6. Midnight Terror in Beijing 2015
Updated: Jul 24, 2018
Being scared out of your wits and in fear for ones life is an experience I wish upon no one. While traveling around the world and not knowing half the time what is around the corner has never really been an issue with me.
This event is one which could have ended very badly and I would not be here telling this story. It all started when I had followed my pilot husband on a twelve day Asia which included the usual. China, Japan and Guam. This became a normal monthly work schedule and I was able to enjoy the "take your wife to work" scenario month after month. Our itinerary for these twelve days was the following.
Fly from Seattle to Beijing.
Layover for thirty six hours.
Fly to Tokyo then onto to Guam on the same day.
There we would stay for twelve hours.
Next day fly back and forth to Tokyo and layover again in Guam for twelve hours.
Last long Asia day was to fly from Guam to Tokyo then onto Beijing.
After an eighteen hour layover in Beijing, fly back to Seattle.
All this done in twelve days.
Laying on the beach and snorkeling in Tumon Bay, Guam is much more appealing than flying all day back and forth from Guam to Tokyo. So my pilot husband goes off to work and I lounge on the beach for the day. This was routine. My pilot husband always had to check out of the hotels when leaving which left me with no hotel room to stay in during my day of play from 7 AM to 11 PM. That's right. No place to stay. Yep, my glamorous life style is now not so glamorous to you!!!!!!! I would leave my luggage with the bell hop at the Hyatt Regency Guam at around 7 AM. With everything being on island time, the hotel cleaning staff never showed up earlier than 7 AM. On occasion if I saw that they were way down the hall, I could get away with staying in the room till 8 AM but then I would be told to leave.
I would walk about fifteen minutes up to the Coffee Beanery on Gun Beach Road or to Le Petit Cafe at DFS Guam on Pale San Vitores Road. I would enjoy my coffee and sometime a croissant, pain au chocolate or some fruit. I then would stroll down and hang a right on Fujita Road towards the beach. Once at the beach I would stroll off to my right and park my belongings under the canopy of trees. If I was tired, I would lay there and take a nap. If not, I would go for a swim in Tumon Bay that is very large and shallow. There are some coral outcroppings and a variety of fish but once past this shallow area, the seabed drops drastically. No need to go there where the sharks etc hang out. I rest, some more, go out for lunch, each time somewhere new. On occasion, I would take the local red shuttle bus to destination unknown. I would get off, walk around the area and before too long, I got to know Guam pretty well. Another walk along the beach, dinner somewhere, maybe even catch a movie and at around 11 PM, after having killed off a whole day, I would await the crew bus in the lobby. My pilot husband would check in, get the room key and off we went for another much needed night of rest.
Half way through the day in Guam while out on the beach at Tumon Bay, I receive a message from my husband that his schedule has been changed, not all that unusual, and that I should make plans to meet him in Beijing in two days. He suggests that I stay in Guam another day and then fly onto Beijing. Lunchtime was around the corner so I head over to a restaurant, order my meal and get online to make all the arrangements for hotel an standby flight. In my search, there were no hotel room available. Everything was showing up booked. All but one at $650 for the night. This was not an emergency. Not wanting to spend that kind of money I looked at my options for flying out of Guam to Japan in the next few hours. I was in luck. There was a flight to Narita, Japan, another city I have gotten to know well, an hour from Tokyo. From there I could catch the last flight to Beijing and arrive there around midnight. Once I had all my standby flights booked, I booked myself into a local traditional hotel in Beijing for two nights. This particular one was close to the Forbidden City, an area I was very familiar with. Kelly's Courtyard Hotel and at $50 a night, this was going to be a treat. I found the hotel on my phone, took a screen shot of it with all the local Mandarine characters and made a mental note on the surrounding area, subway stop and street corner identity points so that would know how to navigate myself around once there.
I finished my meal, went to the hotel to pick up my luggage and took the shuttle bus to the airport. The flights were uneventful. Something you want to hear when flying.
