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Day 12: Beijing
Our goals today: Peking duck and train tickets for our next stop, Ping Yao. We start with train tickets, a most painful experience. We get to the train station having been told to look for the English speaking counter #16. There are at least three counters with a 16 on them, all with long lines, and none with any indication of speaking English. We head back to the hotel to see if they can help us. They are close to useless so I go to the room to research online (hopeless in China sans Google – never realized how dependent we are on the internet) and Rick perseveres, walking back to the train station. He has figured that to get to Ping Yao we need to catch a train to Taiyuan by fast train, and then transfer to a slow train for the second leg. About an eight hour journey. He waits in line 16 for thirty minutes, and they tell him to go the line 31 which he waits in for another thirty minutes, and they tell him to go to line 16, but a different line 16, inside the train station. Another thirty minutes and he has tickets to Taiyuan – yay – half way there!

Meanwhile, back in the hotel, I have Rick’s instructions back-to-front and think we need to go to Ping Yao and transfer to Taiyuan. I find a fast train to Ping Yao from Beijing and figure we’ll worry about Ping Yao to Taiyuan later. Anyway, confused conversation between us ensues, turns out Ping Yao was actually our final destination, we did not need to transfer at Taiyuan, and we can get a train direct to Ping Yao that only takes 4 hours. Rick had been looking at a website from 2001. We return to ticket counter 16 number two, they tell us to refund tickets we need to go to counter 31, they do refund our tickets but we have to return to counter #16 to buy the new tickets. Three hours from when we started we are done! There was a fee for refunding tickets, but the direct ticket was cheaper so we broke even and saved ourselves half a day of travel. Confused and bored by the last two paragraphs? Think how we felt, and add 90 degree heat.

We definitely felt in need of a reward, so off to Quanjude restaurant for the best Peking duck in Beijing! The hotel increased their marginal helpfulness by calling a cab for us, because none of the 50 thousand cabs waiting outside would drive us there. Cab driver tries to sell us on a different restaurant, miming the one we are going to is bad. Rick has the GPS on and makes him u-turn and we get to within a few blocks of our destination and walk the remainder. The huge restaurant is like a ballroom with elaborate bas-relief carvings in the ceiling. The duck is AMAZING. Crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. They carve it in front of us and we eat the entire thing, accompanied by yoghurt drink and tea. We bravely catch the subway on the way home. The ticket machine won’t work for us and we have no idea what we are doing. A nice Chinese man tries to help us but his money won’t work either. We try an actual human ticket issuer. She can’t understand a word we are saying, but a Swedish girl behind us can speak Chinese (wow!) and translates for us. Once we have our tickets (today Rick has left the dangerous weapon behind, boy were we shaking in fear all day) it is fairly intuitive to use the subway and transfer at different stops.

We reward our bravery with foot massages which involves pulling, snapping, pinching, and poking. Pretty sure they are laughing at how we pay them to hurt our toes. We had wanted to try scorpion on a stick for dinner from an outdoor food market, but we were too full and tired so brought delicious mini custard pies from the mall supermarket and ate them in the hotel room.

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