We moved hotel across Beijing to meet our tour group for the start of the tour. The new hotel was in a different district, Xuanwu which is still in old Beijing with the eclectic hutong environment. The sky was blue and clear and the temperature very warm.
These are the little dogs we had to say goodbye to at our old hostel!
Not having to meet our tour until evening we set out into the hutongs which were colourful and lively. The streets very decorated and beautiful. It is a lovely place to walk around, you always feel safe and like you are experiencing part of a very real local community.
We saw some peculiar things…
We went to a different district in the city, south chaoyang. This area is host to the workers stadium, a big arena for music, and also a very upmarket mall. We had a very nice stroll through Ritan park and the area of the embassies of the city before heading back to meet our tour group.
You hear all the time of English people having Chinese symbols which mean something completely different to what they thought, well it works the other way too. There are lots of t shirts featuring strange slogans, incorrect spellings or even obscenities which they are completely oblivious to! The fashion is also very interesting, despite plenty of well dressed Chinese we have seen some hilarious jumpsuits, flower power track suits (on a middle aged woman!) and other amazing combinations!
The tour group leader is Puma, a Chinese man from Xi’an, and the group of 15 consisted of a couple from Australia, couple from Norway, holland, England, two boys from London and girls from Greece and Australia. We headed out to a traditional local restaurant where Puma ordered us a selection of local dishes, duck and got us to try the local liquor which is little over £2 a bottle!
An early start of 7:30 for the Great Wall of china. We headed to Mutianyu, about 2 hours outside Beijing which is less touristy than other parts. The landscape slowly changes into the mountain surroundings. We got the cable car up, our car had a plaque inside as the one Bill Clinton rode in when he visited the wall. At the top we walked the wall, weaving through the mountains. It was very well preserved but at some points very steep (steeper than the Devils Staircase!) Along the way are little watchtowers and the stairs to get up to the viewpoint is hidden in a maze of pillars inside. We walked about 4km along the wall to a very high section and then returned back to take a toboggan back down!
Arriving back in the city mid afternoon we walked to the workers cultural palace. On the way we got little egg puddings which are worth mentioning firstly because they were delicious and second because they were 10p from a little street vendor! The cultural palace used to be one of the sacrificial temples of the city but in 1950, after china was declared the peoples republic, this area was given to the people for concerts, celebrations and just a nice park. It houses a temple but also lovely grounds with many Cypress trees.
We crossed town to meet the tour group once more for dinner in a local restaurant. Some of the dishes we shared included sweet potato in caramel as well as beautiful pork and vegetable dishes. We got tickets to see a Kung Fu show in the evening at the red theatre. The show had a story line about the realisation of the peaceful nature of Kung fu, as well as loads of stunts, cracking wood on their heads and some ballet.
We set off fairly early for Tiannamen square. Crossing into the square there is airport security and you are aware of policemen, security officers and told there is plain clothed officers around which reminds you of the past of this square. Our guide told us about the various demonstrations here in hushed breath, namely the student protest of ’89. He lead demonstrators from this protest were arrested and anyone graduating in that year had to write to the government proving they weren’t involved, even then they would be posted outside of the city.
The square is beautifully decorated due to the recent national holiday.
He also told us about Chairman Mao, the person who declared the peoples republic of china on 1st October 1949. He is seen by many as a god. His mausoleum is in the centre of the square and we went in to see him. It seems we are doing a tour of pickled dead guys. While Lenin looked a bit flat, Ricky described Mao as just got back from the gym!
We went into the forbidden city through the gate of heavenly peace. Hanging above the gate is a picture of Mao 8×6 metres which gets changed yearly and the words “long live the peoples republic of china, long live the peace of the world.”
The forbidden city was lived in from 1421, home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is built with paranoia, a huge wall around the outside, 7 gates to enter, 7 bricks thick floor and no trees allowed inside to hide spies. Entry without permission resulted in death! It was huge, housing the emperor, his family and concubines and also with room for state visits and duties. Our guide was explaining to us about the continuing dynasty. All girls between 13-16 had to register and they would select the best 1000 and present them to the emperor as concubines. The empress would have one chance to give birth to a boy and then they would begin using the concubines to try and get a male heir. One question led to hundreds of follow up questions from the group and in the end puma gave up!
We were sitting having a drink when Tara, our friend from Russia found us! It was great to catch up and she spent the afternoon with us!
We left the forbidden city and went to a modern hutong full of bars in an upmarket area. On the way back from lunch we saw a man casually having a poo in the street! He wasn’t hiding or anything, Shocking!
In the evening we went again to the night market where Ricky tried a sheeps testicle, which he described as chewy. Also a sheep penis, octopus and we both tried a grub. We bumped into our Belgian friends, Anna and Mattias and caught up on our journeys.
A beautiful clear warm day in Beijing, and unfortunately our last. We set off for the lama temple, the only Tibetan monastery in Beijing. The decor was beautiful, colourful and there was great ornate detail. Each room had a Buddhist statue and the last room had an 18metre Buddha made from sandalwood.
From here we went to the Olympic park in North Beijing. The area looks like it was newly developed from nothing for the Olympics, a new tube line added, but now is fairly quiet in the day.
Our last stop was Jingsuan park, a beautiful park overlooking the forbidden city. From a man made hill you got a great measure of the extreme size of this part of the city. A sign pointed out that one of the emperors had killed himself in he park after the forbidden city was breached by a protest. He plaque read that he sacrificed his life for Beijing!
There are several shocking realities about this city, the pollution, strange toilet habits and busy streets but the truth is it is a charming place and I will be sad to leave!
Next stop Shanghai…