Saturday, February 14th, 2004 – Day 361 to Wednesday, February 18th, 2004 – Day 365

Saturday, February 14th, 2004 – Day 361

I was now in my hostel (I stayed in the associate hotel opposite for one night) and its Ok but shared bathrooms. I don’t mind backpacker hostels per se … Its the people in the room that carry it (or not). Luckily there are no snorers in the room. At the moment we have a Asian-Australian, a Irish guy (just moved here from Taiwan where he was teaching English to do the same here) and a mystery man (Asian guy from Hong Kong who was in bed my 8.00pm).

I was up at 9.30am and decided to spend the day shopping. For the last year, I have purchased little for myself (except pirated DVD’s) for my family and friends. I headed to the silk Market first of all by subway. It is the most popular tourist market in Beijing; best for clothing and jewelry anyway. It has the best fakes in china from north Face jackets to Prada purses

Silk Alley–The famous Silk Alley Market (Xiushui Shichang) is located at Jianguomenwai Dajie and Xiushui Jie (the first alley west of Dongdaqiao Lu), a half-mile east of the Friendship Store in the Chaoyang District. The Yonganli subway stop is very near. The south entrance of this market looks to be nothing more than a hole in the wall where a storefront might have once stood, but this is the gate to Beijing’s most popular clothing market. Hawkers barking “CD-ROM!” stalk the sidewalk outside, selling bootlegged music and movie discs (of dubious quality). Squeeze in through the main gate and then press along either of the two main passageways for a look at hundreds of booths. There’s not much silk in Silk Alley these days, and the astonishingly low prices that once thrilled travelers are becoming harder to find, as the initial asking price seems to be about three times what it should be. Nevertheless, there are some good deals to be had here on “name-brand” sportswear, Gore-Tex jackets, silk apparel, fake Levi jeans, sweaters, and Nike-like footwear. Try them on–some of these items may even be the real McCoy. Logo luggage and handbags abound, as do Timberland shirts and designer-label shirts and blouses. (I’ve had mixed luck here: poor quality designer shirts for $10, The North Face copy-jackets and gloves for $25, a good duffel bag for $5, and reasonably decent faux silk ties for $1.) There’s a fair amount of duplication among vendors, so keep browsing before you haggle. Silk Alley runs on for a few blocks due north, emptying out at the intersection of Xiushui Dong Jie and Xiushui Nan Jie near the embassies of Ireland, Bulgaria, and the U.S. in a pleasant diplomatic district. Open daily from 9am to sunset.

It was a lot smaller than I expected and full of tourists. The problem is that many do not have the ability to bargain. Its simply not in them, especially if they come directly to china from a Western Country. The sellers simply quote an outrageous price i.e 80 Yuan for a jacket. The naive tourist will say to himself – ha, I will say half and the deal is done even though the garment is worth 100 Yuan. You have to give them an outrageous;y low figure back: like 10% of the asking price – i.e 80 Yuan.

Even better, realize its a fake product and ask yourself, how much is it worth to me and don’t move from that figure. For example, I purchased a fake Adidas trainers. I went to a few stands and got a general idea of prices, bargaining them as low as possible and then telling them the biggest trainer size was too small. Once I got an idea of the lowest price (75 Yuan), I went into another place and said I would buy them for 65 Yuan. He wanted 340 Yuan!!!! After five minutes and me walking away, I had them for 70 Yuan. Big drop. I got a North Face Jacket for 120 Yuan (asking price was 800 Yuan), BARGAIN HARD.

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Chenglish at the Great Wall yesterday- Beijing – (14-02-2004)

I took the subway to a few shopping areas but only purchased a few fake ties. Spent the day walking about. Its a massive city and very smoggy.

Sunday, February 15th, 2004 – Day 362

I was speaking to the Aussie last night and we decided to go to a market today. Its a market that starts at 4.30am and closes down around noon. We got up around 7.00am and we took the number 12 bus directly there.

