Published: April 18th 2012April 18th 2012
Boy, this trip has gone on too long for my liking. Partly it's the duration, but it's also the fact that each day is 'organised' and many such things are not to my liking, such as historical and religious stuff. Which basically sums up today.
We paid a visit to the Emperor's (ex-) Summer Palace, where he used to relax each year. There's a big lake that people these days hire boats to ride across, the world's largest corridor with handmade paintings on the eaves, a bridge with hundreds of lions, the country's largest pagoda, etc. All very pretty but I've seen so many pagodas they no longer impress me.
We next passed through the Beijing 2008 Olympics area and saw the Birds Nest and Water Cube from afar. They didn't make a particularly imposing impression due to the haze in the air. (On this topic, I saw a street vendor one evening selling laser pointers, which work very well in this night sky, adding credence to my pollution theory.)
We also saw a big Lama Temple, with Buddhism from Tibet. However, we've already seen large Buddha statues, so please forgive me reluctance to be amazed. Well, there
was on interesting statue carved out of a single piece of wood, which was several storeys high and got into the Guinness Book of Records. Apart from that, just lots of incense.
I notice that our World Expeditions tour, "China by Bike" has now been scaled back from 18 days to only 16 days (the numbering of this blog is slightly different because I started my trip a couple of days early). They have removed one day from Yangshuo and one day from Beijing, which is think is a good move. They have also removed dinners from being included, which won't have a big impact on a budget (dinners are typically about ¥45 ($7).
Anyway, Lyle and I were dead tired after all the temple stuff, so we got back to the hotel and did what every traveller likes best... Internet stuff! I updated this blog, had a video chat back to home and generally chilled out. Dinner for tonight is a celebratory Peking Duck (which we were earlier told wasn't included but Leon discovered it actually was) but I was too full from lunch to eat. Instead I headed out to explore the city again and Lyle
got all the food.
I took the subway to the Quianmen area of town, just south of Chairman Mao's mausoleum. The subway was so crowded that I had to skip a train. They come so frequently that it doesn't really matter, but people get on and off very quickly because (unlike Sydney) the doors close whether people are ready or not. Once out of the subway I took a wrong turn and walked through a suburb of Hutons among little streets. It's amazing that these areas still exist but I guess a city of this size either needs people to live in dense apartment blocks or in really small houses. I then found a new district of expensive restaurants (sparsely populated), a street of expensive shops (with vendors hawking flying projectiles that light up) and eventually some more "local food" streets.
As I was walking, somebody said "Hello." I've trained myself to ignore such advances from vendors and prostitutes, but I normally respond to young people who are just being friendly or want a photograph (which mostly happens to Lyle due to his beard, since beards are remarkably rare in China). In this case, the young woman explained
that she was from Nanjing, looking for work in Beijing, and can I buy some food for her. I'm again automatically wary in such cases and follow the policy of my father... I offer to take them to somewhere and buy them food to eat immediately. This worked well one time when I was in Santa Monica (Los Angeles), giving a meal to a black ex-serviceman who had only one leg. Sometimes people scoff at my offer and I know they aren't genuine. This girl, however, accepted the idea (which I put forward via Google Translate on my iPhone) and we went to KFC. (Sorry, we were in the expensive food street, not the local one.)
Her broken English over the meal revealed that she comes from an area between Shanghai and Beijing, her father is a farmer, her mother had died from a motorcycle incident (totally believable in this country!), she was looking for work, couldn't find any and wanted to head home. I showed my standard family photos and gave her the benefit of doubt, giving her money for the train plus a bit extra (about $50 all up). Even if her story is not fully legit, a lot of it sounded true so I shall choose to believe it. Probably. At least it was an enjoyable chat across international boundaries.
As I was walking back to the train station, thunder could be heard and the sky lit with lightning. People started running for cover. Beijing is frequently described as a very dry city (and I notice a lot of dust on cars), so they must have been running from this unusual thing called "rain"! Soon, however, it started bucketing. I noticed that the street vendors stopped hawking toys and suddenly had stocks of umbrellas that they were selling for ¥10 ($1.50) - very enterprising!
So, that's Beijing for me. Next stop Shanghai and I'm another day closer to home.