Day 2 - First Full Beijing Day

The Mall
Tuesday, Feb 9th, 2016

That bed is like a brick. You can feel the springs just beneath the thin layer of cotton encasing it. I like a firm bed, but when it’s so firm that your shoulders and hips hurt from laying on your side...

I woke up at 7am, though my alarm was set for 9. I figured I should let people back home know that I’m still alive, since I hadn’t yet. I took a crack at the VPN issues that seem to be blocking me from connecting. VPNs are Virtual Private Networks that allow your computer to access content as if you were in a different country. If you’re in Canada, this is a way to watch US Netflix, and if you’re in China… this is a way to access the internet as we know it in the west. Facebook, Google (including maps and translate), Youtube, and Blogger are all blocked, so it’s pretty essential that I figure this out. Oh, but Yahoo isn’t. What does that say about Yahoo?
Starbucks Art
The VPN was like continually running into an invisible wall. I gave up due to time constraints. Obstacle number two: the hot water heater is located in... the kitchen. Apparently you have to turn it on in order to get any hot water, so you need to think ahead before showering. Because of this, it was a game of me yelling to Shimou that the water was either too hot or painfully cold. Good start.

Shimou was cabbing to a family event at the same time, so she gave me and Ms.Handler a lift to the police station. While waiting for the cab, an old couple was crossing the street, yelling at each other in mandarin. It wasn’t clear whether they were arguing, or just hard of hearing. Hilarious either way. The cab arrived and the driver really didn’t like that we were going in a different direction than originally planned. That’s what I could gather, at least. 

It turned out that the police station was closed because of holidays. Ms.Handler walked me back to my apartment and to the mall that’s literally across the street from it. There, she helped me get my SIM card… which apparently needs your passport to get approval. Strange.

Ms.Handler walked me to the nearest Cafe, being Starbucks. We passed a Papa John's Pizza, which struck me as odd. Starbucks, sure, but Papa johns? I thanked her before going our separate ways. I figured a washroom would be in there, but apparently not. These rather vague signs lead me to the opposite side of the building. I was hoping that the “man/woman” sign meant washrooms. Whenever I’m looking for something, my go-to solution is crowd sourcing. “You there! Share your knowledge with me!” and the problem is solved immediately, or you’re directed somewhere for further assistance. Instead, I wandered aimlessly. Even if I can formulate the sentence to ask where something is, I won’t understand the response. Eventually, I found it.

Play Areas on the main floor
of the Mall
Back at Starbucks, I discovered that you can order just the same as North America (Grande Cappuccino), and that my VPN was finally working. This means that my apartment’s internet is a POS. At least now I know I can come here whenever I need to do something online. I had a long call with Steve and Adeline, telling them about the trip so far, though they seemed to expect me to have accomplished a lot by this point. I’ve been here less than 24h and the majority of that time has been sleeping.

After wrapping up there, I stopped by the hilariously named “Bread Talk” which sells.. you guessed it: Phones made of bread. Kidding, it sells fancy bread. I purchased a spicy little number, and a big loaf of what looks like green tea bread. Why not? The money here still feels fake, so the costs of things make no sense. 5 yuan for a water bottle? Sure. 35 yuan for bread? That feels steep, but what does that even mean in CAD? I think.. $6? Maybe not as expensive as I thought.

In my apartment, I can hear people yelling through the floor and/or ceiling. Other than that, it’s peaceful. Fireworks have been going off since about 7 am, and you’ll hear a few throughout each hour. The air quality has been good so far today, though the mountains I can see from the living room window are now barely visible. I used to see three, but now can only really make out two. Time to invest in some gas masks before I collapse in the streets.

Lets see.. Paper tiger, Le Cool..
Oh! Spicy Grandma!
I intended to nap for an hour, but ended up sleeping for two. My fitbit, which tracks sleeping, finally updated. Apparently I only slept 9 hours over the past night, which explains the fatigue. No, that’s not enough sleep to catch up on a week of sleep deprivation and a 24h waking spell.

Shimou woke me up when she arrived at my place. We went back to the mall and tried to find some restaurants. They have hilarious names, such as “Le Cool” and “Spicy Grandma.” Apparently Spicy Grandma is good, but we couldn’t find it.

Shimou warned me about the elevators, as they’ll sometimes malfunction and say they’re at one floor, but actually be on another. You’re on the 10th floor and the door dings. Since you’re texting, you don’t really look and walk on board the elevator… except the elevator isn’t there, it’s 5 floors down. Down the shaft you go. Yes, apparently this happens, though I imagine it to be rare. After enough warnings, I asked if she had known anyone that this had happened to. She hasn't.

Ultimately, we end up at McDonalds, or Mae Dun Lao (approximate spelling to how it sounds). The options are very similar to North America, only cheaper and higher quality. One new thing I tried was this lychee-dragon fruit fizzy drink with lychee jellies in the bottom. Thumbs up!

The furniture shop across from the mall
Notable difference in housing: It seems that the Chinese don’t use those unfoldable bottom sheets that we do on our beds. They do use a sheet, but it doesn’t have the elastics on the corner that keep it on. Instead, they seem to just throw a sheet on the bottom and sleep on that, as shifty as it will be.

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