Leg 3 of the trans mongolian! We were joined in our coupe by a welsh couple who had done extensive travelling! The landscape quickly changed from mountainous to the Gobi Desert, flat and empty bar a few horses, cows and camels. This has got to be the least densely populated place ever!
As we got to the border crossing they lock the toilets. I took it upon myself to become violently sick for the next few hours which wasn’t enjoyable.
By morning the landscape had changed again completely. It was well populated, lots of corn fields and then be began to enter a beautiful hilly landscape on the approach to Beijing.
The currency here is Yuan and you get 10 yuan to the pound so it is easier to convert. A subway ticket is 2 yuan (20p!) a coke 5 yuan and a main meal in our hostel bar works out about £3.
The 1st-7th of October is golden week to celebrate the establishment of the peoples republic of China and all Chinese people have the week off work, it is busy!! From our hostel we walked to Tiannamen square following crowds of Chinese people all in carnival spirits. The square was packed and all lit up. Standing at the railings I felt someone tugging at my hair. I turned around and it was a family all looking and touching my hair!
From here we walked to Wangfujung, the main shopping street. Again it was illuminated and bustling. A side street from Wangfujung is Donghuamen snack street which hosted market stalls selling creepy crawlies on sticks, souvenirs, drinks with dry ice and filled with street performers, laser pens etc. The smells ranged from delicious to disgusting.
We made our way to the outskirts of town to the summer palace, royal palace to the Qing dynasty. On our way the street sellers lined the streets selling ducks and memorabilia. As we passed a taxi of military jumped out and grabbed the merchandise and ran away. For a moment we did think we were being kidnapped! Outside the palace we met some English people working in Beijing, Austin and Andrea. Because it is so easy to spot foreigners here you feel you should talk to everyone who isn’t Chinese! They had only been in Beijing a month but the few words and tips they had gleaned were very useful! It was a massive complex of temples, halls, a theatre and gardens all set on the Kunming lake. The theatre had performances of Chinese music and dancing.
The place was so busy due to the Chinese national holiday, lots of people asking us to take photos with their children. Ricky got handed a seven year old at one point, here alien, take my child!
The haze which hangs over Beijing is incredible. Ricky said that spending three days in Beijing is like smoking 170 cigarettes. As we crossed the lake on the ferry it was like a mystical fog. On the other side was the 17 arches bridge, and a giant inflatable duck!
In the evening we had tickets to an acrobatics show. At the show 2 beers and a tub of popcorn was £4, compare that to English cinemas! It was the national acrobatics troop and they were phenomenal. The show was an hour and a half of contortionists and incredible stunts running up poles, a unicycle on a tightrope, 12 girls on one bike performing. I think its safe to say china have the Rio Olympics in hand with plenty of amazing reserves!
We went to find the temple of heaven park. In trying to find an ATM we went into a shopping mall and immediately you are pounced upon! “Scarves?” “Shoes?” “You like watch?” “You want shoes?” They treat you like royalty as they think you are rich and they pull at you. Ricky stopped to look at some trainers and before 10 seconds was up they had 6 colours out in his size. The lady started haggling at 650 yuan, Ricky said his best price was 200. She worked her way down, at about 250 he decided he didn’t want them anymore and walked away. She followed him pinching at his arm and pulling his clothes saying he could have them for 120! It was madness.
The temple of heaven is a series of temples in a huge park established in 1420 to offer sacrifice in exchange for divine guidance and earthly things such as good harvests. The whole park is hugely symbolic as the temples are round and the bases square because they associated heaven with a circle and earth with a square.
As a relatively peaceful place in Beijing there is lots of people singing, dancing and practicing Tai Chi.
We decided to go to one of the recommended places to try the famous local dish, Peking duck, but when we arrived the restaurant was very up market. The menu was huge with 500+ dishes inside and was called an artistic interpretation of Chinese cuisine however a few minutes later the lady came and asked “whole duck or half?” What arrived was a feast. First they carve the duck meticulously onto a bed of lettuce and present you with the pancakes, hoisin sauce, cucumber, spring onion and melon. Then the legs and head arrive a few minutes later. Soon after this a bowl of duck soup, presumably made from the broth, arrives. Once we finished this some ice cream appears, followed by a plate of crab apples on dry ice. I honestly wasn’t sure whether the last dish was a desert or a table decoration!
In a country where it is acceptable to spit and pee in the street, yet rude to point a teapot spout at someone, I felt like this meal should have come with a set of instructions! The duck was delicious, subject to an immense preparation ritual before serving. The skin is crispy and juicy and the meat was amazing. Considering this was an upmarket restaurant we paid £27 for the both of us!
We walked back through the hutongs which make up a lot of the area which we are staying, Doncheng district. The hutongs are networks of alleyways, often with stalls or shops spilling on to them and represent old Beijing. They are filled with locals, bikes, rickshaw drivers and are grubby and tumbledown but interesting in there own unpolished way! We saw games of cards going on in the street, a man carrying a full size mantelpiece, and maybe weirdest of all, a man hairdrying a bit of meat on a BBQ…
This is the country of paradoxes. So advanced in so many ways yet so behind in others. They have TV on the subway and illuminated streets which rival broadway yet you cannot access any international sites, Facebook, Twitter or international news, and Chinese people may not share a dorm with international people. There is so much to take in, good and bad, but it has a nice feel to it. With three days left to go the jury is still out on Beijing.