Published: August 26th 2008August 26th 2008
The Chinese were ready to win.
We continued to travel north through China towards Beijing. We stopped off at two fairly non-descript cities, Hangzhou and Nanjing and went to the "most beautiful mountains in China" at Huang Shan. Hangzhou did have a nice lake, ingeniously called the "West Lake", which allowed for nice photos of weeping willows and boats. Nothing of any significance occurred in Nanjing, except perhaps for Ross turning up to meet me in a cafe with - depending on your viewpoint - blonde / gold / fluorescent yellow hair. So far he's been called Oor Wullie, Debbie (as in Harry), one half of the Proclaimers and Bart. Not all by me I might add.
The mountains of Huang Shan were incredible, although we did have to climb thousands of steps (even though we'd taken the cable car). I dramatically decided halfway that my knee wouldn't carry me any further, but the only way to get down would have been to allow two scrawny men to carry me in a sedan chair, so I hobbled on. The scenery was amazing; we actually climbed through clouds to the blue sky above. I felt as though I was inside one of those willow patterned plates everyone
This was taken just after a terrifying cable car ride.
used to have, although fortunately not everything was in blue and white.
We arrived in Beijing the day before Sarra, who was staying for a week to see her boyfriend Chris race in the track cycling. He's pretty fast on a bike and did quite well by all accounts. Anyway, having hoped that Beijing was going to be easier in terms of language etc, we were relieved to see volunteers on every corner. The further away from Olympic venues we got, the worse their English became, but they were so eager to help I sometimes asked for directions when I knew where I was going.
On Sarra's first full day, the three of us went to the Great Wall via the Ming Tombs and a jade factory. We had a young guide named Dorothea (the Chinese tend to choose their own English names and I'm still trying to work out where on earth she heard Dorothea) who suggested we went to the "most famous" section. Which we did. As did hundreds of thousands of other people. We queued in blazing sunshine and began to climb up the Wall to one of the watchtowers. Within around 30 seconds, the
Ridiculous Clothes and Expressions
There's really no good explanation for this.
sky darkened, the rain came on and the thunder rumbled overhead. We appeared to be the only people among the masses without ponchos (Ross and I do have emergency ones, but obviously carrying them would be too sensible). We got completely soaked through and couldn't actually see much of the wall due to the mist. It did remind us of home, although given Sarra had been in Edinburgh 36 hours earlier, she wasn't as pleased as Ross and I were. Fortunately we had taken the complimentary quarter bottle of Chinese wine from lunch (which tastes similar to straight vodka) and drank that on the watchtower to keep warm. I actually enjoyed the whole experience as it was funnier than it would have been with clear skies. Or maybe I just enjoyed it because of the wine / vodka.
By the time we reached Sarra's accommodation we were freezing as we had been sitting, completely drenched, in an air conditioned car for over an hour. We staggered into the flat, to be confronted with Chris' family and the BBC, complete with cameras. The Hoys and journalists were relieved to see us, as they had been concerned we'd "been electrocuted". Seemingly
Edinburgh or Beijing?
Sarra and Ross enjoying the weather at the Great Wall.
a canoeist's parents had been struck by lightning at the Great Wall a few hours before. We were inclined to almost find this funny, until we discovered 6 people had been left unconscious and the canoeist's dad hospitalised. Maybe I should blame the wine / vodka again. So, anyway, poor Sarra had to do an interview with wet hair while Ross and I hid in her bedroom and watched an 80s movie.
The next day we were given tickets for the track cycling. Before arriving at the velodrome, we all trooped into a little bike shop on the way, which I found odd at the time - I was hoping there wasn't some last-minute, bike-related emergency. Fortunately not. Instead, we were shown through to the back shop area, where all the British cyclists' families were having sandwiches. I got talking to a family where the two youngest kids were decked out from head to toe in Union Jacks. The boy said he was a bit embarrassed at first, but they were hoping to be on TV. We all assured them they would be.
At the event itself there was much hysterical excitement, mainly from us. Chris and his
Could We Be Any Larger?
I think everyone and their granny has already seen this courtesy of the joint efforts of Louise and my mum, but it's so ridiculous I had to include it.
teammates won gold in the team sprint which was great, although I felt slightly as though I was at the Last Night of the Proms with my Union Jack flag. The Chinese TV cameras were obsessed with us. I would suggest it was because we were sitting next to Sarra & Chris' family, but I rather suspect it was Ross' hair. The Union Jack kids didn't get a look in. In fact, kids from other countries were sitting near us to try to get on TV. A little Columbian girl went so far as to wrap herself in a British flag to hide her Columbian outfit.
So, as Chris went on to become the most successful British Olympic athlete of the Games, Sarra went on to be asked ridiculous questions by journalists and Ross and I went on to do all the touristy things in Beijing. There are so many tourist attractions that we didn't have time to see them all. We went to the odd temple and lake, but the most interesting places were Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Wangfujing Snack Street. I had seen and read so much about Tiananmen Square that I was keen to
stand in it and see it for myself. I was strangely disappointed. I think the reason was that there were huge flower displays right in the centre and American tourists with ludicrous stars & stripes hats posing for pictures with locals. It felt like any pedestrianised tourist street which was a shame. I missed seeing "pickled Mao" (his body is displayed to the public in the mornings), although Sarra & Ross went and said it was like looking at a waxwork.
The Forbidden City was much more impressive to my mind and pretty much exactly what I expected. The whole area is huge and takes a good few hours to walk round. By far the best tourist attraction for me though, was Wangfujing Snack Street. Each stall seems to serve something more horrifying than the last - from scorpion to starfish to seahorses (who on earth wants to eat a seahorse?). We took Sarra who had vowed to try a scorpion. When we got there, she decided that taking a photo of an American guy eating one would do instead.
So, that was really it for Beijing. I did like the city, but I felt there was a
Best of Buddha
We saw lots of depictions of Buddha, but this was my favourite - in a courtyard in a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing.
falseness surrounding the place. For example, there were no homeless people or beggars anywhere. Either the city is incredibly lucky or we should believe the rumours that the homeless were removed and taken hundreds of miles away by bus so they wouldn't ruin the image. I felt the whole place seemed to be lacking some sort of soul. Everything was wonderfully efficient, the people were friendly and polite but it seemed as though we were witnessing a performance.
We spent just under 48 hours in Shanghai before flying to Vietnam and the contrast was startling. In Shanghai, I felt as though I was seeing people actually living, not just existing to impress the rest of world. Maybe that's a bit over the top, but it is telling that we couldn't walk down a street in Shanghai without being asked for money.
I am now in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Ross has decided to head to Australia early to get a job and "some routine" back into his life. I quite like the lack of job and routine so am spinning out the wandering around as long as I can. My plan is to head through Vietnam,
The whole Olympic thing was sometimes a bit too much.
Cambodia and Thailand and to fly to Melbourne on 26 September. I'm still slightly concerned about Cambodia as they apparently eat boiled tarantula.
Food of the fortnight: I don't suppose the scorpions etc count as none of us ate them. Maybe the Peking (Beijing) Duck which, as usual, came with its head intact, much to my horror;
Quote of the fortnight: it has to be Sarra at the Great Wall - "oh I love feeling the sun on my face, it's such a nice change" literally minutes before the downpour.
There are more photos below