As planned, we arrived into Beijing just before midnight. Having done this many times, I knew some of the crew members and was able to coordinate with them a meet up at the crew bus for a ride to the Grand Hyatt Beijing hotel just a mile down the road from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Our arrival to the hotel was at 1:30 AM
My day had already been a long one with a combination of 3 hour flight from Guam to Narita, then a 6 hour flight to Beijing. I said my thank yous to the Pilots and crew members and proceeded to the front of the hotel to catch a taxi. There were a few waiting in a line where the bellman asked me for my destination. I took out my cell phone and showed him the screenshot of Kelly's Courtyard Hotel. He then relayed to the cab driver the information. Most cab drivers in Beijing, I found, do not speak English nor do they want to try to.
The door man at this 5 star hotel talked to the cab driver, showed him my screenshot and after a few exchange of puzzling looks, gave me the following information.
"The cab driver says he is not familiar with this address," said the doorman.
I replied by showing him a google map of the location, "Here is where the hotel, just down the road past Tianamen Square off of Xidan North Street. I have contacted them and they are waiting for me."
Another exchange between the two went on for a little while longer. Finally the doorman, with no word to me, put my bag in the backseat of the cab and off we went.
Coming out of the hotel onto E. Chang'an Avenue is normally chaotic and busy. At 1:35 AM, middle of the night, it is deserted. Not a car or soul in site. I had never been in a big city where there was total quiet and void of movement ever. This raised my anxiety level a bit. The only calming part was that I knew where I was and there were plenty of street lights showing off the Forbidden City and Tianamen Square.
Rather than proceeding straight ahead for another mile, the cab driver turned right onto Nanchang Street and that is where I knew things were going to start going wrong. We were now between the Forbidden City and Beihei Park going north and it was even more ominous on this night. There were no streetlights and not a soul was to be seen. To make matters even more disturbing, the cab driver kept cursing under his breath and hitting the steering wheel with his fist. I don't understand Mandarin, but it was obvious that this cab driver was not happy to have a round eye telling him what to do. Just after he had taken the right hand turn off the main Avenue, I kept showing him the map of where I wanted to be left out and saying Xisi, the name of the subway station close to my hotel. I knew how to pronounce it as I had been there many times. He kept nodding his head, saying bù. In Mandarine this means no. We continue north arriving at the road where Jingshan Park is located. Instead of turning left to cross the bridge on Wenjin Street between Middle and North Sea, we continued north. Now we are 20 minutes out of the way. Not a good thing. No matter how many times I tried to tell the drive he was going the wrong way, all the while thinking he could understand me, he drove without paying any attention to me. The cursing and hitting the steering wheel never ceased making the situation even more unnerving.
There was no peace in this cab. Still the streets were empty and dark.
We had been driving for 20 minutes and the farther we got from the Forbidden City, the more foreboding my moments in Beijing began to feel. I was vaguely familiar with the area of Beijing so it did not help that I was now feeling completely lost and now a little afraid.
We finally turned left onto Di'anmen West Street, another large 6 lane stretch that really should be called an Avenue. North Sea and Beihai Park are now on our left. I had been this particular entrance before so at least now I knew more or less where I was. The cab driver finally turns left onto Xisi North Street. My hotel is now just down the way. Just ten more minutes and all will be fine. I decided that instead of having the cab driver taking me straight to the hotel, I would just have him drop me off at the subway stop on Xisi North Street. There I could take the short walk to the end of the street . He wanted nothing to do with my instructions. Instead, the cab driver immediately stops. We are at the entrance to the narrow Hutong alley street. Three miles from my stop. He gets out of the cab, opens the back passenger door and before I could react, he takes my suitcase out and puts in the street. He slams the door shut and starts yelling at me. His hands waving like a wild man insisting I get out of the cab. There was no way I was getting out. This went on for a minute or so. Too long in the silence and dark void of this midnight hours. I let him carry on. He finally got my bag, opened the door cursing and threw it into my back seat hitting me in the arm. He jumped into his seat, started the car and jumped on the accelerator.
He accelerated taking a hard right and straight into the Hutong alleyway.
The alleyway is all of 6 fett wide. I was waiting for the sound of metal from the cab to start scrapping off the brick walls we were flying down. He stopped the cab at the entrance to one of hundreds of residential offshoots from the alleyway. Here he turned to me shaking his hand and uttering words I did not understand. He was telling me to shoo, get out of the cab. I did nothing of the sort. "Bù; No" I said over and over again. Around me there was no sign of life, no lights and this was what I would consider 3rd world poverty. No way was I going to get out. I shook my head, pointed down the road and at the map hoping he would understand that we had a few more miles to go to my destination.
