Egg Fried Lice

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
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Flag of China  ,
Monday, October 8, 2012

Having been left Jersey for 3 months, it is getting more and more tricky reading the Saturday night Facebook posts of everyone chilling on the sofa with a Chinese takeaway so we have been desperately awaiting our arrival in China so we can partake in some good food. Our first evening exploring for some much needed food took us to the Donghuamen Night Market.  This was something of a sensory overload.  The night market consisted almost entirely of critters on sticks for dinner.  Everything from scorpions, spiders, snakes, lizards and grubs.  I am still not sure what the smell was but something being cooked smelled a lot like rotten feet.  Tim attempted to have dinner here and first tried a pancake roll with some unidentified meat and vegetables (my money is on dog), that went straight in the bin and next he tried some duck which was a little more identifiable.  I stuck with a corn on the cob.  No questions over the content of that!  Sadly we left still hungry and sought solace in the trusty golden arches of McDonalds.  5 for two meals, result! 

Early start the next morning to see the Great Wall, we opted to go to the less touristy Mutianyu section, which is a little further out, but as the tour cost just 5 each more it seemed the sensible option.  What we discovered once we were on the tour bus which had just one other young couple from Switzerland was that apparently we had bought the cheap tour which meant we would be taken to a series of shops in the hope we might buy something along the way, brilliant!  First stop a silk shop. This turned out to be a lot more fun than we realised, we were shown silk worms through their life cycle and learnt that when the cocoons are formed you get cocoons with either one or two silk worms inside, Romeo and Juliet as the man explained; although even in silk worm world you get Romeo and Romeo and Juliet and Juliet.  The cocoons with one worm can be spun using a machine and are used to make traditional silk like we are used to, but the cocoons with two worms have to be spun by hand and are used to make the filling for silk duvets.  The man did his best to sell us a silk duvet with a cover and whilst it didn't result in a sale I now cannot wait to have my own bed again just so I can have a silk duvet, they are amazing!

Onwards to the next shop, this time a tea house and we are treated to a VIP tea ceremony where we are taught how to hold the little cup, how the drink the various teas (slurping, swilling and chewing) and we are introduced to an array of products that you need to use to drink the tea (apparently a kettle and mug doesn’t cut it in China).  Here I discovered that fresh Jasmine tea is amazing and fruit tea made from lumps of dried fruit is the best thing ever, but again we leave empty handed.

Finally we make it to the wall, we had read a little about this part of the wall and knew that we could get a cable car up and toboggan down.  I didn’t really think this through as I was stood waiting for the most rickety ski lift I have ever seen to take me up the mountain.  Tim is happily snapping photos, I am holding on for dear life praying for it to all be over.  What didn’t help was as we were on the way up we could see the people going down on a narrow metal slide on what looked like skateboards.  Looks like I might be staying at the top of the wall for good!  Luckily the smog that had covered the city for the last 2 days had dissipated and we had perfect weather to see the wall.

Some Great Wall factoids:

-         The Great Wall stretches for 6200km’s starting in Jianguan in Gansu and ending at the Bahai Sea at Shanhaigan.

         The construction began in the 1st century BC and at the time the Emperor just intended to join existing defence walls together.

The wall is utterly amazing; the sheer size is astounding as you are stood on it watching it snake over the mountains all around.  We were so lucky in that there were just a few tourists milling around. The parts that we were on were unbelievably steep, all nicely repaired but still a challenge to get up and down.  I can’t even begin to think how this was constructed, amazing.  It really is something that you need to see to believe.  The trip down the wall was just as unenjoyable for me as the way up.  I pretty much clung on to my plastic skateboard for dear life and created quite a traffic jam behind me, but I made it down in one piece! Yay.

After a quick stop for lunch we were at our next shopping location, this time Ming-esq vases.  This was quite educational as I did not know that these were made from bronze with the pattern hand applied using bronze wire then the enamel filling to make it look like a vase, seriously time consuming and not a chance in hell we were going to buy anything here!

Final stop, a pearl shop.  This was a bit like being delivered to Jersey Pearl in Beijing, rubbish.  The only highlight was that I correctly the guessed how many pearls were in the oyster that they opened so won some pearl powder, brilliant, I have no idea what it is.

