Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The first thing I bought in China was a pair of shorts.

It’s hot here. Not the kind of happy-hot that you can escape with a cold beer or an ice-cream; rather the unhappy-hazy-polluted-muggy-hot that happens when you walk into a sauna full of uncombusted diesel.

You get used to it surprisingly quickly though, and I have since found that the haze really only happens at certain times of the day.

It was really difficult to see very much of China coming in on the plane for all the haze and cloud in the sky, and also from being positioned nicely over the wing, but from what I’ve seen so far it’s quite a spectacular city. There are some crazy cool buildings around – some with lights all over them and some that are almost shaped like (but fall failingly short) like other famous buildings (Eiffel Tower, Pegasus Tower, Freyberg Building).

The people of Beijing (Beijingians? Beijingites?) have put quite a bit of effort into making the walkways into something of a sensory experience. I saw one shopping area “The Place” that has a giant rooftop over the walkway, which, when you gaze up at the ceiling, is actually a giant television – approximately 200 meters long by 40 meters wide. The promenade is surrounded by cafes, bars, and specialty stores, and is also the entrance to (what I think is) a shopping mall. I had to stop and take stock when I heard the theme from The Titanic gently wafting from the speakers surrounding the courtyard, and it was only when I looked up that I noticed that the giant tv screen above me was playing the music video. Nothing says “I’m in a foreign country now” like 800 square meters of Leonardo DiCaprio (with Celine Dion in surround).

After leaving The Place I went to the famous Silk Alley. It is absolutely nothing like it sounds. It sounds like some atmospheric marketplace that you might see on a movie about the 1800’s, where people will sell you silk scarves and handwoven rugs for as much as it costs for the taxi ride to take it home.

But no.

It’s basically a giant shopping mall filled with market stands, and it’s loud and crazy. Every stall I walked past I was asked if I wanted to buy something, and if I made eye contact with them it was as though I had agreed to buy everything they owned in the shop.

I was doing rather well at not buying anything (I don’t want to blow all my budget on my first day!). I past 7 stalls selling pens (Mont Blanc – probably all very nice), jade Buddhas, and all other kinds of trinketry and chicanery. And then I saw what I had hoped I wouldn’t see. An optometrist. No, the irony isn’t lost on me.

The best part about this place is that you have to bargain. Hard.

I bought

  • a new pair of glasses
  • a new pair of prescription sunglasses, and
  • replaced my current lenses in my glasses and prescription sunglasses

for just over $650 NZ. Not bad. Even better when I talked them down from $3000.

Today I take on Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tuesday I’m heading to the Great Wall to fight the Mongol Hordes.

Wish me luck.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Freyberg is definitely an iconic building ;-) Good to see you are having a great time.