Updated: Feb 10
Let me just start by saying this... I had no idea what to expect from China. I mean, it's not everyday you see people flocking there for fancy tourist retreats and luxurious vacations. Other than the iconic Great Wall, I don't really know a whole lot about China other than the fact that it's a communist country and they have a hand at manufacturing a lot of our (USA) products and materials. Outside of that, I was clueless as to what exactly the country (Beijing in particular) had to offer. I quickly found out that there was much more to do and see than I initially realized...
I will admit that it was a rough start when I first arrived in Beijing. I had a very early flight out of Thailand into China so I was a bit groggy and disoriented upon arrival. The good thing though is that the flight from Phuket was only about 2 1/2 - 3 hours long, so there was no suffering there. However, as a somewhat experienced traveler, I was under the impression that there were certain things I could handle when I arrived at the airport, like exchange currency from my credit card. Boy oh boy was I WRONG! I spent about an hour in the airport looking for a kiosk machine or currency desk to exchange money off my credit card for me, to no avail. Eventually I gave up and decided to just book a taxi to my hotel and use an ATM machine there. I was directed to where the taxis load passengers and went to wait on a ride. After about 5-7 minutes I managed to get a ride to my hotel. MISTAKE number 1 was assuming that the taxi driver would have a credit card machine in his cabbie for me to pay my fare. (It's an option here in the US and I figured if China was technologically advanced, they'd have it too) But he didn't and here is where the problems begin to pile up... *eye roll*
I get to my hotel, pull out my credit card and he looks at me like I'm painted blue with red hair or something... *double eye roll* Because of the language barrier, I had a difficult time trying to explain to him that I had no cash and needed to use an ATM machine. I left my belongings in the taxi and went into my hotel to check in and find a money machine. Once again, I immediately ran into more problems when the front desk staff barely spoke any English. Eventually I found an ATM machine tucked into a corner of the lobby and went over to use it... To my dismay, the ATM would not accept my credit cards! At this point, I'm frustrated, tired, upset and already ready to leave China. The taxi driver enters the hotel to look for me and starts talking to the hotel staff in their language and pointing at me (I'm guessing he was explaining that I hadn't paid him) After trying 5, YES 5 of my credit cards at the ATM machine and having NO success, a hotel worker suggested (in broken English) that the taxi driver take me to a bank to withdraw cash. With no other option, I agreed.
After a quick ride up the street to the bank, I exit my cab and go into the bank to use the ATM machine there in hopes that it would work for me, but NOPE! No luck there either. By now, I'm fuming! Pissed off to highest point of pisstivity! A bank teller tried helping me by suggesting that I call my credit card company to see why my cards weren't working, but of course my American phone doesn't work in the foreign country. *Triple-quadruple eye roll* Luckily I managed to connect to a weak wifi signal in the bank and sent an emergency WhatsApp message to a good friend back home and asked them to send $50 bucks to my debit card account. To my rescue, they got the message and sent the money immediately! Finally, I could breathe a breath of relief since the ATM machine accepted my debit card. I withdrew just enough money to pay the taxi driver which ended up being 100RMB (Chinese Yuan which equals roughly about $14 USD) He took me back to my hotel and I was able to check in and put that whole ordeal behind me. Thank God! What a horrible way to start a trip in a new country!
By this point, I'm exhausted and just want to get into my room to freshen up and take a nap. That entire fiasco lasted about 2 hours!! *Shaking my head* Despite the communication barrier with the hotel staff, I was able to get checked in fairly quickly and headed up to my room. I showered and lounged around for about 20 minutes. Just enough time to get the negative start out of my mind and sway myself back into remembering why I was there and to try to make the most of it. After a brief self-prep talk, I was good. I decided to go out for a walk and find some food somewhere around my hotel. I walked around for a good 10-15 minutes with no luck. Besides, I was still a bit tired and even more put off by the locals staring at me like I was a ghost. I get it, many of them have probably never seen a Black person in their neck of the woods, but it was getting to me. I retreated to my hotel room, ordered some room service and called it a night. I decided that going to bed and starting fresh the next day would help me to feel better about this leg of my trip. Using the hotels free wifi, I transferred some money to my debit accounts and went to bed.
I will say this, that was only negative thing to happen to me during my visit to China. Everything else was easy breezy. I set up a couple of tours that would allow me to see the city in depth and keep my time occupied. I spent a total of 5 days in Beijing. During that time I had some amazing experiences and learned a couple of lessons. Like how China has restrictions on what you can do, see and use on the Internet. Apps like Facebook, Google, Messenger and even my banking apps were blocked! It's to be expected, I guess... After all- it is a communist country. After doing a bit of research online, I found a VPN that would allow me to use the internet in it's entirety with no blocks or restrictions to the web browser or my apps. It worked perfectly and I was extremely grateful for finding the article since I had my cell service cancelled temporarily to avoid accruing any roaming and data charges. I often do this when I travel which limits me to having to find free wifi and hot spots. Luckily nearly all hotels offer wifi, so I never really run into any issues other than the wifi possibly running a bit slow or being out of range. But where there's a will, there's a way- and I will always find a way!
So moving along, the rest of trip went pretty smoothly. My tours were amazing and showed me things in the country that I never thought I'd see. My tour guides spoke English well enough to make the tours comfortable and comprehensible. The highlight however, and the main reason why Beijing was even on the itinerary in the first place was for none other than the trip to the Great Wall. It was something that I pre-planned during my trip to Thailand. I knew that being on that side of the world would likely not happen again anytime soon, so I couldn't forego the opportunity. The Great Wall made my 4th of 7 great wonders of the world and it was my mission to see it, walk on it and conquer it. When the time came, I was prepared- cameras charged, back up batteries charged, selfie stick handy, water on deck and a nice sun hat to protect my bald head, I was ready! Off to the Great Wall I went. It was a nearly 2 hour shuttle bus ride from where I was staying in Beijing. Although there are several locations in which to see the wall, I chose the path of least resistance. Meaning I chose not to have to hike all the way up to the top. I opted for a cable car ride to the top and back down once I was finished seeing it. It worked out perfectly. I came, I saw, I conquered! The Great Wall had just become another monument under my belt and something else to check off my bucket list. That alone made the entire trip to Beijing worth it! Funny how after seeing it, the misunderstanding at the airport, the terrible taxi incident, the poor service of my hotel and all the other minor blunders I'd experienced no longer mattered. My trip was made complete and I was fulfilled. I'd gotten to do what I specifically went there for.
But in all honesty, would it be a trip worth sharing if there weren't any issues?! It's a part of traveling abroad and learning how to find your way when placed in a tough situation. Do you panic and lose your cool, making things worse, or do you find a way to solve it like a boss and keep it pushing?! Well, you read how I handled things.... like a BOSS! #LifeGoals
This was my good, bad and ugly story about China. Nothing too dramatic, but a lot of ups and downs that no traveler in a foreign country wants to have to deal with. I got through it though and made the overall trip a success. Would I do it this way again, absolutely NOT! Lol.... I would have my money situation right before assuming a country takes my credit cards. Although using my credit card for purchases was not a problem (go figure) it was just at the ATM machines. I did buy a few souvenirs to add to my travel collections and ended my trip on a high note. Would I travel to China again in the future? Likely, but it probably wouldn't be to Beijing. No offense...
Anyways, thanks for reading and as usual, if you enjoyed this blog, feel free to share it and comment your thoughts on it. Each one, teach one is the motto, if you know someone who could use the information shared here, pass it along. It may just help the next traveler in preparing their trip to Beijing.
Chao for now!
xoxo- Ashawna Lane
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