Well this is the first time on my trip that I wasn't ready to leave somewhere and wished I'd booked longer. There is so much to see and it's an amazing place. I hope to get back. This was also the first place I've travelled into on my own and I was apprehensive, mainly about the difference in language.
It has been tricky and harder to organise things than anywhere else so far but I totally love it. Nothing is easy here. Even getting money out of cashpoint or logging onto free wifi and of course you can't ask anyone because hardly anyone speaks English. And why would they? They can speak to each other fine of course, and they do, very loudly and animatedly. Every conversation sounds like an argument and they don't smile at each other at all.
It turns out my hostel is exactly what I had imagined hosteling would be like. When I arrived there were a group of people Rhys and Cerys' age sitting in the street drinking and it turns out one of them was the receptionist. lots more partying people inside but I didn't care, I just needed a bed. Straight to my room of four (2 girls, 1 boy) already sleeping so at least they weren't going to be one of the drunken ones coming in later. Not that I would have known - I climbed onto my top bunk being as quiet as I could and was asleep before my head hit the pillow - literally! Safe to say Jo and Jaq you would still be awake!
I have struck the jackpot with the area I'm staying in,it's perfect. The little street I'm in is known as a Hutong which is one of the oldest types of streets in China and disappearing. Such a shame because it is amazing. Full of culture and character but also with everything you could want. I absolutely adore it! It's right at the start of the main shopping district, full of bars and restaurants and at the end of my street, turn left and I'm a five minute walk from Tinnanamun square. Loving my hostel, shared dorm and all, and so booked an extra night there,
Trying to sort out tour guides, ordering my time here is extremely hard with intermittent wifi, language barriers etc. I realise quite quickly that I'm not going to be able to fit everything in as Beijing is huge and travel time around it is lengthy. I decide my priorities are 'the triangle' - Beijing for Tiannimun Square and the Great Wall, Xi'an for the Terracotta Warriors and Shanghai where I'm flying out of. Disappointed not to have time to see The Summer Palace or the Pandas but realistically to catch the train to Xi'an and have time there I have to catch the next available train which is already Day 4 of my ten days in China - far too short!
I enjoyed wandering around Tianninum Square and The Forbidden City but realised a guide explaining things would have been invaluable so much So that although I could have got to the wall using local transport, I decided to find a tour company. Not easy! I eventually sorted one out with an English speaking guide about 7:00 the evening before the tour the following morning. It was to be a full day tour with about 20 people.
It did run from 6:30 to 5:45 but included a stop at a jade factory and a tea ceremony which we hadn't been told about and which we didn't want to go to, but had to as part of the tour! There were 3 other adults and one child as well as me. They were nice, from Argentina and Utah. They were equally unimpressed with the tour experience. In a nut shell, the guides English was so heavily accented it was impossible to follow. He talked really fast with no attempt to check our understanding, didn't want to engage with us, was sullen and didn't provide any information unless really pressed for it. That included basics like toilets. He also walked at such a pace, we hardly had time to look, let alone take pictures. He frequently lost us, then yelled at us all in Chinese to keep up, like it was our fault!
We stopped at the Ming tombs on the way to the wall. We all thought we'd be able to enter them but were told no. The carved animals that mark each of the tombs were spectacular from what I saw as we legged it through the centre of them. I couldn't see any entrances and the area was clearly marked Ming Timbs but we all speculated there was another part that we were missing. We somehow felt like there was more that we weren't seeing and of course attempts by the group to ask the guide weren't met favourably.
The wall however was incredible and the highlight of the tour. Luckily enough it didn't need a guide to explain it, although it would have been nice to hear some of its history. The hundreds of steps did feel reminiscent of Macchu Picchu on times, Dave and Dawn. I took some photos especially for you both, which I will post to Facebook. I split off from the others and enjoyed being on the wall on my own. I was able to walk at my own pace, read the signs and really appreciate what it must have been like without any chatter or interruptions.
All in all a mixed day and even though it's been long and hot I look k forward to enjoying the evening which will be my final in Beijing. clearly could do with at least another week. Reflecting in the bus on the way back what strikes me is the order that there is to the apparent chaos. The roads and even the pavements are divided into sections and the thousands of people are very orderly. There are queues everywhere and people are polite in them, plus there are police everywhere you turn. Sitting and standing in groups of two or three and often armed they are on every corner and constantly stop and check individuals. They seem to enter their identity card into a portable machine and then send them on their way all in a very loud and officious manner.
First place I've not been impressed by the food. I thought I'd struck lucky when I spotted Latte on the menu. It arrived and was so sweet it nearly took my teeth out! I gave up trying to explain I didn't want sugar. The menus are all heavy into meat and even the street snacks are all meat based. I've tried to ask what sort of meat but have been put off by the response of meat. Or if I ask chicken, they nod yes chicken. If I ask beef they nod yes beef and it all looks identical. I've been trying to stick to vegetable based dishes but even that's not plain sailing. I ordered Vegetable fried rice as I'd had some success with this in India so thought I'd give it a go. OMG, my mouth is still burning at the thought of it, plus, there wasn't a Vegetable in sight. I must confess I did have salad in an Italian I found and ice cream from MacDonalds!
The other thing I wasn't expecting is the shopping. I can't believe how incredible it is and I can't even share it with Sharon, she would be in her element! It was so hard trying not to buy things. I had to keep reminding myself, you'll have to carry it and your backpack is already heavy! Still picked up a few bits which I'm now working out how to pack and post to the UK, Probably cost more than the goods, but we will see.
I failed to find the night food market with the interesting 'food'. I really wanted to go and although I was tired after walking around in the heat all day I knew it didn't shut until 10:00. So I asked some random person for directions (not sure I'd been understood) and set off. About 45 mins later around 9.30 I had to admit defeat as the area looked too dodgy to be wondering about on my own so I made my way back and headed to a tiny bar next door to my hostel for a well earned beer. It struck me as funny that if anyone arrived the same time as I had the night before, I would now be one of the people sitting outside drinking!
I'm writing this on the Bullet Train to Xi'an and will try to get a photo when I get off providing the station isn't as chaotic as Beijing! I had to go first class as they were they only seats left so all is good. I'll write again from Xi'an hopefully when I've seen the Terecotta Worriors.