So! Before I get into the juicy details of today’s adventures, here are two things we now know about Beijing (and being inexperienced travellers, things we will now assume as out stereotype for the rest of this country):
1. It is perfectly ok for men to roll their t-shirts up and get their belly out in public. Because of the heat, we think. Laura assures me it is not ok for western men to do the same thing, so no need to avert your eyes in the future photos!
2. Spitting is about as common as pebbles on Brighton beach. We’ve concluded that there must be something psychological about the process, since people (and they’re usually men, but there have been a few women we’ve seen) first make the most gutturally horrible phlegm-hocking sound, before then spitting across the street. This is a Maria Sharapova level of distraction!
Ok, and how about the place? Ah, yes. Well, like China, Beijing is massive. Perhaps this is to be expected for a country with a population of 1.3 billion, but it’s leg-achingly impressive. Each block seems like five in Manhattan, and the metro stations are still some walk away from where you’re going. Maybe it’s because it’s also a little bit sweaty, and we’ve been out all day, but we’re knackered. And still excited.
First stop today was Jingshan Park, which overlooks the Forbidden City from the north, a Feng Shui protection from evil spirits. Amazing views over the forbidden city, if somewhat obscured by the smog. And as a bonus, we got to see the spot where an emperor hanged himself from a tree many years ago. We’re assured the tree there today is a modern re-enactment for the purposes of gawping.
Next up, a walk past the forbidden city. It has a 50m wide moat. Think of that, fifty metres. Linford Christie would have taken five seconds to cross it. Ok, that doesn’t sound big. But it’s ginormous. Half the length of a football pitch. English castles and their moats (let alone MPs and their expenses) have nothing on this.
A quick peek at Tiananmen Square, with its lampposts of security cameras amid impressive national flags and a big old poster of The Boss. And to echo a theme, it’s huge.
The heat had got to me, and so lunch in the air conditioned Food Republic (thanks Judy!) was a lifesaver.
And then on to Lao She’s former house, a lovely traditional courtyard home, where he spent his time as an iconic Chinese author before being killed by the Red Guard in 1966 – which curiously isn’t mentioned in the museum now resting there.
We went up a classic Hutong (that’s narrow alleyway, traditional streets), filled with lovely but less-than-traditional cosy bars and fashion shops, and had a great beer while the thunder rolled in but the rain never came.
And finally, to the night market, with delicacies to make even the locals squirm and tourists snap photos. Scorpions on sticks anyone? Sheeps penis? Or meat on a stick and dumplings. It is left as an exercise to the reader to decide how brave we were.
So here we are back at the hostel, and we’ve now got some bad news. We were due to travel by sleeper tomorrow to Xi’an, to see the terracotta army before getting a sleeper back and then beginning our tour to Tibet. But the return train (and for some stupid reason they only sell single tickets, which makes this much harder) is fully booked, and so we have a ticket out but no way back – and no time to wait for a day to try another option. Tomorrow will be spent having fun trying for a refund and finding other adventures nearer to here. Suggestions anyone?
The first upset! But hopefully not a big one – and now we should have some
more cash spare for Beijing or to save for later. I’m sure the twenty or so replica figures they have in their ‘army’ aren’t really worth it anyway… I’m sure with a bit of plasticine some Woodcraft Folks could more than come up with a peaceful equivalent!
Right! Off to bed!
P.S. There have been a few complaints about the absence of Kazoos on this blog. This will be rectified when we post today’s photos. Apologies for the temporary false advertising!