Beijing , Birthday and Bird's nests

Trip Start Jan 17, 2010
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Where I stayed
Homekey Hotel

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So we have arrived in Beijing, our 38th city of the trip and our final destination. The relative luxury of the super-modern  overnight Z-train was offset by one of our cabin companions, a sleepless, restless old man with problematic night-wind (proper mud-warblers) and an hourly all  night smoking habit. Sleep was hard to come by. We did enjoy the company, however, of the perfect-English speaking Huan, on his way to start a new life in Beijing with his girlfriend and, amusingly, employee of the sofitel hotel into whose pool we had tried to sneak the previous day. He was very tolerant of my incessant, job-interview style questioning on all things China and shared with us some Xi'an local snacks.

We pulled into Beijing with drizzle hanging in the air and found a taxi to make our way to the fabulously located Homekey Hotel. The biggest eyesore in the Hutongs - historic streets in Beijing - the Homekey is a rather inauspicious end to our 180 day accommodation bonanza (about 73 different beds we make we've slept in). With musty 1970's room furnishings, tinted windows, poor sanitation and drainage, the Homekey is an unfortunate hodge-podge of long discarded relics from the hotel world. what really sets the Homekey apart, however, is its
secret floors. At around midnight on our first night here, and after a long day exploring the Hutongs, we became aware of a dull thudding noise as we were trying to sleep. I got up to investigate, left our room on the 3rd floor, and tiptoed down the hallway. As I descended the stairs (which double up as ashtrays at the Homekey) the noise grew louder, the air grew thick with smoke, and the atmosphere darkened; double doors stood before me, beyond which who knows what lay? I pushed ahead in my pants, through the doors where an unlikely scene played out
before me. A man sat in a glass booth, surrounded by piles of
cigarettes, an old woman reclined on a leather rocking chair in a reception-cum living room, dimly illuminated by pink neon lights, and frowned at me.

Well, my senses were bombarded: all around the sound of
screeching Chinese, the flash of behind-glass video screens caught the eye, and the stench of stale smoke hung in the air - swirling now around the burly proprietor looking down at me from his glass box. Who wouldn't build a Karaoke club on the 2nd floor of a hotel, I thought? I left this, most insalubrious of establishments, keen to avoid a run-in with the cream of Beijing's underbelly and went back to bed. In truth, with the help of a room change, we have since warmed to the place and the staff here. We're now on the fifth floor and much happier, although
there remains a mysterious, unexplored stairway up to a padlocked
double doors to a part of the building not served by the lift - I'm not planning any late-night excursions.

We're enjoying our last week in Beijing. For Kanan's birthday we set out for the fabulous-but-swarming-with-tourists Forbidden City. An overwhelming complex of ancient (700 year old) buildings, beautiful halls and palaces, my favourite bit was the collection of mainly English-made 18th century elaborately mechanical and ornate clocks, maybe I am hankering for home after all...

The evening Kanan turned 30 - a fact we're both struggling to come to terms with - we watched the cream of China's young circus performers try out their new routines in a mind-boggling stage show at the Tiandi Theatre. From 12 girls on one bicycle to a gravity defying loose wire walker, we saw a wonderful array of acts.

We've been enjoying Beijing's night-life too, we spent a smoky night at a lakeside Jazz Bar, and have relaxed nicely into our final week by enjoying some astonishingly cheap beer (25p for a 500ml bottle). We spent a lazy, smoggy Sunday in the Beijing
798 Art District - a series of dilapidated electronic factories, but
the real highlight has been wandering the Hutongs. Old men gather to watch their friends play Mah Jong, drink beer and communally snooze; impromptu spit-roasts appear on plastic tables and chairs; ancient buildings, converted into boutique shops vie for our Yuan; kids play roller-badminton in the streets whilst all kinds of rickshaw-based transport whizzes people around the cobbled lanes. As I mentioned, our hotel is slap bang in the middle of it all, an ugly eyesore in the Hutong Landscape proudly proclaiming itself the tallest building of the neighbourhood.

Today we braved the Summer Palace, the less said about which the better really - think a lake awash with pedalos, an abundance of tat sellers and a million tourists on whom to prey. We followed that up with a visit to the Beijing Olympic stadium, the famed 'bird's nest', where I got far too carried away with photographs (as did the locals, who set a record for the trip in the number of times they asked to have their photos taken with one or both of us), and forced us to stay for 5 hours - see pics. We had seen it on the TV obviously, but it's one of those rare things which is actually rather better than you expect it to be. Certainly it made up for the Summer Palace earlier. In the battle of the old versus new in this trip, I think it's fair to say we'd both take a bird's nest over a temple any day of the week. Unless it's in Angkor, of course.

We have 2 full days left now, and I'd be lying if I said our thoughts weren't turning to home. We have one last trick up our trip though, and plan to head off to the Great Wall on Friday... a rare and little-visited bit apparently, so watch this space for one last update on Friday or Saturday

We're both looking forward to seeing everyone very soon!

With Love and 2 days left

J & K
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