The Great Wall, The Great City, The Great End

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October 4th 2017
Published: October 26th 2017
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The Great Wall Of ChinaThe Great Wall Of ChinaThe Great Wall Of China

One of the world's greatest engineering feats.
Think about all the research that you do, the booking decisions you have to make and the logistics you need to arrange every time you go on holiday. Now imagine that you have to do all that every few days. First world problem I know, but after two years of it, it gets a bit frustrating and tiresome - especially when you're on a budget tighter than Richard Simmons's spandex.
This was how I spent my last day in Shanghai, so just as well as it was raining, just like it had been all damn week. All day, every day. Constant. Relentless. It was definitely time to get out of this place.

China's railways are pretty advanced these days; high speed rail is going up all over the place and a bullet train can take you the 1,000km between Shanghai and Beijing in just under five hours. Since meeting Fred in Yichang, my heart had been set on getting on at least one bullet train while in China and with plenty of them going from Shanghai to Beijing, I thought that this journey would be the best opportunity to take one and reduce the travel time by ten hours. I
Gate Of Heavenly PeaceGate Of Heavenly PeaceGate Of Heavenly Peace

Iconic gate in front of the Forbidden City with that huge, famous portrait of Mao.
had even braced myself for the £64 (3-day's budget!) financial hit. But when it came time to do it, I realised that I would be taking bullet trains in Japan with my rail pass, so I didn't need to take one here. That aforementioned budget is wafer thin and I just had to try and save as much money as I could for expensive Japan. Much as I thought I had taken my last overnight train, I couldn't justify forking out three times the price and an extra night's accommodation to avoid another one.

Part of the dilly-dallying I did on my last day in Shanghai was due to my agonising over whether to take the cheapest train or pay twice as much - but still way less than the bullet train - for a more comfortable, quicker overnight train. My faffing around meant that I by the time I made a decision, the cheapest train had no seats left, meaning I faced hunkering down with the smokers in the smokers' carriage for sixteen hours. That made my decision easier - the budget can stretch enough. The "D" train I ended up taking was in fact the first high

A traditional alleyway in a traditional neighbourhood called Dashilar.
speed train to take to China's tracks and can still get up to 250km/h, so I'd still technically be on a bullet train.
I couldn't justify paying a ¥50 booking fee for booking online, so I thought I'd buy my ticket at the station. According to the very helpful and excellent English-speaking girl at the hostel reception, I could even just rock up three hours before the train left and buy a ticket.

I was lucky that someone had left an umbrella behind in the dorm as it meant I didn't get wet on my way to the train station even if my bags did. As usual, I arrived about an hour later than planned and using my shit Mandarin, asked for a ticket for the train I wanted to catch. The ticket lady and her computer screen seemed to indicate that train was sold out of seats and that I'd have to buy a sleeper. Nice as that would've been, I just couldn't afford it. Suddenly the ticket lady starts speaking amazing English and tells me that indeed, there are only sleepers left. I ask if there were any other trains leaving tonight with seats still available for
The Forbidden CityThe Forbidden CityThe Forbidden City

Looking south onto the Forbidden City from the top of the hill in Jingshan Park. The hill was created from the earth dug up to form the Forbidden City's moat in the foreground.
the same train type. There was one leaving in an hour that did - there was one seat left. "You are very lucky!" she tells me.
I wasn't sure if she was being jovial or telling me off.

The train was nicer than the "K" trains I had been taking. It was newer, cleaner and faster. It was way more spacious and there were proper sinks to wash your hands, with hand soap provided. It was also less crowded, the passengers on board more civilised. The ride was smooth and incredibly quiet - almost gliding along in silence sometimes. The service was more professional. The carriage was smokefree too, although I did catch a few whiffs of some people typically flouting the regulations. I think a couple of people missed their train because I nabbed their seats - two of them to myself, right at the front of the front carriage. There was plenty of space to get comfortable. They even dimmed the lights! The only complaint was the man behind me who couldn't stop talking. How are you not drowsy like the rest of us? And when he wasn't talking, he was making some sort of noise; clearing
Hall Of Prayer For Good HarvestsHall Of Prayer For Good HarvestsHall Of Prayer For Good Harvests

A symbol of Beijing, the Hall Of Prayer For Good Harvests within the Temple Of Heaven Park was where the emperor would come and well, pray for good harvests.
his throat, eliciting a groan. But all in all I'm glad I paid a bit more for that ride. This definitely was my last overnighter for the whole trip (hopefully) and it was thankfully relatively painless.

