Tuesday, July 10, 2012

And You Thought L.A. Smog Was Bad?

July 8, 2012
Tokyo - Beijing
JW Marriott Beijing

My last few hours in Tokyo were spent staring. I must admit that I'm intrigued by interesting people and walking the streets of Tokyo at 6am to catch my train/monorail to the airport provided me a great chance to gawk.

Japanese men are known to work hard and play hard. Subways in Tokyo stop running at midnight and so usually after "closing time" the men must either take a taxi home, or as I found out today, just pass out where ever they desire.

As a light rain continued to fall, I walked the 10 minutes to UENO station to catch my 6:30am train. While crossing one of the main streets, a well dressed Japanese man in his 30's was laying in the crosswalk definitely drunk and definitely just waking up from a hard slumber. He was yelling incoherently and the fact that it was raining and everyone was staring at him, including yours truly did not affect him in the slightest. He didn't care that he was in the middle of the street sleeping... and neither did anyone else. I continued walking and over the next 5 minutes I saw 3 or 4 other normal looking people just passed out on benches, under awnings or on the sidewalk. Kirin and Sapporo were the victors last night!

Arriving at the subway station, reality hit home once again as there were two men in their 20's, dressed in the latest fashion just snoozing away on the subway platform. My CSI detective work tells me that they were trying desperately to catch the last train and when they got their too late, they said "screw it" and just decided to sleep on the train platform. Only in Japan!

The day wasn't all about drunkards passing out on the street... I had a plane to catch... a plane to Communist China!

Arriving at Haneda Airport, which is much more centrally located than Narita which I flew into three days prior, I had about 90 minutes before departure so I headed to the Sakura Lounge for some breakfast. The lounge was very busy and I was one of two Geijin (foreigners) in attendance. The breakfast was actually quite good and after 20 minutes in a massage chair I was ready for the 3 hour flight to Beijing.

Sitting "Up Front" in seat 2A, the business class cabin had all 36 seats occupied. Meal service commenced with a Western or Japanese option and I chose the Western beef option which was terrible. But being that it was only 10am, I didn't need a huge meal so it was OK to pass on.

After a bit of turbulence, the big bird set down at Beijing Capital Airport, the 2nd busiest airport in the world at 11:30am. The airport was huge, modern and very impressive. What wasn't impressive was the SMOG. Unbelievable is the only word that I can use to describe it... along with disgusting, gross, and thick!

I took the Airport Express train the 10 miles or so into town, connected with the local subway and then found my hotel, the JW Marriott... although it was a bit of a walk from the station as I turned the wrong direction and turned a 10 minute walk into 30 minutes and with the 90 degree weather and high humidity I was soaking wet upon arrival.

Needless to say, the JW Marriott was an amazing property. Service was impeccable and being a newly minted Executive Platinum member I was upgraded to the concierge floor which enabled me free food and drinks all day long. So it looks like I won't be spending any money on food while in Beijing!

After a quick snack in the lounge I headed down to the 2nd floor for the fitness center. Impressive to say the least as the gym would rival any in the USA. The best thing, there was no one else working out so I had all of the machines to myself. Attached to the gym was a SPA area with swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, etc. A few laps in the pool and a soak in the hot tub ended my experience on floor number 2.

The evening was still young and after another brief stop on the executive lounge for a buffet dinner I headed out to the Beijing evening. Taking Subway #1 to Tiannemen East, I disembarked right underneath the world famous Tiannemen Square. Joining me on my journey were thousands of Chinese who were lining the square with the desire to see the flag lowering ceremony which occurs daily at sunset. It was quite the ceremony and to think of all of the history that had occured in this area was pretty amazing.

The sun set at 7:45pm and within minutes the crowd had dispersed and I began the 20 minute walk to the Wanjufung pedestrian street. This street, like seemingly everywhere else in Beijing was packed with people. With both the western stores on the main boulevard and the Chinese shops in the alleys running horizontal, there truly was a store for everyone... even those that like fried starfish, scorpions or sea lions on a stick (see pictures).

After receiving two propositions for dates from some Chinese women of the night... and declining both, I made my way back to the Subway station and a return home to the JW. A busy day in the capital city and another busier one tomorrow.

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