Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Touchdown in Beijing

It was not the best flight I've ever had. The plane arrived in Berlin an hour late. After we boarded, we were further delayed by a maintenance issue that kept us on the tarmac for nearly 2 hours. No entertainment system usage,  or food or beverage service during that time, and no restroom usage. We were a planeload of unhappy, restless passengers.

Oh, well. At least it was easy to get to the airport in Berlin, and getting through security was a breeze. And, I had scored an aisle seat! How lucky!

Lucky because, for some reason, my leg chose that time to act up. Have you ever heard of Restless Leg Syndrome? It is a condition that causes your leg(s) to twitch, painfully and uncontrollably. Episodes can last for hours. I am only mildly afflicted and, usually I can abate the spasms by drinking water and walking around, neither of which I could do on this grounded airplane. Even after we took off and regular service started, my leg kept twitching. Thanks to aisle seating, I could get up and walk around...

when the flight wasn't turbulent. Mostly, the seatbelt sign stayed on. Then, I just twitched (and moaned). 

The memory of pounding on my leg (to make it stop twitching), sleeplessness, terrible food and stingy drinks faded as soon as we touched down in Beijing, at 10:40 AM. I'm more than halfway home! I can now commit all that I've experienced to paper and share it with you!

As soon as I navigate the Beijing subway again and find a hotel to stay at. I did not yet have a train ticket back to Wuhan and, by the time I made it across Beijing, it would be too late to board a train that would get me to Wuhan at a decent hour. Besides, with no sleep during the flight, I wasn't in any shape to wrangle passage on a bullet train and travel another 5 hours.

I had a hotel in mind, right close to Bejing Xi train station. I'd lodged there before; the rooms are comfortable and the price is accommodating. All I had to do was get there.

When I did, they turned me away, pointing to a hand-written sign: “We are not accepting foreign guests”. The hotel next door also refused me.

Color me astounded! A hotel, turning certain guests away? I'd only ever heard of that in America, when segregation was in force, and in South Africa, during Apartheid. And why now? There'd never been a problem with my getting a room in either of those establishments before!

FLASHBACK: on my way out of Beijing, all of those hotels around Dong Zhi Men that turned me away, and the rental of a super expensive room because nothing else could be found (See On To Germany entry). Would the same thing happen now? Would I be forced into accommodations much costlier than necessary?

The second hotel desk clerk pointed me to a concern that would accept foreigners. 333 Yuan per night for a windowless room. On the brink of exhaustion, I handed over my cash card, silently cursing the fact that that amount was about 180 Yuan more than I had paid at the first hotel I had tried.

I won't tell you about getting ripped off at the restaurant but I will divulge that buying a train ticket the next morning, after breakfast (where again, I was ripped off) was a snap. I would be in Wuhan that evening! 

It was time to reach out to all my friends who had been frantically messaging me, to tell them I was on my way home.

Sharing with Alan the tale of getting turned away at hotels, he messaged back that his foreigner friend had gotten turned away from several houses too, in Hangzhou. Idly, we speculated that it was because of the G20 summit. But that didn't make any sense...

Two weeks later, I was planning another trip. Wary of being turned away, I called several hotel chains I would normally frequent in my travels, asking if I could lodge there. “No”, “No Foreigners”, “No way”.

“Where can foreigners stay?” I asked the 7 Days Inn clerk, the 4th hotel I contacted.
“4- and 5-star hotels only.” she replied.

Three different cities, all the same result: foreigners getting turned away from all budget hotels.    

In my opinion, this new 'rule' is a mistake on China's part. Many people come here to explore the country; being forced to pay way more than necessary for accommodations is a great way to discourage traveling. For all of those 'foreigners' who wish to discover and enjoy the true flavor of China, in small towns and out-of-the-way places; for backpackers and budget travelers, that option is now off the table.

I suppose I should be grateful that foreigners are not required to stay in terrible hotels.

I simply can't see the reasoning behind forcing foreign guests to pay more than any other traveler. What is the purpose of this new rule?  

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