Here comes the sun
Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
76Trip End Apr 25, 2007
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As you may guess my first impressions weren't great... firstly, there was a standard "sting the tourist" operation at the airport. It starts as soon as you walk through the arrival gates with dodgy characters discretely offering their taxi services to you, trying to grab your bags and being general nuisances
The next morning I was rudely awoken to say the least. In a dorm of 8 beds there is almost an assurance of meeting strange characters from around the world. I can tolerate all sorts of shenanigans, but there are some things you just don't do. Imagine being woken at 8am (and imagine this is early), to find that in fact it is not an earthquake causing your bunk bed to rock ferociously. Still dazed and half asleep, you investigate further as to the cause, only to find that the bloke on the bottom of your bunk is "feeding the chooks". I lay awake, with wide eyes, until I could not take any more. In an effort to hurry proceedings along a little so I could get back to sleep, I decided the old cricket trick of slow clapping him in
Hitting the streets I discovered that following my sojourn in Japan I had in fact gone from pedestrian god to pedestrian cannon-fodder. To make matters worse, I had a bicycle lane to contend with and found myself constantly looking the wrong way before crossing a road (they drive on the other side). I also came to grips with the sheer size of the place, and the fact that my map was not to scale at all.
I wandered down to The Forbidden City for a look around - the enormity of the place was a little surprising, and somewhat masked in the palaces due to high walls and few open spaces. Room after room, palace after palace, garden after garden. The place is a maze of entwined history, showcasing endless convoluted names such as "Hall of Heavenly Peace", "Gate of Supreme Harmony", and "Brick of Earthly Eternal Pure Prosperous Knowledgeable Dragons". Apparently the Emperor could simply wander around allocating names to things as he saw fit. Heading for the huge exit gate, impressed by everything I'd seen, my visit was soured slightly by my first of many visits from the bandits known as the "English teachers who are also artists with a gallery just around the corner that they'd love to share with you obligation free". Being my first encounter with the TETWAAAWAGJATCTTLTSWYOF, and the fact I was still within the walls of the bloody Forbidden City, I followed the personable bloke, chatting all the while about not much, until a few minutes later we reached a room with traditional paintings adorning every inch of its walls
I headed to Tiananmen Square with a smug look on my face, confident of maintaining my scam-free record for the rest of my stay in Beijing. Not much to see there apart from a big square of concrete with some monuments on it, a couple of soldiers, and people trying to sell me official Mao/China memorabilia. Pickled Mao wasn't open because I'd managed to visit on the only closed day, but that wasn't a big loss in my opinion because huge queues are supposed to be involved.
Met up with Peter to seek some authentic grub, and after delving sufficiently far down some side streets we stumbled on a fantastically cheap BBQ place with all the favourites on the menu - no english translations though! After a lot of pointing and waving we waited to see what food we'd managed to order, but not wanting to take any chances ordering beers we went into their back kitchen and grabbed them from the fridge ourselves. Numerous beers into the night, there was a bit of commotion and then a fight broke out between two of the blokes working there - to this day we are still no closer to figuring out what the hell it was all about.
On the way home I was afforded some insight into the genius that is Peter's mind. Having earlier come across city maps for a pricey 8 yuan, yet knowing full well that we would never pay such a king's ransom, we (but not really me) hatched a plan to enter a swanky hotel and pretend to be patrons. After using their luxurious toilets we went to their info desk and demanded a map, then took off into the night.