Beijing Bling!! (Warning, picture overkill!!)
09.03.2009 - 13.03.2009 15 °C
After shopping up a storm under the Shanghai sky, it was time to move on for some Beijing Bling. We took a very flash overnight train (more flash than most of the hostels and guesthouses we've stayed in of late) from Shanghai to Beijing. Boarding a train in China is rather like boarding a plane: xray your stuff, get herded into a waiting lounge and then wait until the train police open the gates to the platform, at which point the idea is to run like hell to the train or get out of the way while the rest of China runs like hell to the train (a seemingly pointless persuit seeing as everyone has an allocated seat or bed).
On arriving in Beijing we were greeted with the capital's concession to Olympic security: xray machines in metro stations. It seems to be perfectly acceptable to carry pocket knives and kitchen knives on the train, but deodorant spray cans are serious contraband and we found ourselves unpacking Glenn's bag in order to surrender our security threat. We checked into our guesthouse in a traditional Chinese Hutong and then set out to check out Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. Again, the security presence is well felt and we queued for quite some time before security deemed us safe to trod on Tian'anmen Square. The place was an absolute madhouse with Chinese tourists keen to have their photo taken under Mao's picture and, grand as it was, Tian'anmen Square felt rather sterile and not the kind of place for weekend picnics and kite flying.
Mao overlooks Tian'anmen Square
Possibly our biggest Chinese highlight thus far has been our visit to the Great Wall of China. We were determined not to simply take a bus out to the closest section, see it, touch it and leave. Instead we took a three hour bus trip out to the Jinshanling section and hiked 10km to the Simatai section. It was excellent. Knee-knackering but excellent. Many parts of the wall were crumbled and some sections were virtually vertical. We saw probably 20 other hikers on our section of the wall and we were accompanied periodically by several ageing Chinese hawkers selling anything from water to t-shirts to beer. The air was clear and the wall was visible for miles, though unfortunately the Chinese government are at present building an expressway very close to the wall which is sure to destroy the mystery and tranquility of that section of the wall. On reaching Simatai, we took a zip-line (Bec: A Chinese zipline? Hell no!! I've seen Chinese safety standards!! Glenn: It's either that or walk another 40 minutes to the bottom. Bec: Alright, but you're going first.) across a ravine to a restaurant in the nearby village. In all, an excellent experience.
On the Great Wall
The old-world Great Wall under the new-world flight path
'Look mum, no hands!!' Bec defies death on a Chinese zip-line
The next day we took our painful selves (OK, Bec's painful self) to the Olympic Stadium and the Water Cube. Again, cue Chinese security. The Stadium is certainly an engineering masterpiece and we were able to have a run around inside the Stadium.
And so the shopping continued. Bec bought two more pairs of boots and a jacket (and was decidedly smug with herself and her bargaining abilities) and Glenn continued with the bike-bit-buying mission, this time being asked to supply cheap goods rather than buy them.
The joy of travelling in Beijing so soon post-Olympics is that Beijing is immaculate. The metro is super clean and self-explanatory, public toilets are everywhere, English menus abound and all the major attractions are still gleaming from their pre-Olympic make-overs.
The traffic is mental, though we found it to be more manageable than Shanghai. China's road rules seem to be more 'guidelines' than rules and bike and scooter riders are a law unto themselves. The whole thing seems to work though and we've not witnessed any accidents as yet (this is probably attributed to a law which dictates that foreigners cannot drive in China).
Beijing bike parking
A store selling police equipment. Maybe a set for the Triton or the Barina?
Our food experience continued in Beijing with a plate of traditional roast duck and our first introduction to a Chinese hotpot (huge and hot, obviously). Beijing's night food market is an impressive display of star fish, grasshoppers, seahorses and over-priced noodles all for the eating.
Star fish and sea horses feature on the market menu
And again, time to move on......