2. A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step*

Someone told us that: “Everything bad that anybody has ever told me about other countries has been wrong”. We often think about this quote when travelling. We have visited places with poverty, war-like zones, places considered dangerous for women etc etc. Please believe us dear friend; the stories are almost always exaggerated! Caution is great, but fear is really unnecessary.

Having said that, we are the first to admit that there have been times that even we felt apprehension about visiting a place (as you will read in coming articles). It has always been the result of stories we read online, or simply the prejudice that people spread. After more than a decade of travel, however, we are left with only positive memories and impressions. Please remember this fact, dear friend, as you continue your own adventures and while you follow your guides below…

See our Travel List: Top 100 Wonders

Day 2 - A step has been taken*

As mentioned in previous articles, round-the-world travel was not as common as it is today. We (your young student guides) were not sure what to expect as we arrived in Beijing. We had read that the language would be an obstacle, and that it would be impossible finding street addresses (since all signs would be written in Chinese characters). In anticipation of this, Dilek had noted down common phrases and destinations in English. She asked a stewardess on the plane to Beijing to translate them for her, which she happily did. Today, she would simply have used Google Translate.

Vedran playing at the Airport

The trip to Beijing went smoother than anticipated. Mostly thanks to the comfort of Finnair. Dilek had plenty of space to acquire much needed rest, and Vedran had entertainment in the form of complementary games.

The first step might as well be a LEAP

We landed early in Beijing International, and were overwhelmed by excitement. The feeling you get on your very first journey to an exotic country is Indescribable! It is a mixture of anticipation and fear. We stood for a while inside the gates of the airport, realising that we had never been outside Europe. The airport is still considered international ground, so our first step out from the gate was a huge leap in our minds.
Before we could leave the airport, we had one important errand: To investigate flights and/or routes to Hong Kong. The reason was that we had not pre-purchased any tickets out from Beijing, but we did have a plane ticket leaving from Hong Kong to Bangkok in about two weeks. Thus, we had to find a way to get to Hong Kong by that time (either by air, rail or road).

See our Travel Route: Around the World in 50 days

Tout #1

As we were looking for the flight information desk, a taxi driver approached us and offered us a taxi for a very steep price. Naturally, we were not interested and continued towards the flight desk to investigate Hong Kong trips. The taxi driver followed us all over the airport, stopping us every now and then to ask where we were going. He was not aggressive but it was very obvious that he saw us as easy prey. He even approached the lady at the flight desk to ask what we had discussed with her. She had no problem divulging that we were looking for routes to Hong Kong. Fortunately, this seemed to discourage the taxi driver, who assumed we were looking to travel the very same day. He decided to cut his losses and walked away.

We found the whole experience rather amusing, not knowing at the time that this was just the tip of the iceberg of touts and solicitors we would encounter in the coming weeks. In the end, we decided not to purchase airfare to Hong Kong, but rather check out railway options in the city. We had read that this was a very common route.

Barriers are easily overcome...

We decided to take the bus to the city centre, which cost about 14 RMB (super cheap), and walk to our hostel which we knew would be situated rather close to the central railway station. The bus driver did not speak English, so understanding the names of the stations as he called them out was very difficult. Luckily, some of the locals in the bus gathered that we were heading towards the city centre and gave us a notice when to get off. Very helpful of them!

Of course the challenge was not yet over. Now we had to find our way to the hostel, with two large backpack in 40C. Back then, we could not download maps offline, so we only had a printout of where we were heading. To make the hike even more demanding, the hostel entrance was very well hidden. It took us about 30 min to walk to the right location, but another 20 min just to find the gate. Remember this story, dear friend! Because as it turns out, history would repeat itself 10 years later on another visit to Beijing.

...even the barriers in your mind

Setting foot outside of Europe for the first time was a very titillating thought for your young guides. For a brief moment, however, Dilek felt that she had to sharpen her senses. Like we explained above: Knowledge was not as available back then and Dilek did not know what to expect. Of course, she realises today how silly this was. She has visited numerous places around China since then, and loved every one of them. In fact, she has even been positioned in China for work...but more on that later. This is just one of the reasons why we encourage exploration! It shatters all barriers, especially those in your mind.
We have often posted about how prejudices (or lack of knowledge) of other countries creates unnecessary fears. “Everything anybody has ever told us about other countries have been wrong”. We strongly encourage you to go out there and judge for yourself.
What do you think? Post in the comments below.

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The Forbidden City

*A Journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step - Laozi