Beijing is famous/infamous for its polluted air which meant I wasn't quite sure if it was fog or smog that cloaked the city as my train rolled in.
An earlier train meant an earlier arrival in Beijing, meaning that I got myself caught up in rush hour. Things got so bad that people were put into holding pens at the station so that the platforms wouldn't get overloaded. I instantly noticed that Beijing's metro is a bit older than other cities' metros in China. It is pretty badly designed; stupid circle lines exist instead of more direct north-south and east-west routes meaning you have to literally go round in circles to get from A to B. Like Shanghai as well, any journey seems to require at least one or two interchanges, which is time-consuming and inefficient.

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the hostel; finally, a proper backpacker's hostel full of actual backpackers! I later learned that apparently only foreigners
Tiananmen SquareTiananmen SquareTiananmen Square

With the Great Hall Of The People in the background, where the Chinese government sits.
could stay at this hostel, which was strange as I've not come across this policy before, though there were a few hostels on that were for Chinese only. No offence to my Chinese friends but this worked out very well for me as the atmosphere was much nicer and way more social. I suddenly felt positive that I was going to have a fun time in Beijing!

Beijing of course, is the capital of China and great power has been held here for centuries. Just days before the country's national day, there was a huge security and police presence in and around Tiananmen Square - the heart of the city - and as a result, you could really feel (and see) this power, authority and history. The straight lines, the endless expanse of the square itself and brutal architecture and shades of red all around it, made it all feel about as Communist as you can get. The security presence meant that it felt like you were always being watched; it didn't make me feel uncomfortable but I mostly resented not being left alone. I was surprised that the guards weren't stopping you from taking pictures of the
Entering The Forbidden CIty...Entering The Forbidden CIty...Entering The Forbidden CIty...

Looking through the gate into main hall of the Treasure Gallery.
Great Hall Of The People, as guards often do around government buildings, especially with a government as known for crackdown as the Chinese.
And perhaps there is no more infamous a place associated with crackdown than Tiananmen Square itself. In keeping with the theme of power, its vast space makes it the biggest public square in the world and this seemed obvious as you set foot in it. It was just like I had seen on TV over the years with Mao's portrait mounted on the front of the Gate Of Heavenly Peace, where he declared the establishment of the People's Republic Of China in October 1st 1949.
As mentioned above, the country's national day was imminent and will commence the start of the massive 600m people, Chinese holiday rush. Chinese flags were already being waved with pride by citizens around the square but such pride didn't register with me personally. While I felt a connection with Guangdong, where my family originated from, I feel no connection with the Chinese state, with this regime. I have pride in my Chinese ethnicity; I do not have pride in the People's Republic Of China.

North of Tiananmen Square is Beijing's most
Detail Inside The Forbidden CityDetail Inside The Forbidden CityDetail Inside The Forbidden City

The intricacy and colour of the decoration inside the Forbidden City - which is replicated in many other complexes in Beijing - is amazing.
renown sight - the Forbidden City. It has earned its name because for five hundred years, no-one without a reason to be inside what is the world's largest palace complex, was allowed inside it. This was where power was held by the last two Chinese dynasties before the Chinese Revolution brought an end to imperial rule in 1911.
Before arriving here, the only comparable palace complex I've visited was the Grand Palace in Bangkok. But the Forbidden City just blew me away. Its size is impressive, but you could also feel the power, influence and history of the empire that was once ruled from here; the size of China and the spread of its culture around the world really resonated inside the Forbidden Palace, giving it an almost tangible aura that Bangkok's Grand Palace didn't have. But certainly the palace itself in terms of size and grandeur is about as good as I have seen, perhaps ever.
Within the Forbidden City is an exhibit on antique clocks that was touted as unmissable by Lonely Planet. Really? I did think about skipping the exhibit and its entrance fee but decided in the end to do it. And you know what, it
Nine Dragon ScreenNine Dragon ScreenNine Dragon Screen

