My plan for my afternoon arrival in Beijing was simple and straightforward.
1. Get some Chinese currency using an ATM
2. Get a SIM card for my iPad at the Beijing Station
3. Download the map for my hotel
4. Locate and go to my hotel
The plan failed at every step.
First of all, all arriving passengers are channelled straight out of the station through a designated exit gate so we never got into an arrival hall with ATMs and shops and things. And trying to get into the main station hall, the guard at the gate kept yelling, “No, no, no!”
Kevin managed to get some money out of an ATM we found outside, but Lars, Katja and I were unsuccessful however many times we tried. In the end, I managed to get some cash by using a credit card and choosing “Checking Account”. I paid for Lars and Katja’s metro tickets so we at least could get to our respective metro stations.
I had seen on an Internet map I had briefly looked at previously that my hotel should be a few hundred meters north-east of the Andingmen metro station. Exiting north-east, I could see the storm clouds gathering fast, and before I had walked for more than 5-10 minutes, there was thunder, lightening and a tremendous downpour. I dived into the nearest entrance that looked like it was a hotel, but it turned out to be some kind of gentlemen’s club. The staff were very helpful, though.
What followed next was a couple of hours of different people trying the help me find my hotel. I was in contact with the hotel receptionist on the phone several times and she assured me the hotel was “very close”, but neither I, nor anyone else she spoke to (in Chinese) managed to understand where it was exactly.
I knew I could find the hotel in a jiffy if I just had Internet access – or if I had printed out maps before leaving Ulan Bator! I tried McDonald’s, but their WiFi only worked if you had a Chinese mobile number.
I sat at McDonald’s with my pineapple pie. I was stuck. And wet. And miserable.
In the end, the hotel actually rang my McDonald’s outlet and dictated directions in Chinese to a member of staff, who wrote them down. Showing these directions in Chinese to a couple of taxi drivers, I found a driver that was willing to take me.
It turned out the hotel was located a few hundred meters from the Andingmen metro station, in a mini-alley leading from a narrow alleyway. SOUTH-WEST of the metro station!
Lesson: Do whatever it takes to print out maps directly from the hotel booking before getting on the train.
The only thing I had energy for in the evening as I was drying up in my hotel room was to try out different VPNs. None of them worked. I tried eleven different VPN profiles on my iPad, and none of them was working.
Cut off from Facebook, Twitter and my blogs, I felt pretty low as I wanted to bed my first night in Beijing. I just watched the flooded Beijing streets on the news. The main story of the evening.