After a busy day we thought we would try a different food market which is better than the Donghuamen Night Market, this time the Wangfujing Snack Street.  Unfortunately this seemed to be much the same as Donghuamen only here the scorpions were still alive and wriggling on the sticks, eugh!

Despite the terrible food in the markets we quickly fell in love with China, Beijing is just an awesome city with amazing diversity.  One minute you can be in a major high-street with all the western shops you could ever want and the next minute you are walking through a Hutong watching the real everyday life of the real people in Beijing.  The Hutongs are narrow streets lined with Siheyuan (traditional residences around a courtyard).  The gates traditionally face south for more light in line with feng shui principles so most hutong run from east to west.  In the early 1900’s the hutongs became overcrowded and were subdivided and now many have been demolished and replaced with high rise buildings.  The hutongs that have survived are simply brilliant we spent many hours exploring and discovered one of my favourite types of cafes in China.  Cat Cafes, and no the cats are not on the menu.  There is no better way to spend an afternoon than with a cat and a coffee.  The Hutongs have shared public toilets so you are more than likely to see people walking down the street in the pj’s, too cool.

We did as many of the usual sights as we possibly could in the six days that we had in Beijing.

Drum & Bell Towers:  The drum and bell towers are ancient time keeping towers used for over 700 years.  The drum tower provided amazing views over the city from the small hutongs below to the massive sky scrapers on the horizon.  We had seen that there was a drum show every 30 minutes but given that we had paid 2 each to climb the tower we didn’t expect much for our money.  We were however pleasantly surprised, 5 young boys came out dressed in some strange red and white costumes that were a bit ’Elvis in China’ and did the most amazing drum performance which left us speechless. We definitely recommend a trip to see this, amazing! The Bell tower was not as much fun as the drum tower but the huge 300 year old 63 ton bell was pretty cool.

Tiananmen Square: after our disappointment of not being able to get onto Red Square in Moscow, we were very pleased to get onto Tiananmen Square.  This is the world’s biggest square and is actually 3 times the size of Red Square.  It was huge and had no problem handling the bus loads of tour groups that were unloading.  What was a little odd was that they had airport security scanners and x-ray machines for bags at every entrance to the square.

Forbidden City: This Ming Dynasty Imperial palace took 14 years to construct and is now the largest and best preserved complex of ancient buildings in China.  Erected in the 15th century it became the home to 24 emperors until the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911.  Consisting of 8,000 buildings it was some mission to get around the Forbidden City.  We were not really blown away by the Forbidden City, but it was cool to see.  Leaving the Forbidden City we found ourselves in Jingshan Park which is a massive hill created to protect the palace in the Forbidden City from the bitter northern winds and spring dust storms.  The park was a nice retreat from all the tour groups in the Forbidden City and was scattered with people practicing instruments, Tai-Chi and taking their caged birds for walks.

Summer Palace:  this was one of the most beautiful attractions that we saw.  This is the summer retreat for the Imperial family.  Let’s just say it is a little bit grander the average holiday home!  In the middle of the grounds is the Kunming Lake with amazing marble foot bridges, and the grounds are filled with gardens, towers and halls.  We managed to have the most amount of fun for 1 here as we found out that we could dress up in traditional Chinese costumes and sit in a throne!  Walking around the palace is like a physical endurance test and we just made it back to the main gate by closing time.  Annoyingly the smog had come back down over the city so our views were a bit hazy but still very pretty.  Getting the Metro back to the city also gave us another typical Chinese experience.  Beijing at rush hour.  The Metro was literally jam packed full and there were still more people getting on, luckily the trains all have a rather nice bright computerised line to show which stop you are at and which one is next as keeping track in the chaos would have been a nightmare.  Amazingly Tim and I both made it off and had to laugh when we looked back at the platform to see just how full the train was.  The metro was such an easy way to get around the city and for 20p a ticket it was definitely better than walking.  One of my favourite metro experiences was a baby utterly astounded staring at Tim.  Tim decided to practice his best 'ni hau’ (hello) which resulted in immediate tears and hilarity from the rest of the train.  Mental note – do not interact with Chinese babies; they are afraid of strange white people with blue eyes.