This beautiful glazed mural is supposed to protect the Hall Of Imperial Supremacy from evil spirits within the Forbidden City.
was worth it! Some of the clocks, which were from England, France and Switzerland as well as China, really were elaborate works of art! Like one that had a human figure that drew calligraphy on parchment as the clock ticked!
Other exhibits inside the Forbidden City included treasure galleries and the empress's quarters which were pretty cool; this complex within a complex had many courtyards and was more compact, making it nice and peaceful.
The Imperial Garden is not quite the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai but is nevertheless still superbly landscaped and has classic China written all over it.
I thought perhaps the crowds might be a little crazy just days before National Week, but thankfully it wasn't as crowded as I expected which was good. Just the usual jostling in front of the limited viewing spaces at each pavilion.
Outside the north gate of the Forbidden City, the view from atop the hill in Jingshan Park looked right over the Forbidden City, so was pretty good; there were just a few too many people and trees in the way.
Overall, I'd say the Forbidden City is just about worth the hype - a must-visit if you're in Beijing, or
The Great WallThe Great WallThe Great Wall

The section I visited was wonderfully bereft of other visitors.
even China as whole.

A undisputed must-visit in China however is its most famous landmark and one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World; of course, I am talking about The Great Wall Of China. On a personal note, I'm gonna brag a little by letting you all know that by visiting the Great Wall, I have now visited all seven New Wonders Of The World (including The Great Pyramid Of Giza, which is the honorary eighth wonder); Petra, the Colosseum, Christ The Redeemer, Machu Picchu, Chichén Itza, the Taj Mahal and now, the Great Wall.
With the wall stretching over 21,000km (!), this really is a monumental feat of engineering. It also means that you need to choose which part of it to visit. The best place to visit the wall from is Beijing but you had several options. Easiest to get to and with the best restoration is Badaling, but this ease of access means nightmare crowds and I have had quite enough of that, thanks. The further away from Beijing, the less crowds you have and some places have "wild wall" which has not been restored and some have newly complete restorations. I had been told and had read that Huanghuacheng was crowd-free, had spectacular views
My Great Wall ComradesMy Great Wall ComradesMy Great Wall Comrades

From left; Michael, Ming, Inbar and Michal.
and had both "wild wall" and restored wall - but that most importantly, it was free! It was just a little bit of a mission getting out there by public transport but it could be done in a day.
This sounded good to my Polish dorm mate Michal too, who came along for the ride.
On our first bus, we then met Israeli couple Michael and Inbar, who were also going to Huanghuacheng. We were following different methods of getting there, but when a random local tells us in English where to get off, it coincides with my instructions, so we get off. Turns out the guy is a minivan driver looking for a fare to Huanghuacheng; we opted to catch the second bus as his would save us ¥22 each, enough for a meal!
On the second bus, we then got talking to a local with excellent English called Ming. He wasn't too sure what his exact plans were in terms of getting up to the wall, so he decided to tag along and soon we were five.
The idea was to hike along the Wall from Huanghuacheng to Shui Changcheng and unbeknownst to us all, the bus actually

The section of the Great Wall we traversed had some ridiculously steep bits - some with no steps either! This "wild wall" also had loads of overgrown shrubs obstrcuting your progress.
dropped us in Shui Changcheng. No worries, we will do the hike in reverse. Ming then proved useful with his Mandarin skills to get us on a path up to the wall which we could see amazingly snaking its way along the a ridge above us.
Regular readers probably know that I have a thing for walls, ever since I walked along my first ones in Dubrovnik. Since then, I have always loved walls and I now I was at the wall of walls. I gasped when I first spotted it on the bus and I was now filled with excited energy. Enough to want to attempt to climb the ruined, dangerous-looking, cliff-edge wall that climbed over the steep mountain in front of us.
"Are we going up there?" asks Ming with a measure of doubt in his voice.
Yep, we sure are!
It wasn't nearly as dangerous as it looked although it was a little hairy in some places, where a false step would see you fall to certain death. Most of the wall in the initial stretch we did was crumbling. This was "wild wall" which was perhaps best illustrated by the bushes that were in the wall;
Kunming LakeKunming LakeKunming Lake

