Monday, March 9, 2009

To The Cube, Dude

Yesterday morning Sarah and I packed up and left the civilization of the main core of Beijing behind and headed out to the Olympic Site. As you know from watching TV, there are numerous sites all over town, but the main one with Bird's Nest, Water Cube, etc. is also home to the newest member of the InterContinental Hotels family and we booked ourselves in.

It couldn't have been more brilliant planning (even if accidental) as the Great Wall at Badaling is not that far from the hotel, so we were able to drop off our luggage and then whizz off past the Summer Palace, a few more Olympics venues and right onto the Badaling Expressway. Monday was also a good choice since there was no traffic. In less than an hour, we were at the Starbucks at the Great Wall.

I swear it. Tall mocha, no foam, 24 RMB ($4).

Things out there at Badaling are much changed since I was there last, so I was glad to go again and be able to report on it for BTS. Everything is clean and spiffy and perfect-- the big antiques shop is gone and while there are numerous stalls, the ones that ring the parking lot are pretty much the same. As you walk from the lot up to the entrance, there's a string of more shops (and Starbucks) that are far more interesting... including the Badaling Hotel Coffee Shop which is sort of a mini-Freindship store and a great place for over-priced souvenirs.

Mostly we went for the foto op-- Sarah and I wearing our caps at the Great Wall. Turns out all my preparations were silly-- there are at least three dozen stands selling hats here (department of silly hats must have HQ here) and the selection is far superior to anything i brought with-- fur hats with red stars on them, princess caps, panda heads, etc. Although we did find some British girls to take our picture on the Wall, the baseball caps I brought with cast shadows over our faces and the foto will not win any prizes, even in our scrapbooks. Thankfully, we got good shots at Starbucks.

But enough about us.

The true story of the day is the InterConti Beichen, so named for the intersection where it is located in north central Beijing. This is a staggeringly 'hot' hotel in the sense of being hip, so very Wallpaper Magazine. The hotel elevator reads your smart card key, not just for security as we've all seen before, but to get the floor for you.

Once in the hallway, we pass the central atrium (one atrium per every three floors) which is strung with blue neon bleepy lights like cerulean fireflies, strung on filament to fill the space and amaze you with the reminder of the contemporary art scene in Beijing.

Our room was booked as 'room with a view' which in many cities means historical or natural views. In this case, we have the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube, the TV Tower and five or six other landmark buildings right out our window. At night they are lit with different hues and you can stand at the window and realize that watching the Eiffel Tower blink on the hour is very fine, but this ain't bad!

Since the hotel has no shopping in it (not even a gift or sundries shop), we hopped into a taxi for a two minute drive and $2 fare to the nearby malls where every chain is well represented as are a variety of fast food joints.

We chose to go to the North Star Supermarket, inside the North Star Plaza, a luxury mall. We grabbed a shopping cart with its own flat video screen and stereo sound system and began to prowl the aisles. Sarah is technical enough (evenin Chinese!) to be able to figure out the screen and soon had a map of the store loaded in. Every time the cart began to talk to me I starred at it, trying to will it to speak English.

We only bought a few things-- mostly gifts-- but I did find a tube of snake gall cream for Jay Leno. All of gall may be divided into three parts, but I only bought two tubes. I did load up on my toothpaste ; Sarah sprang for the Crest Jasmine that she has used before. In some cases, I bought items just based on the packaging. I did not do my usual haul, partly because I am trying to reform but mostly because we still have to schlep our luggage onto the train to Shanghai. Our time for Girls Gone Wild in the Supermarket is coming up later in the week.

Because of the grandeur of the room, and its view, and the fact that you can soak in the giant bathtub and look out at the Water Cube, we chose a room service dinner and spent a lot of the evening being blue as we watched the sunset toward the Summer Palace and the Water Cube go from pearly white to pale blue to bright blue.

I'd rather be blue thinking of you than be hap-hap-happy with somebody new.

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