Panjiayuan Antique & Curio Market–Also called the Sunday Market, the Dirt Market, and the Ghost Market, Panjiayuan (tel. 010/6775-2405) is located well south of downtown on Huaweiqiaoxi Nan Dajie, inside the Third Ring Road (Dongsanhuan). Some regard this as the best antiques market in China. The best time to go (the only time, according to locals) is Sunday morning at dawn or shortly after. Panjiayuan is open Saturdays, too, from dawn to about 3pm, but early Sunday morning is the hot time to look and buy. As many as 60,000 shoppers visit here each Sunday. Taxis from downtown hotels take about 25 minutes to reach this distant market (35RMB, $4.20 each way; no subway). The attractions are ceramics, furniture, antiques, and the exotic, with an emphasis on collectibles, many of which seem to have been family heirlooms. The vendors are as interesting to watch as the wares. The market is surprisingly well organized, divided into aisles beneath flowing, brightly striped canopies. As many as 3,000 vendors gather here (paying 300RMB, $36 a month for space). The aisles are even numbered and labeled, rather haphazardly, in English. There’s an aisle for “Jade,” another for “Folk Secondhand,” and one for “Brone [sic] Teapot.” Scrolls are displayed on one side wall. Among the more massive items are rusty cannons, Mao posters, Tibetan costumes, Qing dynasty furniture, sewing machines, large Buddhist statues, and even upright pianos. There are food stands just outside the marble aisles and an air-conditioned building serving fast food, apparently intended for foreigners and named “House of Guests.”

We found the market boring and so we headed back into town for breakfast. The buses are fine as they are just 1 Yuan but they are so packed with everyone standing and squeezed together. A pick pockets dream come through.

We had got details yesterday on a big plaza called PC online and computer city. As we are both tech heads we got the number 4 bus costing 2 Yuan. This is one big feckin city. It took 1.20 minutes to get there by bus and were still within the e city – near the outer ring road. We spend a few hours in these packed (weekend shoppers) high technology centres. While prices were good, range not as wide as Bangkok.

I still purchased a USB joystick for PC gaming, a memory card media Reader for my camera and a firewire Cord. I also looked into buying a DVD layer. Shinco seems to the best seller in china and its relatively cheap compared to Western DVD players.

During the evening I took the 603 bus to the French Supermarket Carrefour to check out DVD players as well as purchasing cheap Mach 3 razors.

Once I got back I met the other Irish guy from the room. They have a shop at the hostel which sells bottles of beer for 2 Yuan (.20 cent). We got totally pissed. In this cold, my need to go the toilet increases so I was back and forth all night. I staggered to bed.

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Panjiayuan Antique & Curio Market – Beijing – Military kitsch (15-02-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Panjiayuan Antique & Curio Market – Beijing (15-02-2004)

Monday, February 16th, 2004 – Day 363

I was up at 8.00am and headed back to another Technology centre where I decided on the Shinco 315 DVD player for 750 Yuan (75 Euro). My one big purchase. The guy at the shop had no English but he tried and we tested the player with various disks and connections. You can change the setup from Chinese to English. They say here that there is no point in buying Sony, Panasonic etc. As they are not designed to play pirated disks. The Shinco models are designed for the Chinese market and can play all pirated and damaged disks.

Anyway I was back in the hostel by 10.00am where I met Nick. We decided to head to the Russian area and the Russian market.

Yabaolu Market (Russian Market)–Formerly a massive outdoor market located on the northeast corner of Ritan Park on Ritan Lu in the Chaoyang District, this market favored by Russian clothing buyers has undergone several great moves. As a result of a city government initiative to upgrade and bring indoors the outdoor markets of the city center, the outdoor stalls that lined the northwest side of Ritan Park have disappeared. Some of the vendors reappeared in the brand-new, very spiffy Ya Bao Lu Shopping Centre that occupies the first block of Yabao Lu west of Ritan Park. This arcade (open daily 9am-7pm), like the neighborhood restaurants, still caters to Russian business travelers shuttling back and forth across borders with furs, leather goods, wool coats, and other textiles in bulk. Speaking of leather, if shoes are your shopping fetish, the Beijing Auterlima Shoe Market (open daily 9:30am-6:30pm), a second indoor offshoot of the outdoor Russian Market, now flanks both sides of the north entrance gate to Ritan Park. The biggest move of all, however, was the creation of a mega-Yabaolu Russian Market in four buildings under a series of blue metal roofs at 16 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie (east of Full Link Plaza). This complex, containing 1,500 stalls that rent at about $450 a month each, is chock-full of winter and outdoor clothing, furs, fake designer fashions, household goods, and cheap bric-a-brac.

You could spot the Russians everywhere, especially the women – usually over weight and wearing gaudy colorful fake furs. Most of the stalls in the shopping centers sell wholesale to Russians and many of the Chinese stall owners speak Russian. Even the pirated DVD’s here have Russian covers and subtitles. Funny place in central Beijing where all the advertising sings are in Russian. I would love to visit there sometime.

From there we walked to Beijing’s top shopping area called Wangfujing and Dongdan streets, where the most modern and the most traditional modes of retailing commingle. Here you’ll find Beijing’s two top megamalls, Sun Dong An Plaza and Oriental Plaza. I didnt buy much.

