Trip Start Jan 05, 2007
24Trip End Ongoing
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So when al came over to China in December he flew into Beijing (where else?). I took the overnight train from Dalian to meet him. It's a 10 hour journey on the train because you have to go up and around, then down the peninsula. If it was a straight road it'd take probably 3 hours...
Anyway we stayed in a decent hotel near Tiananmen square. This was my third visit to Beijing so i had done alot of the touristy things. There were just a few things i wanted to do - an 8 km trek along unrestored sections of the Great Wall and rent some bicycles to cycle around the hutongs (old alleyways) and streets of Beijing. The later is a great way to see Beijing. Central Beijing is not that big; slightly too big to walk around but for a bike it's perfect. We rented two bikes in a hostel (the Dragon youth hostel if i remember) located in a maze of hutongs south of Tiananmen. This is a hutong
So anyway on our bikes we cycled out to the remains of Beijing City walls dating from the Ming dynasty.
Other sights we took in were Jingshan park. This park consists of a big tree covered hill and gives great views over the forbidden city. When we were there it was filled with groups of Chinese people serenading eachother which was an interesting sight. We made our way up the hill. This hill was created with all the earth taken out of the ground from the creation of the moat around the Forbidden city. At the peak of the hill there's a little temple-style building and a viewing platform. From here you can look out over the rooftops of the forbidden city.
The next day we went into the Forbidden city for a quick run through. This isn't the most exciting place in the world, especially on the 2nd visit. The construction work going on didn't help the illusion of an ancient place (neither did the starbucks - yes there's a starbucks in the forbidden city...). A number of the bigger buildings were off limits and covered in scaffolding as the massive restoration project for the Olympics next year has gotten well under way...I'm surprised the Forbidden city is still there, as i get the sense in china, that old buildings and other things, like the hutongs, are looked on as something to be ashamed of or embarrasssed about (well maybe not the FC). I guess this maybe stems from these old things symbolising the past and not such affluent times. In the past without cash to modernise, some cities have kept there old architecture (like Pingyao). As the economy grows we'll no doubt see less and less ancient buildings...Modern skyscrapers = an affluent city - and this is what most government officials want - the appearance of affluence. This stretches even to the extent that bicycles are banned in some places in china. I guess they symbolise the past too. Sorry i'm rambling. So i hurried al along and we explored the entirety of the Forbidden city in about an hour...
Later that day we went for the obligatory beijing duck dinner. It was good. Real good. That night we took in a Beijing opera which was very interesting. It consisted of traditional style play, with lots of singing in the high-pitched wailing style, some kung fu monks doing lots of different styles, even monkey style which was great, a stand-up comedy duo that i just didn't get and finally sichuan (pronounced Su - as in success) opera. This style is unique to sichuan; it includes the famous "face-changing." In Chinese opera, facial makeup is usually painted, but in Sichuan Opera, the performer can change his or her facial makeup in the snap of a finger right on stage - as in, it's a mask but the change is so fast its great to watch...
That night we didnt stay out late as we had booked a tour bus to bring us to the great wall for the 8km trek. I was hoping my wall experience this time wouldn't be similar to my visit to Badaling the previous July. This is the most visited section of the great wall and when i went there it was jammed beyond belief by tour groups as well as the weather being really hot. A hellish experience. The deal this time was that the bus would bring us to Jinshaling, and we would then make the trek along the wall until Simatai, where we would be collected again and brought back to Beijing.
It was cold up there, with strong winds blowing in from the Gobi desert (which threatens to consume Beijing) and the trek at times was a little nervy and very tough. We were walking over unrestored, crumbling sections of the wall that dated back a 1000 years. Some of the parts were quite steep and required getting down on all fours so you wouldnt be swept from the wall...The trek took us about 3-4 hours to complete. As we reached the section at Simatai the wall became more manageable as it was restored in places.
Overall the trek along the great wall has been my best china experience. It is amazing and i'd reccomend it to anyone. I'd also say stay as far away from Badaling as you can.
Those few days in Beijing, coming up to the week before Christmas, the weather was very cold. Especially in the evening. We went out one night to Saniltum bar street. Basically a street with lots of crap bars. It was so cold that we wanted to leave a bar and head to the next one, but we'd go outside and the cold would just make us go right back in. We were forced to listen to some more of a crap Filipino band playing bad covers. That's how cold it was!
Well that was my third visit to Beijing and Alan's first. It's a great city and one of my favourites, i wouldn't be at all adverse to living there for awhile either. But as a tourist there, i've had my fill.
Where I stayed