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Saturday, April 20, 2013

MUGA Day #26: Arrival in Beijing

My flight from Shanghai to Beijing was fine.  The confusing thing was that I flew on Air China, the national airline, which has an abbreviation of CA.  There is China Air, a Taiwanese airline, which is CI.  Air Canada owns AC.

Watch it when you attempt to catch a taxi from Beijing Capital Airport (which is their international airport).  There are various scams.  It looks well organized.  Perhaps ten cabs diagonally park, you walk over to your cab.  The driver places your bags in the trunk.  You say St. Regis Hotel and show him the reservation.  He expresses confusion, and calls over another person parked a short way away.  This second person knows where the hotel is, so you are asked to move to his car, which is not a metered taxi.  DON'T DO THAT!!!  The fare from the airport to town should be around 100 renminbi (about $16).  You could easily pay from 300 to 1000 RMB if you get caught in this scam.  The awfulness of all this is that it is symptomatic of the general corruption in the country.  Everyone (well, I'm sure there are innocents who won't get involved) participates in this ploy, and no doubt gets their cut.  I hate these stresses, and this is one reason why I should stay home.  I stayed in that cab and paid 100 RMB.

The Beijing St. Regis (my view, although it is very hazy) is certainly among the top three in my list of favorite hotels.  I always get a terrific room.  The breakfast is an incredible buffet.  For the evening cocktail, they let you use the Press Club and drink anything you want, within reason.

Beijing has been around for 3,000 years, but there are neolithic remains going back 27,000 years.  More recently known as Peking and Peiping, only in 1958 was the officially re-spelled Beijing.  The current population is somewhat north of 20 million.

TIME magazine has ten things to do in Beijing, and most of them are certainly not traditional.  However, #6 is Legation Quarter and, in particular Maison Boulud, a restaurant.  That will be my extravagant lunch in China, on Monday.  #9 is Da Dong Roast Duck restaurant, where I went when I last was here (photo to the left) two years ago.  Of course, any fowl restaurant is now in trouble because of the growing avian flu.  #10 is a reflexology, or foot massage.  This, for me, is excruciatingly painful.  I might give it another try, just to confirm my original dread.

I went to the Press Club for an obligatory drink, and the place was so full that I sat at the bar.  I had a martini on rocks.  Two "oil" specialists sat next to me, Mark and Helen (right).  After a while, we began talking, which is why, I guess, I travel.  You meet interesting people with incredible lives.  They were planning to engorge themselves at the dinner buffet (as the breakfast buffet is so great, I can imagine what the dinner must be) next door to this bar.  I mentioned to them that I wanted to find the ultimate Shanghai dumpling, or, maybe a terrific Peking Duck.  So, they joined me at Celestial Court instead.

Here is Mark and our Peking Duck being carved:

The meal was enhanced with all the above and a real Chinese red wine.  Mark graciously paid for everything.  However, the dinner was insignificant compared to the interesting lives of Helen and Mark.

Two decades ago Helen left Beijing to study in the U.S.  She got MBA and computer science degrees and ended up establishing her own import company, with the import having to do with oil and interfacing projects in China.  Mark owns an oil drilling equipment company, and is very successful in what he does.  We discussed everything from oil to the fate of China to religion to Tiger Moms.  Mark and I came to a conclusion that Helen is one, although she insists that compared to her Chinese mom friends, she is a pussy cat.  What fascinating careers they both have, for they are off tomorrow for a 4 hour train ride north to have dinner with the mayor of a city where Mark has one of his factories.  I would love to join them just to observe, but I'm stuck with lunch at Maison Boulud and who knows what else, before I leave the next day for Frankfurt.


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