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Published: August 24th 2006
View over the Hutong
One of the shanty towns of Beijing
I am writing this blog 6 years after my trip to China and so my memories are a bit dodgy. Also the photos are quite blurry as they have been scanned in from old prints (which were already quite fuzzy). More than anything I am just trying to make sure I make my travelblog map of places I have visited as red as possible! Anyway...
During 2000-01 my brother spent a year teaching English in China and as we couldn't handle the thought of not seeing him for a whole year, me, my Mum and Dad decided to go over to Beijing for a week long trip just before Christmas.
I really enjoyed the visit, seeing so much in such a short space of time. We were on an organised tour - great if you want an easy life but as many travelbloggers will know it's not the best way to get 'off the beaten path'. However, with only a week to spare, it was nice to have an itinerary planned for us covering many of the best and most interesting sites in and around Beijing.
One of the first things to note in Beijing is the number
of bikes around. They come at you from all angles, and on many occassions it felt like we were never going to be able to get across the road! However, a lot of patience is a virtue here and eventually you will find a way through... When you see this many bikes it is easy to imagine that Beijing must be a very clean city. Unfortunately, that is not the case and often a dense layer of smog hangs in the sky - presumably from the huge numbers of old vehicles and factories that abound in the city. Still, this all adds to the 'ambience'!
Beijing has a number of great sites and as I can't remember what order we saw things in, I will just give a brief outline. Of course it was amazing to see Tianeman Square. It is such a vast space that you don't expect to see in the middle of a city. There were even people running around there flying kites - not something I have ever seen in Trafalgar Square! My Dad and I opted to go in to see Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. It was a very eery place, with people walking past
Me sitting on the Wall
Bit chilly but great views over the wall!
the mummified body and laying flowers.
At one end of Tianeman Square is the entrance to the Forbidden City. This massive complex houses numerous temples as well as sleeping and living quarters used as an Imperial Palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. There are other similar complexes to this, including the wonderful Summer Palace with a massive lake set in the middle. We also enjoyed a trip to the Beijing Observatory where there were a number of exhibitions on astronomy in China.
Of course not all of Beijing consists of palaces and temples. We were also able to visit one of the Hutong areas of the city. This is basically the equivalent of a 'shanty town' in other parts of the world. Small houses made from basic materials are crammed together in not the most pleasant of surrounds. As part of our guide we were able to go into one of the Hutong houses. Whilst this was clearly a long-standing arrangment and does not show how all Hutong-dwellers live, it still gave an interesting insight into life in Beijing and made me even more glad that I had a nice warm hotel to get back to.
Dad with bin
He particularly liked the bins...!
Any short break in Beijing would of course not be complete without a trip to the Great Wall of China. This amazing construction streches for over 4000 miles. Whilst we didn't cover all of it (well, we were only there for a day...) we managed to trek a bit of it and climb some steep parts to get great views of the surrounding area and the Wall itself.
Whilst in Beijing it is common to be hustled a bit by local street sellers, trying to get you to buy their souvenirs. A reply of "no thank you" in Chinese should usually stop them for hassling you anymore, and a firm stare always helps! In general, however, I found that I felt safe in Beijing and at no time were we intimidated in any way - despite being in some very poor parts of town. I would certainly like to go back to China one day, but maybe with a bit more time to spare!
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