Despite conference, have managed to head into Beijing on Friday and Saturday night. On Friday four of us slipped away after the official conference dinner.

We went to Tiamannen Square and looked around there. Large is the word that comes to mind. The square, the buildings etc. I looked for tank tread marks but they seem to have all been claned up 🙂

After taking the taxi to the square, we then decided to take the subway home. A good plan except for the minor detail that we got off one stop too early. And while on the map it looked to be only one block away, their blocks are around 45 minutes walk. We then decided to go to a local bar to recover. The beer was around 3 yuan, or NZ 50c. Nice.

Beijing is a huge city – three times as many people live there than in all of NZ – 13 million residents. It is not a greatly attractive city, but still somewhat impressive. As big as Beijing is, it is daunting to think the capital city is only 1% of the total population.

On Saturday night wqe were all sick of hotel food, so we turned down the free dinner at the Asia Hotel, and went into town for food. I had been warned that China does not have three or four course meals, but ten to twleve courses, and this was true. You never leave hungry.

After dinner the group of us (a Kenyan, an Indonesian, a Swiss, a Malaysian and a Canadian) went shopping. We had been advised that you should haggle on prices. I did reasonably well getting two silk ties for 25 yuan (NZ$4) which started at 150 yuan each. Also got some leather shoes for 100 yuan (NZ$16) which started at 550 yuan. So have done my bit for free trade.

While out shopping was approached by a young (as in looked 18) girl who asked if I spoke English and would I like a drink somewhere. I assumed it was a solicitation and started saying that I had to meet friends in 20 minutes. Somewhat bemused when she said it won’t take that long. I inquired further, and eventually disocovered that she is learning English at Beijing University, and that it is quite common for students to just want to talk to foreigners to improve their language skills. So we drank tea for 20 minutes and just chatted. Felt somewhat guilty for assuming she was a prostitute, but there are quite a few of them around also.

Talking of night-time activities, I noted with amusement that in China not only do you have to register at the hotel, any guest who wants to visit you in your room, they must leave by 11 pm. Just like being back in a university hostel 🙂

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