We painlessly passed through passport and temperature control (they have infrared cameras that check to see if you have a fever) before catching the express train into the city. First impressions of China were that it was very humid, very security minded and full of people. To get to our prebooked hostel we had still to catch a couple of underground trains but we managed to find our way, because of the Beijing Olympics everything has an english name as well as in Chinese. The hostel seemed pretty good, we had showers and then went to the local supermarket for a snack. Cesca went in to find something and came back with Cucumber flavoured crisps and some sweet biscuits. Both options looked great but tasting was a different matter. For example the crisps smelt and tasted so strongly of cucumber that they were horrible and we had to throw them away half uneaten, after we both gipped after trying to eat them
. The biscuits were ok in comparison although they were what we would consider savoury in style with a bit of creme filling and therefore were incredibly dry. Cesca explained the strange crisp choice (when there were other more normal flavours e.g salt) by saying that she thought that they would taste like Tzasiki!!! In China!!! Thirsty and smelling of cucumber we caught the subway to Tianamen Square. This place made famous by the student protests in 1989 didn't seem that terrifying on the surface. However, looking a bit closer you can see the bag check scanners at each entrance, the speakers and cameras on the lamp posts and the numerous armed guards patrolling which left us with a sense of unease. Compared to other places we have been though we were not bothered as much by street hawkers - they seemed quite content to go after the numerous Chinese tourists instead. At the far end of the square we walked around Mao's tomb and checked out the Old City Front Gate before heading back to the hostel. By this stage the lack of sleep and the humidity had gotten to us so we had a short nap, met our German roomie who seemed a little odd, before going out for some dinner. The scorpians on sticks for sale at the cafe around the corner were very off-putting so we had KFC instead, even this Cesca couldn't eat as the chicken in it was leg meat and she was sure that it was dog!!! With this thought in her head I got 2 burgers!
Wednesday 2nd Sep - Forbidden City
This morning we felt a lot better after a good nights sleep and so decided to venture out for a full day
. First stop was the supermarket where I took my turn to find us something tasty to eat. In the fruit and veg area I considered the toads and terepins in tanks, before going for a couple of bananas and then found some bread and cheese spread in the fresh food section. Mission accomplished we walked quite a fair way to the north entrance of the Forbidden City. This large walled area housed the emporers of the Ming and Qing dynasties and was out of bounds to normal people for over 500 years. We hired an audio tour and set off through the ornate grounds to the temples and great halls in the centre. The most impressive buildings were the 3 large halls that used to house the emporer, the empress and the concubines. It was not only the sheer size that was impressive but also the fact that they were made completely out of wood and the decorations were fantastically ornate. For example above the doors were golden decorations of dragons and phoenix's that were used for protection. Also, there were lots of pairs of bronze lions placed outside the main doors of each building again for protection. The male lion had his poor on the world, whilst the female dragon had her poor on a cub supposedly feeding it but looking more like she was crushing it. In other areas there were massive bronze pots filed with water in case of fire (they had to put a fire under them in winter - doubling the fire risk!). Our other favourite section of the city was the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the emporer used to hold ceremonies with the people. This hall is purposely positioned high above other buildings in the courtyard surrounding it so that it gives it more importance, The impressive arcitectual thing about it was the 3 tiered balcony around it which was made entirely of marble. After returning the audio tour we walked back through the streets back to the hostel. Once we'd had a shower we ate at the hostel bar sampling some Chinese food for the first time and enjoying it.
Thursday 3rd Sep - Beijing
This morning we got up and headed to the supermarket for some breakfast. This time Cesca ventured in and returned with our standard fare of banana's, some salted chips and a strawberry yoghurt. Everything still tasted a bit strange however - the yoghurt tasted more milky than fruity and the chips tasted a little bit of chicken. Putting aside these difficulites we headed to the Silk Market on the underground. This 5 level shopping paradise was full of fake clothes, electronics, watches and perfumes and was a bit of a tease for both ourselves and the market people - they saw us as walking wallets and we couldn't really buy anything so near the start of our final leg as we would have to carry it the rest of the way. We decided to look at iphones after being impressed with ones we had seen in the UK. After agreeing a fee for two we tried our NZ sim cards in them to check they worked which initially they didn't. Whilst she was trying to fix the problem we got to use one properly for a while and realised that they were a terrible copy - not even a half good copy so walked away. The shop lady was less than impressed and told Cesca at first to "shut up" and then "I hope you die" for wasting her time. Enjoying our lucky escape we caught the subway back across town and then walked to Jingshan Park. This park is just north of the Forbidden City and was created from the earth dug out when they made the wall moat. At its centre is a huge mound with a viewpoint on top that allows great views over the Forbidden city and the rest of Beijing itself. We had an ice cream wandering around the rest of the grounds before passing the tree where an emporer hung himself and then climbing the hill to check out the view. Back down the bottom we headed home for showers as at 6pm we were going to an Acrobat show
. This show was fantastic, the acrobats were part of the Chinese National Acrobats so they were the best of the best. The best parts of the show were the girls jumping around on a bike (at one point there were 15 on 1 standard bike) and the guys monkeying around on two flagpoles. This is not to dimiish the other parts that included the girls juggling yo-yo style things, the guys flipping through hoops, the girls juggling umbellas and 1 girl doing 1 armed pushups and figures on a rotating and growing platform! Tired out from just watching we braved a taxi home with an Aussie guy called Lyndsey we met from our hostel. It was different seeing Beijing at night through the cab window - there is so much traffic and light from all the neon Picadilly Circus/Times Square style advertisments and signs everywhere. The cab driver got lost and had to ring for directions after taking us completely the wrong way but we didn't mind too much and the fare was still really cheap. We ate in the hostel bar with Lyndsey although it was a struggle to chat as the staff were trying to get everyone to play dance mat at full volume.