Looking over Kunming Lake from the towering Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion inside the grounds of the Summer Palace.
walking along stone ramparts, I didn't think that I'd need a machete. The other feature about this part of the wall was how incredibly steep some of it was! It was hard work but my exploits in Nepal had put me in good stead. Some parts of the wall were ridiculously steep though and some of the restored parts didn't even have steps! In these parts, you could have slid down the wall on your arse; in wet, slippery conditions, you'd probably have to and walking up these stretches would be impossible.
We had amazing weather though, perfectly sunny for a hike along the wall. Like Beijing, you could really feel the history as you walked along it; imagining the soldiers running along it, looking out for enemies from the watchtower.
The wall is mistakenly thought of as one continuous entity; it is in fact broken up into sections, where gaps are filled by natural defences such as seemingly impassable mountains. The wall was built during four different dynasties over 1,800 years.
This particular section is steep and undulating but it rewards you with spectacular views over two different reservoirs and some amazing mountain scenery. Overall it was an amazing
West CausewayWest CausewayWest Causeway

This causeway within the grounds of the Summer Palace makes for a delightful (but long and knackering) stroll.
day out; there were hardly any other people on the wall, we had great weather and great views, we traversed both "wild wall" and restored wall and we paid for nothing but the transport there and back. And ¥5 to the lady through whose orchard was the only way off the wall at Huanghuacheng...

Beijing has a lot of things to see and unlike Shanghai, I found myself with something to see or do for every day of my nine day stay. The big sights now out of the way, I went to check out the Buddhist architecture at the Summer Palace. It is a pretty awesome sight and the stupas on the massive temple that you encounter after going through the entrance were very much like the ones I saw in Nepal!
On the other side of the hill upon which the Buddhist temple sits is the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion which soars above and provides amazing views over Kunming Lake. At the bottom of the hill is the lake and lovely, immaculately tended walkways - including a causeway - that were amazing for a relaxing stroll on a gorgeous afternoon. Many of the pavilion complexes were very elegant
Long CorridorLong CorridorLong Corridor

This lovely corridor that runs along the north shore of Kunming Lake within the grounds of the Summer Palace, is awash with paintings on the inside.
and the tower of the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion provides wonderful landmark. No wonder the emperors and empresses chose to come out here to get away from it all. The whole complex was arguably just as impressive as the Forbidden City, but lighter, without all the weight of importance associated with the Forbidden City. Circumnavigating the lake however, was knackering walk.

The area where my hostel was located is lovely and harks back to old-school China, although it is almost exclusively tourists that stay around here. It's not truly authentic though - Qianmen Dajie is a restored 'new-old' area, full of shopping that is rather crass and commercialised. Just south of Tiananmen Square though, right in the centre of the city, the location is perfect.
Which is why they were full of tourists. I knew about the upcoming national holiday...and two days before it, the rush had already started. The crowds just to get into Tiananmen Square were mad. I had to get in there to visit the National Museum Of China and Chairman Mao's Mausoleum but decided that I didn't want to see either that much. Thank goodness I saw Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City when I did!
Dashilan XijieDashilan XijieDashilan Xijie

Touristy yet atmospheric street that my hostel was on.

Looking ahead to Japan, I plan to get around the country on a rail pass but I could save myself £33 - or one day's budget in Japan - by buying it overseas. I was planning to do so from an authorised Beijing travel agent and surveying the scenes and crowds around me, I suddenly remembered that quite a few shops and offices would probably be closed next week for the holiday...including travel agents. I suddenly realised that I had to buy my pass immediately or be £33 poorer! As mentioned ad nauseam, being on a skinny budget requires extra planning and foresight to prevent spending extra money unnecessarily - this was another case of it.
I happened to be walking around an area where there were a few authorised travel agents but I didn't know exactly where they were; they were hidden in office buildings and I'd have to find out which ones and then get to the right floor and the right office. The area was a massive pedestrian shopping district too, flashy with lots of glass and big screens, as is the Chinese wont. Beijing can do flash and modern too.
I went to one location I
Qianmen DajieQianmen DajieQianmen Dajie

