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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



April 24. BEIJING The hotel room hadn't worked out so great.  What was only mildly annoying the night before was making me down right sick by morning and had kept me from sleeping very well.  So, after having breakfast we went to see if they had a better room for a bit more money but the hotel was completely booked.  That could be a problem.  It was getting into the May Day week holiday but the government had officially called it of to prevent people from traveling and spreading SARS so we didn't expect to find hotels fully booked!  Fortunately, the hotel next door, the Donghua, was not fully booked.  That is the difference being in the Lonely Planet book or not can make.  It was originally much more expensive but with a ten day commitment we were able to get a 25% discount on the room.  It was still more than the other hotel but the room was much nicer and on the third floor - an extra $3 that was very was well spent!

We had some logistics to take care of so it wasn't much of a site seeing day for us.  The only nearby Internet access we found was at the tourist bureau near the hotel.  They had one computer in the middle of their office that didn't provide much privacy so we went out in search of a more substantial Internet cafe.  We also had to buy a map of the city and get some cash from an ATM.  These errands took us from Wangfujing Road down a long stretch of Jianguomennei Boulevard in the opposite direction of Tiananmen.  

At the corner of Wangfujing and Jainguomennei there was a large mall below the Hilton Hotel. It was multistory and stretched for a long city block.  In the bottom level we found a food court that included a Diary Queen among other popular American food chains, and the Japanese Yoshinoya.  After indulging in an ice cream, we walked the length of the mall and continued on down Jainguomennei Boulevard. Wangfujing had only been built up three years earlier, probably causing the demise of significant old housing areas, hutongs.  Jianguomennei is one of Beijing's main thoroughfares and I can still vaguely remember the road from my visit over 10 years earlier.  At that time the Beijing Hotel and the Friendship Store were two of the biggest things around.  Now they are overshadowed by a plethora of new buildings, not least of which was the massive World Trade Center complex.  

We plugged along Jianguomennei to the 24 hour Citibank ATM where we loaded up on cash.  A bit farther down we jumped into the Friendship Store to find a Beijing map and peruse the myriad of other goods for sale.  There was a time not so long ago when the Friendship Store was the main place for visiting foreigners to buy Chinese goods.  While it still does have a vast array of things concentrated in one convenient place,  I am not sure how it survives with the growing competition in modern China.  Anyway, we found our map as well as some postcards and a few other souvenirs.  We had walked a fair distance at this point so we decided to take a break in a nearby cafe to rest our feet and write postcards. The Friendship Store also housed the third Starbucks we had seen since leaving our hotel.  We opted for a more economical alternative.   When you are spending $25/night for a hotel it is hard to comprehend spending $3 for a cup of coffee!

Another long block and a half brought us to the World Trade Center complex, housing another upscale mall, some nice restaurants, hotels, and two towers of office space.  We had hoped it would also have an Internet cafe as our guidebook indicated but the Sparkice Cafe, meant to be one of the better Internet Cafes in town, had mysteriously disappeared. We had a nice little stroll around just the same, wondering how many people in Beijing were making near enough money to keep such pricey shops in business.  We bypassed the nice restaurants, and the fourth Starbucks of the day, to have dinner at KFC.  Where were we again?  Didn't I say it was China?

The KFC was quick and cheap.  We lowered our masks for dining and separated ourselves from the masses to eat.  A guard stood wide-eyed in the middle of the eating area, spraying people's seats with disinfectant after they got up.  

It had turned into a long day and we hadn't even accomplished all of the things we'd set out to do.  I suggested that we brave the subway to get back to our hotel.  It turn out to be such a harrowing experience.  The trains were practically empty.

News reports on Chinese television showed another increase in the number of SARS cases reported.  Children were being kept from school for two weeks.  It was a bit of a concern but, again, the percentages were still small, and it was expected that there were would be some fallout from the governments slow response to the spread of SARS.  It looked as though the message was getting across and it seemed hopeful that they would get a handle on the disease.        

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30