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Published: August 30th 2017
Geo: 39.9165, 116.391
I woke up this morning not to the sound of birds singing or the beams of sunlight through the window but to a haze of greyness and the smell of exhaust fumes in the air. Beijing is choking itself. Not like Micheal Hutchins did in the pursuit of pleasure but more like a junky who is in denial about the effect their behaviour has on themselves and other people. Its filthy outside. You cant see more than a 1 KM from the window of our room which is on the 5th floor and higher than nearly all the buildings around it. Its like thick fog but with a real heaviness about it. It burns the back of your throat when you breath. The smell sticks to your clothing and it gives your snot a greyish tinge.
The extrordinary part is that people go outside and smoke. In fact the Chinese will smoke anywhere. For example the other day when we were on an overnight train from Pingyao to Beijing I awoke, as normal, at about 5am, climbed out of my bunk and went to sit on the seat in the passageway outside our cubical. Now bear in mind that none of the cubicals have a door and each cubical has 6 bunks in it. I sat down and at the same time a man walked out of his cubicle and immediately lit a cigarette and quite happily sat there blowing his smoke in every direction. You cant open the windows on these trains so there is no where for the smoke to go. There seems to be no regard for how smoking may impact on other people or that other people may choose not to be exposed to cigarette smoke. Now Ive been known to smoke the odd substance in my time but never have I inflicted it on the unwilling. In China this consideration doesnt exist; people smoke in restaraunts in the foyers of hotels and the other day I even encountered somebody smoking in an elevator. But the worst of it was when I saw a woman pass a lit cigarette to a 3 year old to hold while she did something else. Its times like this I understand and am thankful for the strict laws regarding smoking that we have in Australia. Though, it's no wonder so many people smoke here when you can buy a pack of cigarettes for as litlle as 4 Yuan which is equal to about 60 cents. And with names like " Double Happiness" why wouldnt you smoke.
We bought with us a couple of face masks, the type you would use if you were in an opperating theatre but seriously these things are useless here. What you need is the industrial strength ones; ones that have canisters on the outside more like the ones any self respecting rioter would wear while under fire from tear gas. We have seen a few people wearing these but not many. I watched yesterday as 2 women get on the train both were wearing masks and one had big headphones on and they were trying to have a conversation, I couldnt help but have a chuckle as I imangine them saying to each other "huh?', 'what?", "huh?" "what?".
Beijing has that typical big city feel to it but it's a city that seems to have 2 sides to it - one for the locals and one for the visitors. This becomes obvious when you go to buy something. If its in a part of the city that has a lot of experience dealing with forieghners then you can almost garauntee that you will pay far more for anything than a local will. For example we were catching a bus the other day out to the 798 Art District and while waiting for a bus I went to buy a drink. When I asked how much, the man automatically held up 3 fingers which should have meant 3 yuan which sounded reasonable but as I went to pay him he said no it was 8 yuan. In real terms this only equates to the value of 80cents but on principle I had to walk away. Once we got of the bus I went to a little drinks stand that was on the wrong side of the street and bought the same drink plus a bottle of water for 4.5 yuan. Unfortunately this type of thing happens all the time and while you cant condemn a person for having a go it wears a bit thin after a while and feels more like taking the piss.
Jana and I know from experience that this thing happens all the time so we tend to stay well clear of tourist eating places and that type of thing. What we do is follow the locals and see where they eat and how much they pay. Not only does this save us money but exposes us to a side of the city that most tourists dont get to experience. We walk down strange lttle alleyways and get looks from people that say "what are you doing here?", usually resorting to our picture book or pointing to order, and eat in places that would be shut down in an instant were they in Australia but it's great fun.
When it comes to food the tip is never go into a place that doesnt have anybody eating in it and if your the only westerner in there then you've chosen well because locals wont put up with high prices or poor quality. It does mean that sometimes you will do what Jana did the other day and order pigs liver or what I did the other week and end up with special tendon soup but its all part of the adventure, and generally food is so cheap that you can order something else once you have discovered your mistake.
While I was waiting for our meal tonight I was flicking through the menu and I know Jana has touched on this very issue before but I cant get enough of the crazy stuff you see written in menus in non-English speaking countries. Tonight I came across a few dishes that I read and thought to myself "does anybody see those and think 'gee, I've gotta have that'" for example 'clear boiled sheeps face', 'cassarole of pigs intestines', or the very questionable 'mixed lumps'. And that got me to thinking "are they different types of lumps that one animal had or are they different lumps off different animals?" and "why do the animals have lumps in the first place" seriously the mind goes off on tangents that you never thought possible.
This is probably my last blog from China
This trip has been highly enjoyable and like all good adventures had its confronting moments but I have done things on this trip I never imagined and others that I have always wanted to do, such as see the Terracota Warriors, do a 6km hike on a mainly deserted part of the Great Wall, doing a cooking course where I learnt to make noodles and one of the best things for us as a family was to catch up with Jana's brother Dan who is over here filming a kids TV program. We got to go and see the set and meet the cast and although Aadi wont remember it it will be a great thing to tell her about when she gets older.
I have truly loved the chance to travel once again with my beautiful partner Jana and for the first time with our wonderful daughter Aadi who has coped pretty well with everything that we have thrown at her. I look forward to our future travels which we are already discussing.
Thanks everybody for reading and all your feed back. XXXX
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