This wide, tram-laden, ancient thoroughfare leading directly south from Tiananmen Square has been restored as a shopping street that is supposed to resemble a main street from the Qing dynasty.
remembered from my research the previous night and lo and behold, it was the headquarters of the nationwide China International Travel Service. Except they didn't have a clue what the Japan Rail Pass was. If the biggest travel agent in China didn't know what it was, I didn't hold much hope I'd be getting my pass here in Beijing.
I remembered there was another agent near the Crowne Plaza so I walked into the hotel. Maybe it is their travel office?
"No, we don't sell train tickets, sorry."
They may not have had rail passes but they did have wifi that I used to discover that the agency was in fact right across the road. Armed with an exact address and office number, I find the place and thankfully the staff in there are friendly and there is one guy who speaks English. Although a smaller agency, these guys are a Japan specialist and knew exactly what I was talking about - problem solved.
The reason I have explained this story was because I was extraordinarily lucky that I remembered that agencies were probably closed all week next week and that I also happened to have my passport on me
Temple Of Heaven ParkTemple Of Heaven ParkTemple Of Heaven Park

Other than the showpiece Hall Of Prayer For Good Harvests, there are several other buildings within the well-manicured Temple Of Heaven Park such as this, the Fasting Palace, where the emperor would fast as part of the prayer ritual for a good harvest.
because I needed it to see Chairman Mao's embalmed corpse.
"This is the last day we're open for eight days," the agent tells me.
If I had try to come here next week as planned, I would've had to fork out that crucial extra £33 in Japan.

Rail pass mission accomplished, this then put me in a good mood to visit the Temple Of Heaven Park.
In the middle of yet another immaculately manicured park was this round, three-tiered, 38m-high temple where the emperor would come to pray for a good harvest every year. Like Cambridge's Mathematical Bridge, the temple's supporting pillars have no nails or cement.
There are other impressive structures dotted about the park including the Imperial Vault Of Heaven, which is surrounded by the round Echo Wall where whispers from one end of the wall can travel along it and be heard at the other. Indeed there was some deep murmuring coming from somewhere along the wall while I was there.
The complex was yet another outstanding UNESCO World Heritage sight where you could enjoy a grand, historic and relaxing stroll; Beijing was really impressing me with what it has to offer a tourist.

As China's capital,
Chairman Mao's MausoleumChairman Mao's MausoleumChairman Mao's Mausoleum

Situated in the south of Tiananmen Square and complete with a Communist statue outside it, it is possible to pay a visit along with thousands of others to see Chairman Mao's embalmed corpse.
Beijing definitely has that capital grandeur; huge, imposing buildings and wide, leafy boulevards.
The Former Legation Quarter is where foreign countries used to have their embassies and is supposed to have a European feel to it. Disappointingly this isn't really the case; there are European style buildings for sure, but they're mostly new. Like Shanghai's French Concession, the more grand buildings are hidden behind tall, concrete walls.

Now at this point I really have to mention my local food court, where I ate every day. It's a really cheerful place; there seems to be an amazing rapport between all the staff of the different stalls there. This community spirit extends to the customers too as the card tab system ensures there is a steady group of regulars - me included - who come here every evening. I get accepted into the family as the 'foreign guy' since I went back everyday; but more than anything, the food was amazingly cheap! A whole tray of food from the buffet including four different dishes, rice and soup is just ¥20. An entire frying pan of stir-fried black bean beef with rice - the best dish they had there - was just
Me, Jess & The Drum TowerMe, Jess & The Drum TowerMe, Jess & The Drum Tower

Drums would be beat at the Drum Tower to mark the times of the day during Mongol rule.
¥15. I have to thank British Ben who I met in Zhangjiajie for the tip-off and he definitely wasn't wrong about it being the best deal and the cheapest place to eat in Beijing. Hell, it might be the best value I have seen in all of China! It's smack bang in the middle of the tourist district too and just a couple of hundred metres fro the hostel. I will miss that place.

I had my last meal there with still three days of my stay remaining though because I was moving out of the area.
My old flatmate from London Jess lives in Beijing these days - it is quite amazing where people end up - and she kindly offered to let me stay for three nights to save some much needed dosh for Japan!
As we caught up on each other's lives in yet another reunion I've had on this trip, we walked past the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, which were at the heart of the old Mongol capital of Dadu, as Beijing was then known. Drums would be beaten and bells would be rung to indicate the times of the day. We also walked

The club Jess took me to on my one night out in China. Quite flashy.
the popular and absolutely rammed Houhai Lakes, normally a pleasant place to enjoy an ice cream and a stroll.

