Published: November 2nd 2011October 30th 2011
Now I know why I packed trousers. It's cold in North China.
If Beijing was a woman, she'd be Grace Jones. A hard, dominant beauty, a giantess in a man's suit and tie. She has obvious charms (Tiannamen Square, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall), and less obvious ones too (the Hutong, the parks). But, by God, she's formidable.
Beijing is not a welcoming city, its people even less so. Take my advice, if you visit China pack a good guide book and hide it in the middle of your suitcase so customs don't confiscate it. You'll need China in your hand (or at least a map of it) because you're not getting any help from the locals. Not in Beijing. They smoke; they spit; they scowl. They make few concessions for non-Chinese speakers and they really do eat the oddest bits of a chicken imaginable. I've seen them do it.
The subway, a moving freakshow of body parts smooshed against glass, deserves special mention. When we arrived during rush hour, I refused to get on two trains in a row. Then M called me a wimp and I reluctantly got on the third. But I didn't like
If Beijing appeals at all, it is to the head and not the heart. It's impressive but not in the least bit charming. We were wowed by The Great Wall and The Forbidden City, we found the parks beautiful and the buildings intricate but we were glad to leave nonetheless.
We caught the bullet train to Shanighai, which was brilliant, dead quick!
Shanghai was somewhat warmer and friendlier than Beijing. We had a lovely dinner on the riverside, right across from the famous Bund and it was beautiful all lit up at night. Still, three days in Shanghai was not enough to pursuade us to spend more time in China.
We're headed back to the sunshine and smiles of Thailand. Here comes the sun, and I say it's alright.
N.B. In the interests of fairness, and because I'm a massive cake fan, I have to mention that China really does have the most impressive bakeries. Full of perfect fluffy cakes, pastries to die for and sweet little pizza breads, all freshly made right there in the shop. Greggs could learn a thing or two. The cakes were so good you hardly noticed the lousy service.