Earlier this year I went on a tour of China, from Beijing down to Hong Kong, stopping off at the Great Wall of China, Shaolin Temple, Xi’an, Yangshuo and Longsheng along the way. I will review each place individually in order to not bore you to death. I travelled as part of an organised group tour with G Adventures with seven ‘strangers’. It’s been over a month since I last did a blog about China – Yangshuo was the last place and my favourite overall in the tour – so why not have this month’s addition as my least favourite place.
I don’t know if it was fair to say that this was my least favourite place on the tour, but it’s where the tour started and I was jet lagged and pretty stressed. My mum was due to come on the tour with me but was turned away at Heathrow as her visa wasn’t right. I shan’t bore you with the details but in short ‘British National Overseas’ isn’t a recognised nationality by the Chinese, and I think it’s not a bad thing overall as my mother’s enjoyment of China probably would have been marred by its cleanliness levels and her physical unfitness. Onto Beijing:
I arrived at 5am and couldn’t find my driver. I found my driver. He did not speak any English so I had to get some help in explaining why there was only me there when it was down to have two people. He drove me through Beijing in an old VW, a terrifying ordeal both due to the driving and as the the city is pretty ugly and rough looking in some areas, so I was just praying that my hotel wasn’t nearby.
The area it was in was fine. The hotel was a Home Inn which is kind of like a dirtier, smokier Travelodge. I got to the room and there was no wifi. Confused at 7am and not knowing what was happening with my mother, I complained in “English abroad loud, slow English” about the lack of wifi. There was a screen next to them saying that there was wifi in the hotel, so they gave in quickly. So they gave me a convoluted dongle and I got wifi.
I Skyped my mum, received an update (she would fly out to Hong Kong the next day), and checked my emails. I then slept for 5 hours, got up for a walk at midday, was crazy tired and found it too hot for what I was wearing, then went back to the hotel and slept for 6 more hours. I then met the group and had dinner. The group were fine. I would recommend group travelling if you’re going to China.
The first proper day in Beijing was to Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Street Market is quite nice and features traditional Chinese shops such as H&M, Zara and Starbucks.
Tiananmen Square (or “Tianaman Square” as I spelled it in emails) was huge. FUN FACT!: It is the largest city square in the world. Our guide didn’t really know what happened at Tiananmen Square, so good old Communism does have its successes. The air quality was pretty terrible and is even worse than these pictures suggest as it turns out that the UV lens filter has more perks than just acting as a lens protector.
I like that the guy selling photos is wearing a mask. A lot of people wore masks. I would also wear a mask. I don’t quite know how everyone isn’t horrifically ill (or, frankly, is alive more generally), but between the air quality and the widespread smoking it goes some way to explain why so many people spit. Get used to the spitting. All hocking, all the time.
Chinese people aren’t really used to seeing white people. I’m half Chinese, so they were mostly fine with me. However, they insisted on taking pictures of the group.
Next stop was the Forbidden City, which was also huge and impressive with poor air quality. My favourite facts about the Forbidden City include:
- There were 15 layers of stone on the floor so that no-one could dig their way in.
- There is a building just for the empress to open birthday presents
- The emperor used to sleep in a room with twenty beds. He would change bed every night and 19 eunuchs would sleep in the other beds so that no-one could kill him in his sleep.
- The emperor was clearly a crazy person. I respect that.
Next was to lunch. This would be our most expensive meal of the trip, totalling around £8.50 per person for a full Peking banquet and including drinks (bottled water). I don’t know the name of the restaurant and I absolutely couldn’t tell you where it is as we had to get two buses – 2p a pop – then walk a while, but it was the tastiest crispy duck I have ever had, and I am quite the crispy duck fan. I am genuinely salivating while writing this. I need to get a grip. I didn’t take a picture. Sorry. It did happen though.
Next was on a cycling excursion through the Hutongs, or ‘old Beijing’. We went to a random woman’s house who told us about how it had been in her family for generations and that the value of the property was $2million if she were to sell it solely due to the location. Developers would knock the hutongs down if they could, and are trying to, and build high rises as far as the eye could see.
This woman’t husband also took a photo with me which was odd (ly exhilarating. Ah to be a homewrecker).
Cycling through the hutongs started my now favourite hobby of cycle-tography, that is taking photos with a DSLR camera on a moving bike. The hutongs seemed pretty shitty on the whole but there’s history (!) there so you’ve got to respect the residents for holding onto the area so persistently.
We then cycled to the very hazy river which had the first instance of an outdoor gym that I ever saw, but have since seen several in China and also in many an English park. Other attractions were a sax band playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (the Chinese freaking love ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I heard it at least five more times during my March-April trip) and these sexy papas (I have no idea what the occasion was. Do you need an occasion to frolic in your underwear? No. brb.):
Then we wandered round the tacky markets and got several buses home. Having caught five buses in a day which would have got me change from 10p – step it up England! – we ate at McDonalds as restaurants shut at 8pm in China so your only choice is street food or McDonalds. Either way, you’re probably eating the wrong part of a chicken.
To end the night I bought some overpriced fruit (£1 for bananas? I just caught 5 buses for 10p!), charged my many devices by borrowing a charger, and found out that my mum was flying to Hong Kong.
I slept fitfully and had sweet, baked goods from breakfast, neither of which was conducive to the 15km hike that was to follow in the next episode of The Full Bodied Chinese Adventure of a Half Chinese Misanthrope During Spring in the Year of Our Lord 2014 (title pending).