Honestly, I wasn't excited for this tour...
My first time in China was about 5 years ago, and it has always been in my mind as a place I have experienced and did not need to return to. But, upon returning, I am pleasantly surprised by the progression in the time since I last visited.
I will sometimes end up with connections all over the world to get to the start of a tour, but this time I am lucky that Air Canada has a direct flight from Toronto to Beijing, which is where our rehearsal venue is. I had an easy connection from London Ontario through Toronto and strait onto a 787 Dreamliner over the arctic and down into Beijing. Arriving off of the newer planes does make a serious difference to the way you feel, with the higher cabin pressure and higher moisture in the air, you do not feel as tired and gross when you arrive at your destination, despite the 13 plus hours spent in the air.
Upon landing, I had to scan in our fingerprints and go through customs, which was pretty easy, since I already had a visa for my time here. After going through the massive international arrival hall in Beijing I picked up my bags and went to a pre arranged ride to the hotel near the 798 art district in the North East of Beijing.
Dinner the first night in a new location can always be tricky. You are tired, hungry, and do not speak the language or know what you will like. So you just have to pick a place and commit to it. This time, we picked a Chinese hot pot restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. They have different types of broth to pick from (we went with mushroom) and then you pick your meats and vegetable you want to cook in the boiling pot of broth in the middle of the table.
The restaurant was very accommodating to our lack of Chinese and brought a menu with some English in it and lots of pictures to help us order. When it came to pay, we discovered that Visa is not a widely accepted card in China, so we would be stuck using cash for most purchases, and luckily I always take out some cash at home before heading on a trip to a foreign country so that I can pay for surprise things like this meal!
I had received a few recommendations for things to do this time in Beijing, one of them being the 798 art district that our hotel happens to be located very near. Having just landed, my jet lag is in full force, so when I roll over at 3:30 am wide awake, I do everything in my power to get another hour or 2 of sleep. 5:30 comes around, and now I can shower and get ready to go down to breakfast starting at 6:00. The elevator door opens on the third floor as the lights are just turning on for breakfast in this awesome cafe space with a huge skylight and marble floors. Toast, fried egg, chow mein noodles, watermelon, dragon fruit, cappuccino machine, they have a great selection of breakfast foods. There are also some more Chinese options, that I don't recognize as a breakfast food, but I am able to put together a plate that Looks awesome!
It is still only 6:45 am but since I am not going back to sleep, I grab my camera and head out the door. 798 art district is only a 15-minute walk to the South East, so I navigated a few sketchy intersections and entered the narrow yet interesting streets that make up this area. Forgetting how early it is, made me think to myself that all of the galleries must only be open for special events since it is such a ghost town. I consciously try to get to areas like this early in the morning on occasion, but today is just a happy fluke. The photos always have an interesting feel to them when there are no people in a normally overcrowded area, and the light is so nice this early in the morning, especially being diffused through the smog in the atmosphere in Beijing 🤦♂️
After about an hour and a half of walking on my own, I was contacted by a few friends asking to join me, and where I was. So I called to let them know what direction to walk and I walked about halfway back to the hotel to meet them and re-enter the narrow streets together to find a coffee. I was also not properly dressed for the day, not expecting it to be as cold as it turned out to be this early in the morning, I was in need of a warm drink. We went to Grey Box coffee and chatted for a while before exploring further together and enjoying a nice fall day in a very trendy area within Beijing.