That evening, for the first time in almost two months in China, I finally had a night out! Jess took me to the more modern area of Sanlitun, after some decent pre-drinks which included trying baijiu, a clear Chinese spirit similar to vodka but with more flavour and a sweeter taste. It wasn't half-bad chugging it down straight and it is super cheap too!
We hit a club called Mix, although we unfortunately couldn't play the foreigner card to get free entry as I have heard being done in other smaller cities. There are just too many foreigners here in Beijing which has surprisingly more than Shanghai. We did get free drinks inside though; six-packs of Corona were just sitting around unattended so we thought we might as well drink them. I think that some rich locals simply buy a whole of drinks at their table more to flaunt wealth than to actually consume them, which is pretty conceited but which was fine by us!
It was hip-hop night and a troupe of three local rappers entertained us along with
Hutong EntrancewayHutong EntrancewayHutong Entranceway

Elaborate entranceway to one of the more wealthy residences in the Nanluogu Xiang hutong neighbourhood.
a couple of African Americans. The local rappers were actually quite good and I can't imagine that there are too many Chinese rappers around. I wouldn't say it was an amazing night but it was definitely fun!

Unlike Shanghai, the pace of life in Beijing is perhaps quite surprisingly, pretty laid back. Also unlike Shanghai, Beijing still has much of its traditional neighbourhoods, where this relaxed pace of life is most evident, intact. These old neighbourhoods are known as hutongs; old villages not unlike the ones my ancestors lived in, that are tightly-packed, with narrow alleys and most commonly, grey brick buildings. In fact, Jess herself lives in a hutong.
Near her flat is the hutong neighbourhood of Nanluogu Xiang, where the Lonely Planet has mapped out a DIY walking tour. Though Jess was pleasantly surprised to discover the interesting features hidden away down the nooks and crannies of a hutong, I found our hungover hutong walk rather disappointing. The main thoroughfare of the area was jam-packed with tourists on their second day of National Week and there were too many modern intrusions to really make the place feel authentic.

It would have been wrong to come to Beijing - formerly known as
Maitreya BuddhaMaitreya BuddhaMaitreya Buddha

Impressive 18m-tall Buddha inside the Lama Temple.
Peking - without trying its signature dish of Peking Duck! Jess treated me to an evening of succulent slices of fire-roasted duck with delicious crispy skin, wrapped in a small, thin pancake with cucumber, spring onion and the deliciously sweet Peking Duck sauce. Washed down afterwards by impressive craft beer at Great Leap Brewing; craft beer has made an impact here too!

Jess then left me alone in her apartment for my last night in Beijing as she had a flight to catch back to the US. I really have to give her a shout out for her hospitality and for showing me around; approaching the end of this long journey, the money is starting to run out and any saving I can make welcome, so by putting me up she has done me a huge favour! Plus it was nice to have some private space too. I'll always remember what she has done for me and hope to be able to repay her some day.

Jess lived almost directly opposite the Lama Temple, another of Beijing's more popular sights. I popped over to have a look on my final day and the place reminded me of a
Bird's NestBird's NestBird's Nest

The main stadium used during the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
combination of the Tibetan Buddhist temples I saw in Nepal and the ones I saw in Myanmar. It was so bloody crowded though.
Described as feeling like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, I was expecting a pleasant, crowd-free stroll around the iconic Bird's Nest stadium afterwards, which hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Crowd-free? Yeah, right. There were thousands of people there, as if the Olympic Games were still going. A long queue to get through security. People getting in your photos. A long queue for tickets at the metro station. That was it. I was officially over China and their fucking crowds. The stadium itself is an iconic piece of modern architecture, the centrepiece of what was perhaps the most well-organised Olympic Games ever.

Disappointed by my hutong walk in Nanluogu Xiang, I thought I'd give the hutongs another crack by exploring the streets of Dashilar, near where my hostel was. I was not disappointed this time - these hutongs were far more authentic.
The way that homes are laid out in the hutongs are quite distinctive; about four or five "flats" would share a common entrance and either a common courtyard or outdoor corridor that leads
Behind The Hutong Entranceway...Behind The Hutong Entranceway...Behind The Hutong Entranceway... a common corridor or couryard that leads to several small homes.
to the houses. All these little residential complexes are designed differently. There is a real sense of community as you'd expect when people are living so close to each other. The number of public toilets tell me that perhaps not all these houses have their own.
I'm not sure why all the buildings here are so tightly packed or why the residences were all built this way, but as mentioned earlier they resemble the rural villages I saw around Kaiping.
There are some small but good museums dotted around Dashilar giving some insight into life here as well as providing some history.
It was peaceful and quiet in the little lanes, away from crowds and traffic. It was a really relaxing and pleasant stroll - and fantastic to finally see some of the traditional hutong life I have wanted to see since arriving in Beijing.