Silk Market:  No trip to China is complete without buying some fake tat, so a shopping trip to the silk market was just what is needed.  The silk market is not your average back street market it is a plush shiny glass shopping mall with 5 floors of designer rip offs including trainers, shoes, bags, clothes, jewellery, watches, sunnies and the obligatory Chinese silk and tailoring.  It was quite something and Tim put his haggling skills to the test.  Cheap fake sunnies with a start price of 38 haggled down to 4, not bad!  Shoes with a start price of 48 haggled down to 8, can’t complain with that.  It is almost a shame that we didn’t need to replace more of our clothes yet as this is just like walking around EBay.

Kung Fu Show: No trip to Beijing is complete without some Kung Fu, so the Masters of Kung Fu Show seemed like the perfect fix.  Luckily we found some bargain tickets online and managed to undercut all the street sellers.  Well what can we say about this show, it was more cheese than kung fu, but definitely worth seeing. The Shaolin tricks and stunts were amazing but annoyingly they were interspersed with some rubbish woman prancing about the stage.  The little kids flick flacking and the fight scenes made up for the slush but I feel a bit like this was Kung Fu got X Factored.  We were half expecting to see Simon Cowell take a bow at the end.  After the show in search of the good food we ventured off to Ghost Street which is a 24 hour street full of restaurants.  The street was awash with red lanterns and apparently the better the restaurant the more lanterns so we picked one that looked busy with plenty of lanterns and a few westerners which probably meant we might get a menu with pictures and or English.  Luckily we got pictures and English.  This was delicious and I am now becoming quite a fiend with chop sticks as the safe bet for me on most menus is either rice and sweet corn or rice and peanuts.  Neither the easiest to eat with chop sticks!  This trip was slightly spoiled after Tim returned from the toilet (which was very near the kitchen) and took great delight in telling me how fowl they were and that the squats were all covered in sick.  Bill paid and we were off!

Opposite our hotel was a bright flashing sign advertising foot and body massage so after days of traipsing around we thought that we deserved a treat and as they were open till 1:30am what better to have before bed.  Off we went for an oil back massage.  Having had many a Jersey Voucher and Quids In massage in the last year, I thought that I knew what to expect.  Well this is the roughest most painful massage I have ever had; the knots were well and truly worked out of my shoulders and spine and replaced with rather large bruises and swollen patches.  Thank goodness I didn’t let them loose on my feet I would have had to leave in a wheelchair.  Chinese massage is definitely not going back on my ‘to do in another city’ list!

Whilst we both loved Beijing, there were a few oddities in the culture that we just couldn’t quite get used to.  The squat toilets were getting more manageable until we went into the hutong and gone were the cubicles and we were just faced with a row of squats.  The Chinese seem intent on spitting.  I am talking everyone, man, woman and child coughing up phlegm from the deepest recesses of their lungs and spitting it in the nearest bin.  The spitting is not bad, but the noises of the hocking up were making me gag at points.  The other oddity that goes hand in hand with the spitting is bin picking.  Everyone from the homeless to people in suits are picking paper and plastic bottles out of bins, this would not be so bad were it not for the bin spitting!  Most babies in China don’t wear nappies, they have splits in their trousers so their little bums are constantly on show and you will regularly see a toddler squatting at the base of a tree or over a plastic bag, so bizarre and I do feel for the poor little babies in winter, that can’t be comfortable having a frost bitten bot.  The strangest thing that we have identified about China is that Prawn Crackers seem to be totally unheard of here, are Chinese takeaways at home just tricking us with Chinglish food?!

Our journey around China from Beijing to Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin and Shanghai is all by sleeper train and knowing how difficult tickets are both to book due to availability issues we arranged for a company to book them on our behalf.  After the luxury of our private cabin all the way from Moscow to Beijing we were relieved to hear that we would also have a private cabin from Beijing to Xi’an.  The bad news is that other than this train all other cabins are 4 berth in soft sleeper or 6 berth in hard sleeper and the really bad news was that our train from Xi’an to Chengdu was going to be a hard sleeper with a middle and top bed.  We are not sure how Tim is going to get up to the middle bed but at least we are travelling properly some of the way across the world.  Fingers crossed we get western travellers who won’t be spitting in bins for the whole 24 hours!
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