After stressing over all the shit you're definitely not supposed to bring into a county where all sorts of crap is disallowed, the customs on this side of the Pacific was literally nonexistent. They didn't look at shit-all: just a glum glance at some papers, and then a disinterested rubber stamp.
Then a friendly slap in the face from the hot dirty humidity, a crazy rush into a cab, and then we were off to downtown Beijing. Initial observations of note: practically all the buildings lining the major roads are ENORMOUS. It kinda screams Money. The air is definitely not fresh. And sure you can't see buildings more than 1km away at times, and the early evening sun is strangely red, hazy and starable. But frankly, i thought the air in London seemed filthier than this place. That may change in future months, but i'll keep you posted on that.
Anyhow, the rather confused cab driver dropped Heather and I off at what turned out to be the opposite side of the hutong of where our hotel actually was. (Language barrier and map issues). So my first experience in the homeland was getting lost in the hutong (narrow alley ways filled w/ supremely cheap hair cut places, produce being sold off of bike trailers, food vendors, bike riders, pedestrians, dogs, etc. Do note that hutong dwellers are not Chinese High Society). Anyhow, i can't help it: i love the hutong scene. So i got to run around using my terribly lacking Mandarin skills to find the hotel, drop off bag #1, and then rushing back to find Heza (my gf) staving off the tears, and feeling considerably less enamored with China than myself. Lugging 150 lbs of luggage through the hutong did nothing to improve her mood, though we did eventually come across a dude with a bike trailer who we paid to carry our stuff the rest of the way. I did haggle down his price, though it was all for naught, as we had no small bills to pay him in the end anyways. Oops.
In dealing w/ jetlag, caffeine was in order, and Heza was quite pleased to learn that we had a Starbucks just a block away. So chilling w/ a coffee and a Lesser Panda cigarette, things were feeling on the up and up. So then we explored another hutong w/ some dinky little eateries which looked pretty rad, but i thought the bigger one would be a bit safer and statusquo. we barely managed to order some beer and food, which turned out to be a simple and tasty beef noodle soup. But before the food even arrived a man approached us, laid a few polaroids on the table and started rambling loudly to us. He seemed pretty pissed off about something or other. i recognized the word Chinaman from his mouth but nothing else. I recognized the smell of rice alcohol gently spraying my face, and heavily infused in his breath. No less than 5 female servers were trying to coax him away the whole time, but it was a good 5 minutes before he would be swayed. We never found out who the man in the pictures was or what relevance he had to anything, but he did have a bit of a Mao thing going. So much for easing Heza into everything, as things had been really In Your Face thus far. But at least we did have some local help onside.