It was a wonderful trip, even though we didn't make it out to the Great Wall this time around. The weather was simply too cold (1 F with wind chill) to enjoy it. It takes less than two hours to get there by bullet train, so we'll definitely be back.
I got Ian a point and shoot camera for Christmas, so with two of us behind cameras, there are a lot of photos to share! So, here are two "galleries" (as the Weebly interface calls them): one of Ian's photos and one of mine. There are some repeats, but it's kind of cool to see our slightly different experiences (and the differences in what we use the two cameras for).
One major take away from our trip to the capital: security measures are only really for Chinese nationals (especially older individuals). We thought we'd be "randomly selected" for everything, but being white in Beijing basically gave us a free pass. A few times, we were just waved through security. I guess I knew that China doesn't trust its own people, but it was strange to have it illustrated with such a heavy hand. If we're honest, security in the states is for "foreigners." It's just the opposite here.
Most people we've spoken to tell us that Beijing is categorically unfriendly (like New York City). But, luckily, we didn't have that experience. At the least, people were helpful, at the most, people were super open and friendly. There's a particularly bizarre scam run in Beijing in English speaking locals drag you in to a tea shop with promises of friendship only to have you pay double or triple what a pot of tea cost by confusing you with a faulty "splitting" of the bill. They approach you very abruptly (though with a warm smile) by saying something like, "Hello! Do you speak English? Where are you from?" The better ones throw fewer questions at you at once. One our FET friends here unfortunately fell victim to one of them while she was trying hard to be open to meeting new friends in Beijing. It was a real bummer. You can read about her experience here. Because she wrote about the con, Ian and I were prepared when we headed to the capital. Sure enough, many, many people tried the "Hello! Do you speak English? Where are you from?" approach on us, but we ignored them.
On our last day in the city, we were palling around the downtown shopping district when we heard, "Hello! Merry Christmas!" from behind us. Two men (fluent in English and very friendly) came up to us and introduced themselves as businessmen from Shanghai in town for a conference. They said that they were heading to see an emperor's house that had just opened up for public viewing. It all seemed very fishy, but since they weren't going far and on the off chance that they weren't trying to con us, I decided we should tag along. I thought to myself that we wouldn't accompany them inside any establishments, so that it would be damn hard to get any money off us. We walked in two pairs and they talked our ears off on the way over. Sure enough, they stopped us in front of an old building that was supposed to be an emperor's house at one time, but was now a restaurant, jabbered a bit about history and then invited us for tea at a place across the street. The more talkative of the men insisted that we should sit and exchange information ("the Chinese way" as opposed to him simply giving me his email address like every other person I've met here). We refused their invitation several times, as I stood holding my iPod ready to enter an email address I knew wasn't coming.
Be careful in Beijing, especially if you're by yourself.
Other than that (which really wasn't a big deal) everything was pleasant. Ian even did some haggling at one of the larger markets in town. A past time he finds both nauseating and exhilarating.
That's it for our first trip to the capital. If you've been to Beijing or would like to go, be sure to write int eh comments!