What the cab driver did next was what made me realize that I could be left in this massive city, sold or used for the rest of my life, forgotten and alone. He got out of the car and started walking down the residential offshoot that was barely 4 feet wide. Now I was doomed. If I wanted to get out of the car, there was no way that would happen as the wall prevented me from even getting the door fully open. To escape, I would have to jump into the front seat. Then where would I go. He had be blocked. Returning a few minutes later, I kept my cool. I showed him the phone number and using the best sign language told him to call the hotel. Surprisingly, he took out his phone, called the number. After a brief exchange, he handed me his phone inside the cab.
"Hello, how can I help you?" said a gentleman in English. What a relief
"Hello, I am Genevieve and I have reservations for tonight at the Kelly's Courtyard Hotel. I know it is very late at night but my cab driver cannot seem to find you."
"We have been waiting for you," he replied. “Where are you located at the moment?”
“I am here on Xisi South Street close to the Ping'anli subway station,” I replied.
"OK, you are not too far away. Please give the taxi driver the phone and I will explain to him how to get to the Bingmasi Hutong and our hotel."
I was so relieved. Finally, I was going to get to my destination.
The talked on the phone for a little while longer, hung up and got into the cab. He now seemed really irritated. Again, I started to feel uncomfortable with where I was.
After getting back into the cab, the driver started speaking in a very agitated voice all the while pointing to a door with a red lantern just down the narrow hutong alleyway. His hand movements showed that he wanted me out of the cab. I did not move and this time, I held onto my suitcase as well. This was not right. Flashing before my eyes was a vision that was very disturbing. I would be lost in the midst of this massive city, my husband would never see me again, and I would used and abused for the rest of my life in these horrible filthy backstreets of Beijing for the rest of my life. Not my idea of experiencing the world.
I shook my head. The cab driver was now really annoyed with me yelling insults I know were not decent. I was nervous but I needed to stay in control. Forget the traditional Chinese hotel. It was now close to 3 in the morning with no sign of life out in the streets of Beijing. I took out the business card I always carried with me while in Beijing of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the start to this whole taxi cab mess. Pointing to the card, I insisted that that is where I wanted to go.
The cab driver drove down the small Hutong alley, took a few turns, all in the correct direction of the Forbidden City and voila, fifteen minutes later, I was back in a safe upper class part of Beijing and my heart was now a bit settled. I was exhausted.
Back at the Grand Hyatt hotel, I asked for the manager so I could coordinate my stay, if even for a few hours. I needed to get some sleep so I could think straight and decide what I was going to do for the next few days before my husband was to join up with me in Beijing.
The manager listened to my short rendition of my nights event and when I asked what the airline pilot discount was, he said there was none. However, he could offer me a room for the night at a discount to help me out. That discount cost $286. At this point, my safety and peace of mind was worth every penny. In addition to that, he was going to allow me stay till the late afternoon for check out. I was relieved. With my room key in hand, I went up to the room and crashed. I was safe and I knew where I was going to wake up later that day.
I slept till 11 AM, had breakfast and gathered my wits about me and started to make my alternative plans. As to not alarm my husband, I told him I was in Beijing and would be at the hotel upon his arrival in a few days. What a shock this story would be, even to him, but no need to alarm him just yet.
I put my travel skills to work and found a hotel just down the way to the east of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. It is close to the silk market which I was familiar with. No getting lost getting there. Just a few stops on the local bus which I was also familiar with.
The Grand Hyatt hotel has a most amazing indoor pool and spa I have ever experienced and after my terrible midnight taxi cab ride, I was going to enjoy my extra time here and relax in this beautiful underground piece of heaven. After lunch, a swim and some time in the sauna, I went back up to my room, showered and packed up my bag. I was now going to make the move from the five star glamour hotel to my new two star hotel just down the road. Every star added or subtracted is a huge difference in Beijing or anywhere else for that matter. Still, I kept reminding myself that this was safer than being out in the dark, alone and lost with a crazy taxi driver that I really think had other plans for me.