We arrived in Beijing after an 11 hour flight and met up with the rest of our IBD Adventures group from the east coast. Our energetic and animated guide, Chris, met us at the airport and has been a wealth of interesting information about China ever since. To the first time visitor, Beijing seems to be a vast and sprawling city, characterized by long wide boulevards, and a labyrinth network of overpasses and freeways, a bewildering busyness everywhere! On our way to the Bamboo Garden Courtyard hotel, we learned that the population of Beijing is 24 million and there are 6 million cars. That seemed to make sense as we were stopped bumper to bumper, amidst hazy skies filled with exhaust, the sun a faint orange globe behind the blanket of grey. A lottery is held just to purchase a license plate and millions of people sign up every day. To actually drive in this country you need to have connections or lots of money to speed the lottery process. We learned a bit about Chinese culture, superstitions, and lucky numbers 6 and 8. We discussed the one birth policy and how there are 3 provisions to have two kids. If you are a farmer, one of the 55 minorities in China, or two single children you are able to get married and have two kids. 500 000 yuan will also buy you a second child if that is in your budget.
As it started to get dark, our bus dropped us off on a busy street in the old city and we walked down an alley to our home for the next two nights. Red lanterns lit the walkways around the bamboo garden courtyard, koi and turtles also live in the water bringing abundance and longevity to visitors. The rooms were reminiscent of old Chinese elegance, dark red curtains, gold embroidery pillows, dark wood carvings, beautiful art and designs on the ceiling and even an old fashioned telephone beside the bed. As I flopped down on the bed after a long travel day, I quickly realized I better get used to sleeping on a firm mattress, imagine a box spring and there you have it. Welcome to China!