Last days in China
21.03.2007 - 30.03.2007 7 °C
And so our time in the Land of the `Made In` and `Kungfu Russian Triads` is drawing to a close. We saw Kungfu Russian Triads written on the back of team tracksuits, I kid you not. Too funny . . . . .
We are genuinely sad to be leaving this country and its strange ways. We will come back though because we have seen relatively little of this place. Travel here has been hard, hilarious, annoying, beautiful and on the odd occasion very ugly. We have felt safe here compared to South East Asia but it would be so tough on your own. All of those frustrating moments that could wear you down and make life a living hell have been funny and good email material for us.
We arrived in Beijing almost ten days ago. We are staying in a hostel that is relatively good and very well set up for the backpacking crowd with free internet and decent food. There is a big mural in the hostel that says `Life is Backpacking!`.
Yeah right . . .whoever wrote that obviously had not done two overnight trains in a row in Southern China. Believe me when I say that is NO LIFE!!!!! We have a different theory on what life is. . . .you will have to buy the book . . Haha!!!!
We have discovered through our travels (especially in China) that almost everything seems better after a good meal and some sleep . . . .or by getting hopelessly drunk. Both are legitimate remedies for travel woes. We recommend the first, followed closely by the second!! Another good remedy is souvenir shopping. We are not big on souvenirs as a general rule due to budget and space constraints. However, on our first morning in Beijing we saw some that we could not pass up. They were Chairman Mao watches not disimiliar to the old school Mickey Mouse watches. They were gorgeous, complete with a little commie red star on the end of the second hand. We got two for about $10 Ozzie. Nothing captures China`s struggle between communist thinking and capitalist ways better. Not only that, we spent the rest of the day saying things like `Chairman Mao says it`s time for lunch. Meaghan agrees with the Chairman`. That was the best $10 we have EVER spent. Of course, the watches` ability to keep time is very average but hey, Chairman Mao is always right . . . isn`t he?
Oops, in my excitement about our Chairman Mao watches I have failed to mention some stuff. `Chairman Mao says it`s time to mention it. Meaghan agrees with the Chairman!` If Adam had artistic control over this email, all the facts would have been in the first paragraph. Anyway, we are staying in the centre of town about a 5 min walk away from Tiananmen Square. We caught the bus from the train station to our hostel with about 1258 of our closest friends. It was ridiculous . . The Olympics are going to be funny. We visited the Square and the Foridden City both of which are quite amazing. China loves big stuff and the Square is huge. It is a place of incredible cultural significance for the people. It has been the place of celebrations and special cultural events - it has also been a place of student protesting for many decades dating right back to the early 1900s. The most recent and famous student protest ended in tragedy and there is not a mention nor a plaque stating that this occurred. Despite its sad past, Tiananmen Square is a bustling place, full of life and people and China if you know what I mean. We love walking through it everyday.
One of the most exciting things we have done on our travels is visit the Great Wall . . ..and it is great by the way.
We caught public transport out to Simatai - relatively close to Beijing, however, it took us four hours to get there. It was worth every minute!! The Wall was imposing and steep.
The 6km round trip walk is quite difficult which means that there are no big tour groups to contend with and we had many solitary moments which was amazing. The weather turned it on for the day, the view was fabulous and we walked in t-shirts.
It was a surprisingly tough climb and we were exhausted at the end. We still haven`t worked out why they thought building the wall was a good idea . . I guess there are just too many rabbits in China!!! After the walk, we had to brave public transport all the way back. We were both happy to get back in one piece.
Another one of our epic days (there have been many in Beijing) was a bike ride out to the Summer Palace. It sounds leisurely doesn`t it? That's what we thought too . . .The problem is that the scale on our map is quite small and the Lonely Planet (we bless and curse that book every day!!) said it was an easy ride. That made us seriously question if the author actually did the ride themselves. We suspect not. We hired some cheap bikes that were hilarious. I am a terrible bike rider and having a bike with poor steering and a rock for a seat did not help. Adam`s bike was so funny. It was new but the brakes didn`t work that well. Potentially a recipe for disaster. On more than one occasion, Adam had to drag his feet along the ground to narrowly avoid getting sandwiched by buses. He also nearly got hit by a car - the driver was too busy staring at the Laowai on a bike to actually stop. My narrow escapes normally involved what we called Random Right Turners (RRTs). All RRTs turn without looking and at speed and they are everywhere!!! We found the best method was to cross intersections with the local bike riders and there were plenty of them. We were like BMX bandits on crap bikes!! There are bike lanes everywhere in Beijing but they are also shared by buses and taxis all of which were RRTs. The city is basically flat so riding is physically easy but mentally harrowing. It took us four hours to get to the Summer Palace which was delightful but all we could think about was the ride home.
It only took us two hours to get home which was in time to watch Australia beat China 2-0 in a soccer match. That`s for all the RRTs!!!!!
We have had a few splurges in China. The first indulgence was an Australian bottle of red wine. It cost just under $10 Ozzie but it was worth every cent. I even enjoyed the hangover!! We drank it in the hostel restaurant terrified that our new Danish friends would find us and we would have to share. They did find us but we were down to our last glass (and sufficiently tanked) so there was no requirement to offer them any! Sorry Christian and Marie. . . . . .Our other splurge was Peking Duck (sorry Ping!!!). We wanted to enjoy this luxury in a little restaurant somewhere in the Hutong near where we were staying. More on the Hutong later. Anyway, we found the perfect place that lived up to all expectations which is always a pleasant surprise. The restaurant is hard to find and it looks like its days might be numbered. The Government are knocking down the old historical Hutong areas to make way for bigger roads to accommodate the Olympic Games traffic and tourists. It is sad because these areas are like the real China and are of great cultural and historical significance. This restaurant was in the middle of all the rubble and reconstruction and looked quite destitute. When we walked in, it was full of Laowais and locals and character. We ordered duck (of course) and a bottle of local red despite the Australian wines on offer. It was so funny, they bring the whole duck over to your table to inspect like a bottle of wine. We couldn`t stop laughing. We rolled our little duck pancakes using only chopsticks which we thought was impressive until we saw the locals getting down and dirty with their hands. It was a great dinner, one we will remember for the rest of our lives.
The food in China has generally been good. We went up to a night market, which was very disappointing because it was contrived and touristy but they were selling some weird stuff. We have spent so much time in Asia getting used to people trying to sell us stuff by yelling out `Hello Pineapple / Tuk tuk / kite` to the point where we were convinced that Adam`s name was actually Motorbike. We heard a new one at the night market - `Hello Testicle`. That is by far our favourite for now!!!
Stay tuned for the next entry from Ulaan Baatar - Mongolia!!!