Having studied Mandarin for the past 12 months in my final year of uni, I had won a place at Harbin University to visit as a British Universities Ambassador, with 16 other students.
Flying via Helsinki we eventually arrived in Beijing, and with Swine Flu really gripping the world in fear, the Chinese were not taking any risks. Before we’d even disembarked, air crew paraded up and down the plane pointing thermometer guns at our foreheads to test our temperatures.
Upon entering the terminal, and walking through the heat sensors set up before immigration, I am stopped and taken asside to a separate cubicle whith a small selection of other passengers- who were all foreign, so none of us had any way of communicating with each other.
After being issued with a protective mask I then sit around for ages while I am stared at, talked about, poked and prodded by masked officials with a worryingly large array of thermometers! With many notes being taken. Despite all this note-taking, temperature checking and much time spent sat around and being moved from one cubicle to another I am eventually set free to navigate my way around Beijing airport and find my luggage! Oh joy!
Despite the fact Beijing has not too long ago been host to the Olympic Games, very little English, or any language other than Chinese, is spoken! This makes ordering taxis or anything else somewhat of a challenge, combined with the fact that no Chinese seemed to know the address of our hostel, even when we had it written in Chinese by a Cinese person.
We later discover this is because the hostel is situated in a rather ramshackle part of town and has only been there six months or so. It was however a great success and appears to be a big hit with many western travellers. The Happy Dragon Hostel can be found at 29 Renmin Shichang W Alley, Dongcheng, Beijing, China, it is well worth a visit and has rooms of 2, 4 and 6 beds available.
The Chinese LOVE Michael Jackson! Even though it would seem that Michael Jackson fever after his death is now long gone, it is still rife in China, many places are still blaring his songs out onto the street and even in our hostel on the first night we watched many dvds of his music vidios and listened to his songs on repeat!
In terms of cuisine, be as adventurous as you can, we found a fantastic dumpling bar just along the street from our hostel, if you explore you will find some absolute gems! The next day we found a crazy bustling restaurant serving all kinds of ‘delicacies’ whith some fantastic dishes including peking or roast duck and some hilarious English translations to match, including “The hand holds the mutton” and “Explodes the stomach” (looked like some sort of squid dish- remarkably like an exploded stomach)! The food comes at a very reasonable price and is pretty tasty too! Having said that, I didn’t order either of the above and would advise you do so only at your own peril! You will also find some rather interesting cuisine in the hutongs (old streets) and market places, ‘dishes’ ranging from starfish on a stick to fried scorpion, chrystalis or even cicada…squid’s also pretty popular!
Apparently scorpion is a cleansing delicacy and ‘cools the fire in your stomach’ according to the stall holder who chased me down the street and thrust a six scorpion stick in my hand, when all I wanted was a pharmacy to get some Rennies!