After indulging myself in Beijing's past, I then went to have a look at its future with a final stroll through its modern district. Beijing has bling too as demonstrated by the Zaha Hadid-designed Soho Galaxy building.
Passing through glass towers much like what I saw in Pudong in Shanghai and an impressive LCD
Galaxy SohoGalaxy SohoGalaxy Soho

The interior of the space-aged, Zaha Hadid designed Galaxy Soho building.
roof at shopping mall The Place, which was similar to what I saw in Vegas's Fremont Street some ten years ago, I then arrived at the iconic CCTV Headquarter building. Behind it was another building part of the same campus with a light top half and a dark bottom half, making the top half look like it was floating in the twilight.
It was sad to think however that many a hutong would've been destroyed to construct all this and indeed it is still happening - perhaps until there is nothing left. Apparently only 40%!o(MISSING)f Beijing's original hutongs remain and that number is decreasing. An authoritarian government like the Chinese one can make decisions to simply bulldoze areas for new constructions - it happens elsewhere in the world but at least there is a little more resistance in democratic countries - and there seems to be a real lack of appreciation for authentic heritage in this country with a preference for fake, new recreations instead, which are contrived, crass and tacky. I would hope that the authorities would recognise the cultural significance of the hutongs and the impact of relocating families who have been there for decades (if not longer) and
CCTV HeadquartersCCTV HeadquartersCCTV Headquarters

This amazing trouser-shaped building that houses the state TV channel headquarters is named colloquially as "Big Pants".
the breaking up of these tightly knit communities. Community needs to be preserved in an age where things are becoming much more impersonal.

And with that, my journey through China has finally come to an end. It has definitely been an experience and I have seen and experienced some wonderful things here. But I will take away some points from the country because the overall backpacking experience and the regular exasperation of having to deal with the local crowds wasn't very enjoyable. So it is a bit of a relief to be leaving the country, just like it was when I left India. In saying that, I did meet some amazingly hospitable locals, none more so than my family in Kaiping.

My next destination is one I have been looking forward ever since the start of my trip, one that I have waited so long for - Japan!

再見 (zài jian),

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 36


Treasure GalleryTreasure Gallery
Treasure Gallery

These peaceful quarters within the Forbidden City were once where the Empress Dowager and the imperial concubines lived during the Ming dynasty.
Inside The Western PalacesInside The Western Palaces
Inside The Western Palaces

The palace complex to the west of the main halls in the Forbidden City was where most the emperors and empresses actually lived during their reigns.
Palace Of Earthly TranquilityPalace Of Earthly Tranquility
Palace Of Earthly Tranquility

The throne room inside the Palace Of Earthly Tranquility, one of the lesser central halls in the Forbidden City.
Clock Exhibition HallClock Exhibition Hall
Clock Exhibition Hall

On display in the Clock Exhibition Hall is this amazing creation; the figure at the bottom of it will write calligraphy on parchment when the clock is ticking.
Detail Inside The Summer PalaceDetail Inside The Summer Palace
Detail Inside The Summer Palace

Stunning detail from the pavilions just below the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion inside the grounds of the Summer Palace.
Shopping ArcadeShopping Arcade
Shopping Arcade

A 'new-old' shopping arcade in Dashilar which manages to be both atmospheric and crass at the same time.
St Joesph's ChurchSt Joesph's Church
St Joesph's Church

There aren't too many churches in China, especially ones as elegant as this one.
Beijing National Aquatics CentreBeijing National Aquatics Centre
Beijing National Aquatics Centre

Right opposite the Bird's Nest in the Olympic Park, this is where the swimming and diving events took place during the 2008 Olympics.
LCD CeilingLCD Ceiling
LCD Ceiling

Impressive light show on the ceiling of this massive arcade at a shopping mall called The Place.

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