Well, we finally made it. After a flight delay, a rerouting, several "WTF" moments at ticketing counters, and having all our luggage lost on the way, we are finally in Beijing. We arrived at 5:30 a.m, waited for our bags, realized they weren't coming and filed the necessary paperwork with the airline. We went through immigration and customs, and in a jetlagged daze we walked out the doors of the terminal to the taxi queue. We were instantly accosted by a man who said "taxi" and beckoned us to follow. As we passed the line of waiting cabs, it suddenly occurred to me that we should just get into the first livery cab, and not follow the seemingly well-intentioned gent to his undetermined location. We hopped in a cab, to a chorus of disappointed wails, and started driving into town.
I have never witnessed anything quite like Beijing traffic before. It is truly a testament to the engrained cultural value of social harmony that everyone can so totally ignore the rules and act solely in self interest and yet avoid any accidents. Our driver straddled lanes, merged and generally navigated the chaos like a fish swimming in a giant school. Several times I was convinced we would be sandwiched between cars, hit by bicyclists, or run off the road by larger, faster cars. He even managed to call our hostel on his cell and get updated directions, all while negotiating traffic that would make a NASCAR driver blanch.
After checking in at our hostel, we had little choice but to walk around for a while, as our room was not yet vacated. We explored the neighborhood hutong (alleys) for a while, and were delighted to find them as authentically rustic (read: smelly) and full of character as we could have expected. Clearly the Olympic development has not totally destroyed old Beijing. After getting thoroughly lost in the winding hutongs, we finally got our bearings and headed to BeiHai park. Exhausted, jetlagged and overwhelmed by the enormous city bustling around us, BeiHai was the perfect escape. People were dancing, knitting, practicing TaiChi and playing cards along the edge of the lake, and the high-rises around us were smothered by a layer of smog so that we practically forgot that we were in a city at all.
We walked past the Forbidden City to Donghuamen street where we had a delicious meal of Fujian tea-smoked duck and SiChuan beef and onions with beer (for like, $8). We checked out some of the shops in the Wangfujing shopping street, but we were beginning to get pretty tired, and had a long trek still back to the hostel so we headed back. Now we are hanging out in our tiny but charming room in our siheyuan (courtyard-style) hostel. We both stink like the dickens, but have no clothes to change into and very limited toiletries due to our luggage being lost (this is also why we have no photos yet). Hopefully the bags will arrive tomorrow, and we can show you all some of the sights of this amazing city.