Friday 4th Sep - The Great Wall of China
We had to get up at 6.45am for breakfast today as we were going on a day trip to the Great Wall. It was a bit weird but still enjoyable to eat european style eggs and toast but we managed to knock it back without too much hassle
. As it was pouring with rain the hostel staff lent us umbrellas - we hoped that we wouldn't need them at the wall as it was 80kms away and the weather hopefully would be better. It was quite a drive through the morning traffic - we took the opportunity to snooze and before we knew it we were at Mutianyu. There are several sections of the wall that can be easily visited from Beijing - we had chosen Mutianyu because the scenery was supposed to be spectacular and this section was not supposed to be as visited by other tourists. As we pulled up the rain stopped - after a quick discussion we decided to take the cable car up to the wall rather than make the slippy climb in jandals. At the summit we walked up a few flights of stairs, through a small gap and then we were there - standing on top of the Great Wall of China! This thing was amazing, not only the length of construction with thousands of kilometeres of wall but also the height and width - you could drive a car along the top of it! We found the different levels of altitude mind blowing too - the short section that we walked must have climbed and dipped up to 100m as it followed the ridge of the hill. How did they build it? Due to the mist at the top we didn't really get to see the wall snaking away into the distance - instead we got a magical eerie quiet. This provided us with some great photos - even if we did have to putthe little camera on its 'underwater' setting to get the best pics! After going back down to the cable car we went to a local restaurant for lunch, they provided us with loads of great, tasty food and the dishes kept coming until we were all stuffed
. This meant that again we had a snooze on the bus back into town although this time it was from overeating not tiredness. For dinnner we just had a quick snack from the supermarket as we were both still full from lunch. This time they were selling live shrimp outside from a big tub - they just scooped them up and put them in a bag for their customers (even the ones that jumped out onto the floor in a bid to escape).
Saturday 5th Sep - Summer Palace
At the supermarket last night we bought snacks to keep us going for the day so we ate breakfast on the way to the Summer Palace. This massive park like area outside the city was used by the ancient emporers when the Forbidden City got too hot in the middle of Summer hence the name. We made another journey on the subway across town before catching a short taxi to the front gate. After consulting the price list we bought the full monty ticket and set off into the grounds to explore. As we rounded the first corner the whole vista in front of us opened up revealing a massive lake and numerous big buildings across it on the far side. We opted to catch a dragon boat across to the buildings as it looked like fun on the lake. As we were last on the boat and it was short on seats the deckhand gestured and pointed until we understood he was letting us sit outside on the very front of the boat! Yay - we had the best view out of everyone. As we cruised over the lake towards the big buildings the deckhand even tried to give us a guided tour - pointing at various things and telling us what they were. At least that is what we think he was doing - he was jabbering away in manderin even after we made it clear we couldn't understand a word he was saying. Once docked we thanked him for his efforts as we got off, it was probably a first class explanation
. Our first stop was the huge full size replica marble boat standing in the shallows that one crazy emporer blew all his money on - the idea was that as it was marble it would last forever and symbolise how longstanding his rule and dynasty were. It was longstanding but unfortunately he and his dynasty were not. After consulting our map we made our way uphill to the replica South China Shopping Street built around a canal. It was really quite quaint although we weren't tempted by the Chinese clothing or caligraphy on offer. After a quick rest stop for a drink we made the long climb up hundreds of stairs to the top of the hill and visited the Realm of Multitudinous Fragrance and the Buddist Tower. Returning down some different stairs we passed other rooms full of memerabilia to the now gone ruling families including jade, bronze and pottery collections. We had lunch next to the lake and watched a young couple entertain a little boy. We have noticed the little kids here have split trousers up the front and the back - we assume this is instead of nappies so they can go to the toilet quickly, it must be chilly with your bum hanging out the whole time. Our last stop on our way back around the lake was at the ruling families theatre. This had some interesting artifacts including some old photos and clothing that helped construct what China was like at the turn of the 20th Century. Outside the Palace we hopped back into a taxi and onto the subway before emerging out at the Olmpic Sports Centre. The Birds Nest stadium was more impressive in real life than it was on tv last year during the Olympics - there are not many stadiums that pay attention to the view outside as well as the one inside. We had a quick look a the Water Cube (the Aquatics Centre) whislt we were there before heading back to the hostel to pack our bags. After a rushed dinner we tried to check out of the hostel - this turned out to be harder than it would seem. Originally we had booked and paid to stay in the hostel tonight - but our plans changed and we decided to catch an overnight train tonight instead
. We didn't tell reception our plan as we didn't think they would refund us any money... we were wrong. They insisted on giving us half our money back for that night and then sent someone with us to the main road to tell the taxi driver where we wanted to go! Madness! Beijing West Train station turned out to be mad as well - for a start it is massive - it can apparently cater for 300,000 passengers a day! Also, the queue for our train was huge already even though we were 45mins early. We hung back and let everyone else rush on before finding our carriage and our beds for the night. Even though we booked 3 days earlier we were stuck with the top bunks which were so small not even Cesca could not sit up in bed, she banged her head about 3 times whilst I somehow didn't once. We found a comfortable position on Cesca's bed together and watched a movie before the lights were put out on us half way through at 10pm. To get back to my own bunk at the end of the movie I had to monkey myself over the gap in the dark without falling to my doom.