Saturday, March 7, 2009

Badda-Bing, I mean Ling

Yeah, yeah, yeah-- it's true: another day, anoher yuan and we are still without the Great Wall. Another gorgeous spring Beijing day and we still didn't get there.

Seems that last night I had a total freak out with all the updates to Born to Shop China and decided that the Wall would be crowded on a Sunday and we had more important things to the driver is booked for 10AM tomorrow. And to show how serious I am, I have bought the hats for the foto op. No, I didn't go with the Chairman Mao olive green with red star-- that was just too hokey, even for me.

We investigated taking a car and driver from the hotel (The Pen) to The Wall, but the standard price (for an Audi, not a Rolls) was $500, which frankly my dear, was too damn much. When I saw the work load for today, and had already digested the price of a car and driver through the hotel, I got the doorman to find us a taxi driver and make a deal-- this cost about $125. HIs name is Mr. Li (what a surprise) and his first name is Gang. So counting me, Sarah and the driver we are our own Gang of Three.

He will take us to Badaling tomorrow for the same price, and I do have his phone number...somewhere.

I have become obsessed with this business of the car and driver to the Wall and plan to check the price from every decent hotel in Beijing. I already know they throw in the Ming Tombs for free and you can't trade down on the price by wiggling out of the Tombs. They also make a pit stop at a tourist joint on the road where you are expected to eat, shop and pee. Even if you pee less, you still have to pay a lot of money to do this with any style.

So we gve up on style, jumped into our Hyundai (like Sunday) taxi and despite the huge list of addresses and the wonderful driver (not one word of English), we mostly spent an unglam day schlepping around Ring Roads and looking at what's new in town. That often meant telephoning stores for their addresses or driving by just to discover they've already been torn down. And these were the new listings. But I feel quite self-righteous about having done my job and we did sneak in a few return trips to our favorite markets.

And so I managed to learn just a few things today:
* The toilets in McDonald's have pictograms to advise which stall is for sitting and which is for squatting. (Could I make this up?) If you have ever wondered what's behind the green door, now you know.
* The woman selling the 'Bottega Veneta' wallet yesterday did indeed remember me. I had offered 100 and she said 120 and so I walked. In my insomnia in thenight, I realized I'd given up a great gift item over a $3 fight. Was I insane? When I returned, the vendeuse clearly remembered the negotiations-- she swears I had agreed to 140. I have never had this happen before.
* Sephora brand eye shadow costs about $13 per unit at the Joy City mall here. The $1.50 MAC brand eye shadow I bought a few days ago seems to work just as well-- no allergic reactions. Don't these guys know the Big Vat in the Sky theory ... or that in recession people want fake anything if it saves money?
* The executive lounge in the Hilton Wangfujing has Coke Zero; the lounge in The Pen does not.
* ATM's may be locked away in glass encased kiosks alongside bank buildings, much as in the US. Even though you probably do not have an account with Bank of Beijing, try your Visa card at the door anyway. It worked for us! Besides, is there a Downey Savings Bank any where in Beijing, I ask you?
* No, WuMart is not WalMart, but does look much like it.

And now it's time for our afternoon movie. Tomorrow morning we send the luggage off to the Olympic Stadium and Water Cube for our final venue in Beijing and here out to the Wall. Enfin.

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