homeward bound

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December 6th 2005
Published: December 7th 2005
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2 weeks later, with Xian and Beijing behind us, we're 1000 miles further north, 1000 miles further east and the temperature is a bodyshocking 20C lower. We've dug out our ski clothes, last used in Alaska, to combat the -10C conditions here in Harbin, North East China.

Interestingly we are still in the same timezone that the whole of China lives by, so called Beijing Time. It starts to get dark here before 4pm , while in far off west China, 5000km away, it won't do so for another 4 or 5 hours. Timezones in Chinas neighbours in the east and west, russia and uzbekistan, differ by a whopping 6 hours! You gotta love these chinese for ignoring commen sense that the rest of the world takes for granted.

Before arriving in Beijing we calculated that we were spending on average a little over 2 days at each of our stops. This is over 30 different beds in the last 3 months. So to spend 10 whole days in the Chinese capital was a rare treat. We saw the sights and walked the backstreets and found Beijing to be a city that is desperate to build it's future but not quite sure what to do about the past and present. There is no junction in central Bejing without massive building works on 1, 2, 3 or even all 4 of it's corners, but there are equal numbers of areas where older traditional low level housing - equivalent maybe to London's East End - has been knocked down and then hidden behind hoardings and left to overgrow. Every major site we visited had some sensitive renovation going on, but we also read that other parts had been knocked down years previously and then rebuilt in a kind of 'disney' way a few years later. All bright paint work and modern joinery and no character whatsoever. The traditional housing, the 'Hutongs' with small terraced houses, narrow alleyways, few water and electricity connections and hence almost a communal public eating and bathroom way of life, are in some areas being saved and restored by individuals. This is where Beijing was fun - wandering about and people watching .

So we have moved on to hook up with the first leg of our trans siberian journey and out of hostels into a hotel for the first time in ages! We have a private bathroom, a coffee machine and BBC World on the TV which is great (although - and i'm whispering now so listen carefully - we were very shocked to see the program get blocked when good old bbc tried to run a story about torture in china - although when the same info ran along the bottom of the screen on the news ticker the party official operating the big red 'BLOCK BBC' button didn't notice and we got all the gory details - head will roll)

After lugging all our ski gear around the world (it was hot and sunny for all of Japan, hong kong and half of china) it seemed important to put them to use when we are so near to China premier ski resort, Yabuli. We paid our 15GBP each for a day tour, not expecting much, and that's pretty much what we got, but the day had it's moments ( including 2 fights in the rental office during the 10 minutes we were there!) A warm winter here means 3 weeks after opening day the resort only has 2 beginner slopes open, and Tanuja and I enjoyed being far and away the most proficient people there. This may sound like bragging but 95%!o(MISSING)f the chinese skiers we saw fell neatly in to 3 catorgories. There were those that fell on the slope, those that fell off the button lift and those that fell over in the lift queue. Tanuja and I really pushed the limits of the little lift and the patience of the lift attendants by refusing to get off the lift at the designated 'top' and instead being pulled up an extra 50 metres to the very top.

Now we're leaving china and it's been a real whirl of different stuff - as you would expect a county this size and with this history. However, in my opinion, 3 things stand out that any visitor needs to be prepared for


7th December 2005

I had a real chuckle when I read your last journal, although I know some of it was not so funny - you really maust consider publishing your adventures! Have a good time on the train - will it be well heated against the Siberian cold?!

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