Day 237 – 240 (28th Apr to 1st May) – Beijing

21 05 2011

After the previous nights late flight we were a little slow getting out and about in Beijing. When we did, we found the smog marred our experience a little, giving us a sore throat and a runny nose and eyes. It was warm and bright out, but the sun was only just visible as a faint white hazy ball in the sky.

The crowds at the Forbidden City

There is so much to do and see in Beijing you could spend weeks here and never get bored. Firstly as a tourist it’s much easier going with more English spoken at hotels and tourist sights, the food seems less ‘weird’ and getting about town is fairly straight forward.

We started by visiting the huge and mighty impressive Forbidden City– it is actually an Imperial Palace and is the largest royal complex in the world, built in the Ming and Qing Dynasty. So not actually a city, and forbidden because common folk weren’t allowed in. We headed south to Tiananmen Square, the sight of the 1989 protest (and subsequent massacre). I remember my Dad telling me the protest was a very important event however being eleven I wasn’t that fussed, now over twenty years later I know what was going on. Some of the student protesters are still in jail or missing. The security was very tight, with countless cameras, uniformed and plain clothed police.

In the evening we had a really lovely meal and education in how to eat Peking Duck (duck and pancakes to you and I). Olivia, I’ll have to show you how it’s done – apparently the duck is dipped into the plum sauce and the pancake is folded three times then rolled.

The following day we took a private trip to see the Great Wall, and no it can’t be seen from space – you heard wrong. Having now seen it I would never describe theGreat Wall of Chinaas ‘Great’, Great’ish maybe. I think the concept of a 5,500 mile protective wall to keep out the Mongolians or any other unsavouries is a ‘Great’ achievement in the third century BC. However as a tourist sight it’s just a big wall. It’s not even the original thing – it’s been rebuilt several times, the last time being in the 50’s, as the locals nicked the stones to build their houses. Furthermore, the large majority of the wall is rubble yet to be renovated.

Matters weren’t helped by the fact we were on the worst tour in the world. Our tour guide knew nothing and appeared to be a pathological liar. After specifically clarifying we would not be going to any shops to be sold tat we were taken directly to a shop to be sold tat. After saying we didn’t want to go to anymore shops to buy tat we were told we had to go to more otherwise she would lose her job. We were basically hijacked for the day and only just had time to see the Summer Palace, which was nice. The tour was awful and when the woman asked for a tip we could only laugh and walk away. It really was a shame as pretty much everyone we could communicate properly with in China was nice and very honest.

We spent a morning at the Olympic Park, unfortunately they were setting up for a music concert in the Birds Nest so that was closed, however the Aquatic Centre was across the road and was open. Looked a lot like a swimming pool to me, but Jen was very pleased. They converted one of the three pools to a mini water park and it was heaving – hate to think how much phlegm was in that water.

Typical Hutong street scene

We also explored some of Beijing’s famous Hutongs on foot and by bicycle – one of the few things protected from the insatiable road and high-rise construction projects in this country. Hutongs are essentially the narrow streets or alleyways of the old town that connect and run between the old courtyard style dwellings. However, now the word Hutong generally just refers to these old neighbourhoods. They were really nice one and two story dwellings, kind of like a mews in Camden Town.

We had the bizarre pleasure of visiting Wangfujing Street, a narrow market stall-lined street selling (mostly for the benefit of tourists) an unnecessarily diverse range of foods on a stick. The Chinese seem to relish eating many unappetising things, not sure why – maybe from the 1965 to 1993 food rationing days or just a form of one-upmanship. Say your mate Dave eats a grass hopper, so to out do him you eat a frog, so he eats silk worm grub, so you then eat a scorpion, so he eats a whole baby chick, so you eat a starfish, so he eats a live seahorse… How do you out-do that? How do you beat a live seahorse? Is the answer Dave?!? Do you eat Dave? Is this where things are heading in China…

Our last stop in China was Tianjin, but only to fly out of. This did however give us the opportunity to travel on the world’s fastest passenger intercity train at an amazing 350kph! Unfortunately even this is due to be surpassed in a matter of months with the opening of the Beijing to Shanghai high speed line. China is definitely a country with two faces and it was probably best we left on a high, experiencing the new slick modern China; leaving the busy, dirty and chaotic image as a distant memory in our minds.


Tiananmen Square

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