Beijing

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
1
15
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Trip End Apr 13, 2011


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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My three months in Asia starts with yet another group trip – 28 days through trip through China, Tibet and Nepal, commencing in Beijing. I didn't venture far on my first day there due to jet lag, the first task was sampling the local food for lunch. McDonalds in China is the same as everywhere else, and I broke my 12 year fast-food embargo as everywhere else looked too daunting or unappealing. I then went snack shopping to the nearby supermarket where I saw all manner of disgusting crap on display  - individually shrink-wrapped chickens feet, packets of cured intestine meat etc. No chocolate though. I had a nice Chinese meal for dinner in the hotel restaurant, where I was surprised to see the option of 'Baby Rape’ on the menu.

I ventured out on my own the next day to The ‘Temple of Heaven’, which  dates from the 14th Century and is situated in tranquil parkland. Before getting to the buildings, I walked through the park taking in the random sights – a pensioner catching plastic rings on his head, a old hag waving a huge sword around, some women singing in horrendously shrill voices accompanied by a man playing the kazoo. The tranquillity of the surroundings was frequently interrupted by the ubiquitous ‘ccchhwwaattt – tooh’ sound of a local clearing their lungs of gunk and spitting it on the pavement.

I met the rest of the group that night – two Aussie couples, three older blokes including a geriatric who fell asleep at the introductory meeting, and 4 younger single people – 12 of us in total. It seems like another decent group, but I have my concerns about the old bloke who doesn’t seem up to this trip at all.

The first excursion was to Great Wall of China, visiting the ‘Mutianyu section’ that has been extensively reconstructed. This section was situated amongst lush green mountains, with the wall snaking over the top of them into the distance. There weren’t many tourists there at all luckily, so we had the place to ourselves as we trekked along the wall in the searing heat, up 45 degree slopes taking photos of the spectacular views.  

That afternoon, we visited another Intrepid charitable foundation project-  the Huaylin school for the mentally disabled. The pupils put on a show for us, singing and dancing etc – I wasn’t too comfortable sitting there watching mentally disabled people singing,  although they seemed to be enjoying themselves. They also made our lunch for us.

The first evening was spent taking in a kung fu show. We travelled there on the incredibly clean and efficient subway system. The show featured some great stuff, like men balancing on swords, beds of nails etc, smashing metal rods over their heads and various acrobatics. There was a lot of mincing around too though, and some hilarious lip synching to the pre-recorded American dialogue.

The following day started with a tour of Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was another scorching day, and the main sights were absolutely thronged with people, mostly tourists from other parts of China. Some of these haven’t seen westerners before so sometimes just stare suspiciously at me, not returning my smiles. Some are more friendly and want their photos taken with us.

Tianenmen Square is a bare, dreary communist parade ground, surrounded by imposing looking official buildings. There is a big memorial building for Chairman Mao in the middle of it. The Chinese still love this bloke despite the utter lunacy of the Cultural Revolution. His Mr Potato Head like portrait hangs outside of the Forbidden City. This is a sprawling complex of interconnected red palaces and courtyards – it is very impressive, although most of the buildings inside are not open to tourists. The heat and the crowds got a bit too much for me at times, as I was carried along in what looked like a sea of black hair from my vantage point above Chinese heads.

The afternoon was spent on a tour of the ‘Hutongs’ by rickshaw. These are the last remnants of old Beijing – narrow alleyways with houses and shops etc in them. Most of them are now buried underneath the countless anonymous tower blocks that loom everywhere.

I could have done with a few more days in Beijing as there are a lot of attractions I didn’t have time to see, and I have been impressed with how clean, safe and orderly it is. It has been  so hot and humid though, with a hazy, featureless white sky , and I have been  dripping with sweat the whole time I have been here. The local men walk around with their tops rolled up to their nipples in an attempt to cool off. It is also uncomfortably crowded almost everywhere, with the concepts of personal space and politeness frustratingly absent most of the time.

That evening we boarded a night train to Xi’an. As everywhere in Beijing, the train station was absolutely crammed with people and was swelteringly hot. The train was clean and comfortable. We slept in bunk beds on the train, in compartments of 6 people. I am hoping Xi’an will be cooler and drier.
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