How hard can it be to buy ferry tickets?

At first we thought it was the sound of an Espresso machine as the steam bubbles through the coffee. Then we realized it was coming from a person. Every few minutes, we would hear the sound again, at such a volume that we could hear it from a distance. It echoed through the corridors of our hotels and the bowels of the subway stations, and was audible through closed doors. In the hotel restaurant, we heard the sound, and it took a moment to realize that it actually was an espresso maker! It isn’t that many people do it, it is just that those that do, do it with such volume and force that is brings up the taste of bile into the back of our throats. It is that nasty Chinese habit of horking[1] and it is one aspect of China that neither of us will miss when we leave this country.

We have a much better appreciation for the draconian anti-spitting laws in Singapore. We are a little surprised that the SARS and now Swine Flu scares haven’t caused similar regulations to be enacted in China to stop this practice. To be fair, unlike our previous visits to China we are seeing more people spitting into garbage and cigarette disposal containers than onto the street, so the public education campaigns which do exist seem to be working. There is hope yet.

Our morning began with the task of finding a Starbucks, although they had an espresso machine at the hotel, their coffee was pretty mediocre. With all our wandering around yesterday, we had yet to see one, but Becky knew they existed. Scott could not believe that they did not have a map on the web, only a listing of addresses, which, when plugged into Google or Yahoo Maps, produced no locations near us. Eventually Scott did find a website for someone who drew a crude map of the Starbucks locations, and with some further research, guided us to what we believe was the nearest one – just around the corner!

Our main task for the day was to purchase a ferry ticket (or at least make a reservation). Our initial thought before arriving in Beijing was that we would find one of the many travel agencies in Beijing catering to tourists, and they could help out. Unfortunately, there were no international travel agencies to found – just a few tour companies offering tours of the city and the Great Wall.

After much frustration, We made contact with Jessica and Terry from Incheon via Couchsurfing, and asked if they could help since the ferry website was only in Korean. Terry sent us a couple of phone numbers for travel agents in Beijing, so we asked the folks at our hotel to call them. The staff at the New Dragon Hostel continued to be helpful, and with their assistance, we confirmed that they did indeed sell tickets for the ferry in question and we were given their address and directions on how to find them.[2]

A Starbucks stop and subway ride later, we found the travel agent only to learn that the only person that could help us was on a lunch break and would not return for 90 minutes. D’oh!

We had also hoped to also visit the Pyongyang Art Studio, a museum, gift shop and travel agency for North Korea, so we hopped back on the subway and walked to the Red River Hotel, only to learn that the museum had moved. A further 30 minutes of walking, and we found the museum, which was small but mildly interesting. We did pick up a set of interesting North Korean propaganda post cards though,

We stopped into a shopping centre for lunch, which turned out to be the Yashow Clothing Market – filled with busloads of German tourists. Becky’s sharp eyes spotted a Spider jacket along with the other ski jackets for sale. She asked how much and was told 400 RMB (about $80 CAD) – note that these jackets (the real ones) go for about $500-750 CAD back home. We were not buying anything – what good is a ski jacket on a bike? As we left the price decreased to $40. Real or not, we were sorely tempted to pick up a few for our friends back home, especially if we could get the price down to $20 each, but alas, carrying jackets on a bike unnecessarily isn’t much fun.

We returned to the travel agent and successfully purchased tickets for the ferry. We opted for the extra $20 per person for the business class cabin. The economy price was 760 RMB ($150 CAD), so the extra $20 each did not seem like much at the time. Business class would guarantee us a cabin with only a couple of other people, rather than a bed in a room with 40+ people. This is another example of where we might have chosen the less expensive option earlier in the trip, but we are too tired to contemplate sharing a room with 40+ strangers from a totally different culture.

To end the day, we enjoyed a traditional Chinese hot pot dinner at a place that had the fancy cone shaped hot pots. Becky first experienced this type of hot pot when she was in Taiwan on a business trip about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, we found the particular restaurant to be expensive and the broth to be rather bland. Oh well, that’s what you get for going to dinner in a tourist area!

[1] hork – (slang, offensive) To snort from the sinuses. (Similar to hocking.) “I felt something plugging up my sinuses, so I horked a big loogie.”

[2] For future reference, the numbers for the “Kook Je Travel Agency” were (010-6512-0507) and (010-6515-8010). The agency itself was located just south of the Jianguomen metro station. If we recall correctly, the instructions to reach it are: Leave the metro station through exit 2, take the pedestrian underpass south under Jianguomen road, then keep walking south for another 100 meters. The agency is on the first floor of building no. 28, a highrise set back behind a large hedge, just north of one hotel, and south of another.

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