Long walks, great walls and Beijing Draft
06.09.2011 - 10.09.2011
In the beginning there was Jen and Steve the intrepid travellers, bold, excited and naive as to what lay ahead in China's vastly over populated city of Beijing. After 5 days we have experienced hustle and bustle, food of unknown origin and Chinese customs of snorting and spitting (Not convinced it will catch on in the UK!). Advice to all fellow travellers that start in China; embrace the food, never trust the police to help you cross road and have a detailed map in Chinese script to show to the taxi driver!
It's plain and simple - Beijing is huge. You cannot expect to walk everywhere and it would be silly to attempt to as you soon discover your map is 1 kilometre per cm. So naturally true to form we attempted the grand orientation on foot only to spend hours sweating and going nowhere on the map. Lesson number one learnt, use the subway, it costs 2 Yuan, that's only 20p, per journey! So with that sussed by day 2 we were sorted. Next came the “How do we eat?” question because damn, walking makes you hungry! The first night saw us embrace the night food market, a great way to pick your food and watch them cook it. But don't be fooled, the Chinese are cheeky - what they say the food is and what it actually is, is somewhat debatable. That said however the food was great, you just need to ensure you take tissues and wet ones for your fingers as this is oily food on a stick or in a cardboard box eaten whilst standing at the side of a busy road.
So we have the basics understood: use the subway, eat when hungry and don't think to much about what you might be eating. If it tastes good then what's the problem? However as Steve would say “if it tastes good but it gives you the shits then we have a problem”.
In Beijing we have had exciting encounters with:
1) Dodging the street sellers
2) Pandas (we recon as a result of Kung Fu Panda) See pic below.... “I love Kung-Fuuuuuuuuuu”
3) Dodging Rickshaw drivers
4) “The Tea Scam”- luckily wise to this before arriving in China we encountered the very thing that the Rough Guide had warned us about; Chinese approaching you and asking if you can teach them English, where upon they lead you to a Tea House of their choosing, you order tea and then when the bill comes the price is huge. The introduction of a tough looking Chinese bouncer means you are forced to pay these prices based upon an alterntive and more expensive menu - you have been scammed! When the guy approached us we lied and said we lived in Beijing, didn't teach English and hated art in response to all his attempts to get us to follow him. We then found a vantage point and watched him and his friend attempted to coax other likely takers to their trap.
So let talk about the sights, we visited Tiananmen Square on the first day of sight seeing. This is probably half the size of Glasgow City centre (greater than 40 Hectares), amazing architecture however exceptionally busy with tourists. The other tourists are somewhat mesmerised by the western skin colour, look and in Steve's case, his hairiness. So much so that they at any and every opportunity will take pictures of us or request to have a picture taken WITH us!!!! How embarrassing! See pictures of Tiananmen Square below.
The Forbidden City (Imperial Palace) lies across the road and due North of Tiananmen Square and witnessed the reign of 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties who commanded absolute authority over the millions of people. The ordinary folk during this time were forbidden to go near the walls of the Palace, hence the name. This was a must to visit and we are glad we did, however it became pretty boring after a while. As Steve said “once you've seen one dressing room you don't really need to see the 6 they had for the other days of the week”.
After 3 nights in a plush hotel without the plush price (good old www.booking.com), we moved on to the Happy Dragon Hostel, which I found on Hostel World with great reviews. This was the happiest place to stay ever, great staff, bar, beer and food. From here we managed to plan our escape from Beijing with the hostels help and also the trip to the Great Wall. This also put us in a more convenient place to go up to the all popular areas such as the Hutongs around the Drum and Bell Towers with a visit to a pampered park (Beihai Park) just south of the Hutongs.
The Hutongs are like a maze and as the Rough Guide said are easy to get lost. (small alleys with eating places and shops scattered throughout). Parts of this did resemble the only too familiar buzzing atmosphere of Upper Street, Islington on a Saturday night. We finally found our way out of the ever confusing Hutongs and stumbled across the Drum and Bell Towers (15th century Ming Creations). A few pics...
And then to the pub to quench our thirst, eat and use the ever lovely squat...
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA: Well what can we say, “Amazing, brilliant, breath-taking views, fun etc etc” See below for the pictures. We went to the Jinshanling area for the hike that would take in the best vantage points and be a little exerting for the aging body! After a 3 hour drive in a minibus design for circus midgets folowed by a lecture about how we must be careful and be back for the lunch by 2pm by our tour guide, we were set free on the Great Wall. Yipeeeee! The engineering is unbelievable considering where it is! Safely say the best day in China so far.
We did however go further than we were advised to because we got to the turning point 1 hour earlier than estimated by the guide (she decided not to join us). We did at the beginning have a good laugh about the people that showed up for the hike in heels or flip flops and a towel to keep them warm (it was raining). This soon petered out when we passed Chinese ladies on the rockiest most uneven parts wearing stilettos that I wouldn't be able to walk across a dance floor in.
Upwards and onwards!
Shanghai on the high speed train. 4 hrs 45 mins averaging 300k/hr with 1 stop - weeeeeeeeeee! Blink and you'll miss a kilometer or two! Destination the Rock and Wood Hostel on the West side just out of the city centre.