the piece.

I have a week's worth of laundry, and the hotel charges San Francisco hotel prices. As in, I could buy a new wardrobe for that. So the negotiation with the girl from the less expensive laundry service who comes to pick up my clothing goes like this:

[laundry girl] ...and six pairs of socks. That will be 155 yuan. (22 USD).
[my host] okay, and remember, I have a coupon.
[laundry girl] huh. all right. so, we'll have this done by friday.
it's tuesday. i only have underwear and socks to wear because i washed them in the sink at the hotel.
[me] what???
[my host] she says friday.
[me] friday? but i don't even need ironing!
[my host] she doesn't need ironing.
[laundry girl] friday.
[my host]
rapid-fire Chinese with very concerned face.
[laundry girl]
rapid-fire Chinese with very concerned face.
[my host] she says maybe thursday.
[me] this is not good. i have a talk on thursday. i really need clean clothes. i will have to go somewhere else.
[my host]
more rapid-fire Chinese.
[laundry girl]
[my host] she says tomorrow afternoon, but it will cost extra.
[me] how much.
[laundry girl] 30 yuan.
[me] okay, 30 yuan extra, but i pay when she brings my laundry back.
[laundry girl] right.

I am waiting now, for my laundry. I really hope it gets here, or I'll be giving that talk in long underwear and a skirt.

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