We got back around 6.00pm and I starting packing. Well packing and throwing away the clothes I have been wearing for the past year. The cleaning ladies can have thewm. I decided to leave my Adidas trainers where were in bad shape and contained 3 insoles. I left a pair of torn jeans which I could clean the stains from and my light Chinese army Jacket which I purchased a few months ago. I also purchased a 20 yuan case for the DVD player.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

My last njight in bejinga nd my last night of my RTW before heading home – Beijing (16-02-2004)

My flight back to Ireland via London is at 12.30pm. I wanted to get an early night. I had two beers in the hostel and had an early night.

Tuesday, February 17th, 2004 – Day 364

I was up around 7.00am and had breakfast. I had gotten a girl at the hostel to write a note for a taxi driver to take my to the CALL building at the top end of T. Square where buses for the airport leave from. They say it takes one hour thirty but you should get there in an hour. I got a taxi outside the hostel and it took him a while to find his way through the traffic. It was kind of my unwritten rules that I avoid taxis over the year (as well as McDonald’s, Irish Pubs and various other quaint ideas). I think I have taken less than half a dozen taxis over the year. Don’t get me wrong. I have taken hundreds of moto bike taxis and tickshaws etc, but no, weird, I know but no 4 wheeled taxis!!!!

Anyway he got there for 10 Yuan (which means the journey was less than 2.5 km). Taxis are quite honest and they print off a receipt for you at the end. I hear in some taxis, you are warned in English (computer) to note the drivers number.

Anyway, I got there at 8.00am and the next bus was at 8.30am. The ticket cost 16 Yuan. It was one hour to the airport. I love airports, as if people had previously read this blog, they know I hate customs and immigration officials. I feel they might not like me 🙂 as well a the 300 odd pirated DVD’s in my bag. I would hate them to be confiscated at the stage of the trip.

Anyway I paid the airport tax of 50 Yuan and I went through customs. I have purchased a bottle of cheap booze 2 days ago for 5 Yuan to knock myself out on the plane but the security guides confisciated it. Feckers. At least I persuaded the check in lady to give me a access seat which has leg room. I thought some thing was up as they didn’t give me my ticket for about 10 minutes. Its a big heap at this stage so they took a lot of time and three personnel to give me the all clear.

I boarded the plane at 11.45 and settled in to watch movies and drink myself stupid as in all these years I have rarely slept on planes. I simply can not do it.

Anyway, I watched the mediocre School of Rock, the disappointing intolerable Cruelty and the matrix Revolutions (first time to see it) and though it was a fitting end.

It was a BA flight. It was busy but the stewards were chatty and friendly. I was speaking to one guy for about 30 minutes as he quizzed me on various places. For an flight attendant, he had not been to many places.

I arrived in Heathrow at 3.00pm. Its a big place but well sign posted. It took about 40 minutes to get from terminal 4 to terminal 1. From there I watched the lousy weather outside the window and Sky news until my 6.00pm flight to Dublin on a packed Aer Lingus Flight.

I felt weirder and weirder the closer to home I was getting. Dispointed and not at all some sick yet.

I wasnt allowed to take my hand luggage on board – i hate customs as my bag was deemed too big in a full flight. I hate this crap as I took out the DVD player, I saw about 20 business men pass through with similarly sized and bigger bags than me. Kind od pissed me off. It was a full flight.. so full it was stufft. its now a Ryanair type of flight. you must purchase any food or drink. At least its a really short flightand I arrived in Dublin at 7.00am.

I love Dublin Airport. No straight lines. You must go upstairs, tend down about half a dozen times along narrow corridors before getting to bagge collection. In all my years, i ahve never seen a customs man in Dublin. Indeed my passport wasnt even checked once I arrived in Dublin. We all walked through. My sister wa waiting for me ath e airport. all kind of weird.

The sister had the car and I would stay at here place in Dublin that night. I rang all the immeiate family on her mobile to say i was abck. After getting my abgs out, me grabbed a bite to eat. I didnt get the prices, around 3.00 Euro for a pint. That would have bought me 15 litre bottle of beer in China. ha.

I had an early night as I was heading home to Cork tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2004 – Day 365

I was up around 7.00am and heading to town around 8.00pm by public bus. I chaged in the city centre for the train station. i didnt do any sight seeing in Dublin. I will leave that for anyother time. I purchased a few news papersn and waited around for the 11.00am train. It was a quite afair and I was nearly first to board. It was a pleasant journey back down. My dad was waiiting for me at the station and it good to see him. We had lunch in the local town before heading home.

It was pretty weird to be home. Said hi to the family Dog who seemed to recognise me and called by to my elder brother in his house.

The Brazil – Ireland match was on at 7.30pm. Enjoyable match.

I am home – home – Cant really believe or want to believe it.