First of all I’d like to thank my hosts for my stay in Beijing, Colm and Aileen. They have been great, extremely helpful in explaining what to do or how to get around this massive city. They took me for a huge dinner with the best Peking duck I’ve tasted and introduced me to Gaelic football. Up the Dub’s!
The night shot below is from their balcony where I sat enjoying the cooler weather after Vietnam. I have loved the dip in temperature, about 17 degrees at night, so cool.
People I’ve spoken to who have visited or lived in China seem to respond in the same way as people do to Marmite. They love or hate it. All the things that put people off are in you face right from the start the traffic, air pollution, dust, spitting (indoors?!?), noise, language barrier, unusual foods (from a westerners point of view), crowds, pushing and shoving. These are expected, so I think it’s up to you whether they ruin your trip or not. I don’t think it’s going to change here anytime soon. However, I have had a continual irritation here and will expand on that later.
Beijing is a massive city more than double the size of London or four times the population of Singapore. I only had 2 and a half days to look around and one of those was going to be spent visiting The Great Wall. I arrived on Sunday lunch time but couldn’t meet my friends till the evening due to them having celebratory weekend away.
I started off with Tiananmen Square, once I got through the security checks (which are all over the city) I was free to wander. It’s a huge space surround by a couple of museums and at the north end a big picture of Mao. The square was filled with visiting Chinese tourists taking pictures of friends and touts offering picture printing services. They pretty much leave westerners alone, apart from those who want to practice some English on you.
Following that I moved on to the Forbidden City, which is north of Tiananmen Square. It’s was a sunny Sunday afternoon and the place was packed with people. Big tour groups, families, friends the vast majority local all very excited to have a chance to explore the historic site. After some queuing and a couple more airport style security checks I was in and very happy to find a bag check for my luggage that I was lugging about.
I chose to get the audio tour to explain a little about the history of each area of the City. One of the points I remember is that only the Emperor was allowed to use the central passage of the main entrance. Apart from once a year after the national exam when the brightest students would be allowed to use it as well. Chinese culture seems to honour “brains over brawn”.
I ambled about taking photo’s while trying to avoid the packs of umbrella wielding ladies who seemed intent on gouging my eyes out. People don’t like the sun here. In spite of the crowd’s occasional jostling I was enjoying it. The sense of space in big courtyards is great, must have been pretty special when is was in full use. It’s about a kilometre long in total with over 900 buildings so it took a couple of hours to get through.
In the evening, Colm took me out to his local watering hole that could have been in London or Dublin with the number of western expats in there. Sampled the local lager Tsingtao, which does the job and watched some Gaelic football.
Monday monday I had to pick up my train ticket which took a little while, but happened to be very close to the parks and gardens that surround the Forbidden City. On the way there I chanced upon Food Street featuring a number of items that I wouldn’t consider food. The hawkers assured it was very good but I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to give it a go. The most dramatic were the skewered bugs still very much alive and kicking on display.Yummy.
After walking round the huge moat, I climbed up to the top of Jingshan Hill which offers a great view of the Forbidden City. Here the view was somewhat impaired by the haze, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky it was still grey skies rather than blue. This was a good day too, apparently somedays the haze is so thick you won’t be able to see a building a couple of hundred of meters away. The air quality seems to be a constant conversation point for everyone living in Beijing, definitely a big problem.
I visited one of Beijing’s remaining Hutongs. An old residential area filled with narrow alleys of old Chinese courtyard houses. Nowadays they have been converted into shops, bars and restaurants that are quite a tourist attraction. However they keep on being demolished to make way for new buildings in Beijing, so I imagine a couple of generic ones will remain.
Tuesday meant my visit to the Great Wall which I had really been looking forward too. I remember watching a Blue Peter special on China when I was about 10 which showed the Great Wall. It seemed like a different planet that I could never imagine visiting then, so it was great to get out there and see it first hand.
I got to enjoy the traffic of Beijing going to and from the station, the total 26km taking a healthy 160 minutes.The traffic here is incredible, massive 4 lane roads completely jammed with every type of electric or manual bike flying silently down the side roads.Bikes are definitely the quickest way to get around.
The train left from Beijing North Station travelling 70km to Badaling which was the destination for pretty much everyone on the train. Then a short walk to reach the Great Wall.
Badaling is the easiest part of the wall to get to from Beijing and full of all the normal shops and touts you would expect from a major tourist destination.The Wall is amazing to see disappearing into the haze on the top of a mountain. The views would have been awesome without the haze, thankfully it wasn’t too bad. One thing that you notice is the incline of the hills, very, very steep it must of been really tough to build.
On the way home there were some great views from the train.
I can absolutely understand why some people dislike Beijing, there are lots of things that grate that you might not be able to get over. However, as a tourist there are loads of things to see and do and just being in the city is an experience in itself. If you stayed here I imagine it would be the type of place that could get under your skin, in spite of it flaws.
At the start I promised a moan. After a few days on the tourist trail in Beijing my main gripe would be the noise. There are people constantly shouting, normally into portable speakers or loud hailers. They might be selling or guiding or even trying to help you, but they do at full volume, all the time. This lady and sidekick were no more than 2 meters away from me when they screamed into their microphones, imploring me to get a photo. I said no. Get rid of the portable speakers in Beijing.
Next stop Moscow! Just 6 days on a train to get there, so no more posts for a while.