Peking into Beijing

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
1
7
54
Trip End ??? ??, 2006


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Thursday, March 24, 2005

March 24th -31st
On our journey from the Mongolian border towards Beijing(Peking)we ran parrallel to the great wall for around 20 mins the wall snaked it's way over sharply rising peaks at seemingly impossible locations, very impressive!

The train arrived bang on time in Beijing (all the trains so far have been punctual to the minute...british rail take note). We had booked our accommodation on-line at the far east international youth hostel. The room was acceptable but more than compensated for by the location and cheap price 11 GBP per night, 5 mins walk from the centre and Tianamen Square. The Hutong in which we were located ;a traditional housing area made up of narrow streets and alley-ways, (fast disappearing), was great to wander around with a mass of shops, restaurants and the general 'hussle and bussle' you expect from a chinese city.

The prices everywhere were a pleasant surprise with a full meal (4-5 dishes)beer and coffee costing only 3-4GBP (not bad for a capital city)and you could eat much cheaper depending on the surroundings and your choice of food.

Our plan was to spend 6 days in Beijing and take our time to see the sights and relax a little after our hectic schedule of the past 3 weeks. We seem to have seen so much in such a short space of time.

Again finding your way around central Beijing is relatively easy with a cheap and effective metro system and numerous buses and taxis. Our first stop was Tianamen Square, this is a massive open expanse of paved area bounded by large city buildings and containing Mao's mausoleum, which had incredibly long cues of chinese filing past the enbalmed body which is lowered into a basement freezer over night.
Tianamen has a very laid back feel to it with large roads at it's perimeter the square itself is busy but at weekends and evenings becomes packed with thousands strolling around, flying kites and generally relaxing. We eagerly waited, along with several hundred chinese for the 'lowering of the flag' ceremony which takes place at sunset every day...to be honest this was a disappointment, no fanfare, no gunshots just a few troops lowering a flag and yet the chinese camped out for hours before to watch it. The irony was that being 2 feet taller than most chinese was a massive advantage in that I didn't have to jostle to get a good view.

"Hello I'm an art student" and "where are you from" were the opening lines of touts wanting to sell you chinese art and antiques this happened 6 to 8 times everytime we crossed Tianamen over the coming 6 days,although all were polite and soon backed off when you said you were not interested.

A great source of ammusement to us was spotting the 'Chinglish signs" that are to be seen everywhere, even at official tourist sights, the best so far have been on a restaurant menu...'Sheet steel beef with small sheeps legs,'mmmm delicious, and on the wall of the gents toilet in beihai park on a brass engraved plaque... ' These toilets are not for washing off! Please leave immediately after either Pissing or Shitting!'
Beihai park has a large lake with a central hill crowned by a buddist Stupa and we spent the afternoon relaxing there.

The 'Forbidden City'is the main attraction in Beijing both with foreign and chinese tourists. We visited at the weekend and were joined by thousands of people approaching the entrance through the imperial gate-way at the north end of Tianamen passing underneath a massive portrait of Chairman Mao. There is currently a good deal of renovation work in progress (in the run up to the olympics) and much of the Forbidden City is covered with green mesh whilst the work is in progress. Although the city is very imposing and impressive for its scale and arcitechture (ceramic tiled roofs, huge wooden entrance doors, stone lions, marble stairways,and the 10 metre high fortified wall complete with 20 metre moat that surrounds it) we found it a bit of a disappointment, as there was no human element to it; very impersonal and lacking in atmosphere. It seemed to be an empty shell almost like a reconstruction of the original. You could see thrones and living quarters from the 18th and 19th centuries including those of CiXi the dowager empress and the private quarters of the 'Last Emperor' PiYu, but only through large glass windows or from a distance behind railings.It was quite difficult to get a genuine sense of what it must have been like for it's inhabitants in it's heyday.

Our visit to the Temple of Heaven (which is located in a large park) was enjoyable for its surroundings ...groups of elderly chinese practicing tai chi and wooded areas providing shade to relax in.The temple itself contained statues of suckling calfs laying in 'baths' arranged around the base of a throne where the emperor would give thanks for the annual harvest.

The Summer palace,on the outskirts of beijing was our next daytrip. This was a massive area where the court would decamp for the summer. It consisted of single storey buildings and garden courtyards linked by winding pathways surrounding a massive lake. The main palace was again being renovated and so we could'nt enter it, a shame as the main building was set into a hillside which must have comanded wonderful views over the whole complex. It proved to be a good day out as the weather was hot and the tranquill surroundings were a great antidote to the heat of the sun.

Mutianyu was the site of our visit to the 'Great Wall' and proved to be a good choice as very few people were there. We could easily take photos with no one on the wall as far as the eye could see in both directions. We took the lazy way up to the wall ..by cable car. What a 'mind boggling' feat of construction the wall is! It stretched for miles into the far distance in each direction over seemingly impossible terrain. They must have really been frightened of those Mongols. Nowadays there is a different army camped at the foot of the wall...an army of souvenier sellers. We had to 'run the gauntlet' on the way back down, at times they were quite persistent almost agressive in their attempts to sell us all manor of 'cheap tat' associated with the wall. Although some of the T-shirts were reasonable quality and only 1GBP. The food available was delicious but we had to haggle hard to get the prices down to a realistic level (probably due to the scarcity of tourists at this time of year).

Our final visit in Beijing was made to the bell tower in the suburbs, the largest temple bell in the world is housed here and it's a monster with over 250,000 chinese characters covering it, the temple also houses a collection of bells from temples across china dating back over 1,000 years. By now we are starting to get 'tourist fatigue' and we are ready to move on and explore more of China.

Beijing has been great on the one hand exciting and very different to anything we have seen so far but at the same time relaxing with plenty of open spaces, in fact the whole city has an open atmosphere and we felt 'at ease' here despite it being a capital city. The olympics in 2008 are certainly uppermost in the minds of the Chinese authorities from the countdown clock in Tianamen to the renovation of tourist and historic sites that is in progress. This includes the general civic 'tarting up' that is underway, they are clearly trying to make a good impression (more on this later).

Today (31st of March) we leave on an 8 hour (overnight) train journey heading south west from Beijing for our next destination, Datong. As a last night treat we had to sample the Peking duck (in Peking)it was excellent, and very cheap. They carved an entire two ducks worth on to plates accommpanied by spring onions, plum sauce and pancakes washed down with Tsingtao beer and all for 3GBP!

PS For those who might be interested our total average spend including accommodation for our time in Beijing has been 45GBP per day and we have'nt roughed it at all, having restaurant meals every night with beer and luxury treats aplenty.

Bye for now, Aubrey & Jane.
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