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    Monday 7 September 2009

    Day Six – Beijing Calling

    Like it or not, we’d an early start this morning, thankfully we’d stayed in last night. Taking a taxi outside our apartment, some €4 later we arrived at the Chinalink bus terminal in The Elements Shopping centre to take the 7:15am bus to Shenzhen Airport, in mainland China. It’s actually possible to check into your flight at the bus terminal, but for some reason, this was not working for our passports.
    The total journey time from Hong Kong to Shenzhen was a little under 90 minutes, taking a newly opened western corridor connecting Hong Kong to the mainland. At the border we had to change bus after clearing immigration. The complete immigration process was very smooth, the hall is quite long, Hong Kong at one end China at the other. Clearing exit checks with Hong Kong, where our visa was revoked, we moved to Chinese health check, were our temperature was taken (in case we’d swine flu) then onto Chinese Visa control.  The complete process only took 10 minutes. So fast, so smooth, nothing like the stories we’d read online. Leaving the hall, our connecting bus awaited taking us to the Airport.
    You can tell you are on the mainland as soon as you board the connecting bus as it changes from a right hand drive to a left hand!
    Arriving at the airport, we checked into our flight and changed €100 worth of Hong Kong Dollars into Chinese Yuen. Unsure of the currency, we didn’t think we’d have enough, but this was soon made clear when we ate breakfast at the KFC. A breakfast for two of us was only RMB20 (around €2).
    Shenzhen Airport is local, very local. No one speaks English. Everything is in Chinese, so be prepared to make lots of funny hand signals and get some weird looks from the locals. Even the toilets are local, so holes in the ground!! We boarded another Boeing 747, taking us the 3hours to Beijing.
    Arriving around 2pm, we made our way to the city and our hotel, Crowne Plaza. The Airport Express is the best way to get into the city. It only costs RMB25 (€2.50) for a single journey, linking you with the Beijing Subway, where we picked up their equivalent of an Oyster Card (The Beijing Smart Card). This was rather difficult as no-one could speak English and not many use the card. It appears to have been introduced for the Olympics last year, like a lot of the infrastructure in the city, but locals haven’t embraced, preferring to pay for single Journeys. The deposit is RMB20 (€2). We loaded ours with RMB30 (€3) to get it going for at least 1 or 2 journeys. However we learned a single journey to anywhere on the network is only RMB2 (20cent)!!!! Buses costs RMB0.4 (4cent). Transport in this city is VERY VERY cheap and taxis are included. A basic 2km ride is capped at RMB10 (€1), which is payable in either cash or using the Smart Card.
    To be truthful, we both felt a little frightened the first day in Beijing. It’s a massive city with a total area coverage equivalent to that of the entire country of Belgium. People are everywhere, contrast is apparent. People reacted as two white hairy legged Irishmen shared their local subway. Some laughed, others starred whilst some just took photos. This was something we weren’t expecting. Given the fact the city hosted the Olympics last year you would think outsiders are common, but this is not the case. You’ve lush rich areas beside backstreet markets. It felt more like eastern Europe then a capital city as we walked from the subway to the hotel, which itself is located in rich shopping area.
    Being a platinum member of their loyalty scheme, arriving into the Crowne Plaza we where ushered to the private members check-in on the 8th floor. We’d been given a business upgrade on the top floor!
    It was approaching 5:30, so we didn’t unpacked, just headed straight down the road to the nearby Tien’a min square. We like to walk or take public transport where possible, but a time saving tip is use taxis in this City. They are too cheap to be avoided! 1000’s of locals where gathered in front of the Chairman Mao image. Something was up. The Army were everywhere. They marched past using at alarming speed then started screaming at the crowds. We were then pushed back like a pack of sheep being herded by dogs. It was rather intimidating. I was frightened but wanted to capture as much on tape. As it happened, what we were witnessing was the nightly lowering of the national flag.
    This city is on constant alert. Police/Amy and guards are stationed almost everywhere in the communist uniforms’ rather like the Soviet or Germany Army during the world wars. They are turned out to impress and mean business. Entering the underground passageways or subway you’ve to pass Security control where bags are scanned and people are searched. It turns out the city is gearing up for the 60th Anniversary of the countries communist formation. Preparations are well underway and security is very tight.
    Standing amongst the crowd, we really felt like outsiders. The way we dressed, the colour of our skin etc. People again starred, one even asked for photo of her standing beside us!! Beijing is going to different!!! 

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