Time to get on that flight to Beijing where legend has it it is a bit parky! No problems getting the bus although I did have to get into mime mode at a hotel who kindly walked me to behind the hotel where the airport bus left from. No hold ups and I whizzed my way to the big smoke….or smog more like. The cloud below the cloud on landing was the first introduction to just how polluted the air is in Beijing. Apparently the EU has levels of 25 thingymabobs but Beijing can have up to 900, just to give it some sense of scale and seriousness. It’s no wonder we see people walking around London with masks if they think all cities are like this!
To be for the first day wasn’t too bad and a bit of blue sky with ever increasing temperature up to 19 C. Looks like a missed the cold spell and Spring is well on its way. I checked into the hostel, which took a bit of finding as it was down a Hutong or alley to you and me. I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the local alleys, eating fried carrot balls and getting trapped in the crowds viewing the lowering of the flag in Tiananamen square. It really is a big deal where police presence is scarily prevalent with roads and subways closed for a good hour or so as they parade from the forbidden city into the square.
I headed back to the hostel for an early night as tomorrow was the secret ancient Great Wall trip. I’d met up with loads of great people in the hostel and I can’t highlight enough how pleasantly surprised I’ve been at the quality of the hostels I’ve stayed in and the people. For me it’s really made the trio so far and such a diverse range of people. Sara was from NZ and was over in Beijing to train with Chinese performers, which made fascinating conversation. She did get some stares though when she started stretching in the park but to be honest it was pretty bloody amazing! We left at 7.30 am the following day for a 2 hr ride to a part of the wall that had not been restored and pleasantly not visited by masses of tourists. In fact we had the place to ourselves which was wonderful. It was a gorgeous day, no pollution, great company and a Great Wall to climb. We walked for 3 hrs and I personally loved every minute of it although the knees were sore the following day. It is incredible to think that it is over 10,000 km long and to be honest was pretty useless in terms of defence. Still, many died building it and we were faced with the choice of if we were to go back in time would we be a wall builder or a fighter. I have to say I think I’d rather be a all builder but I’m sure the reality is very different from my idea of having a chat and a few beers with mates whilst building a wall! We walked 6 towers but were unable to get up to the last one due to ice and snow although we did try. On the return we had many beers and a great night of banter and laughter with our new made friends as well as some old ones who had joined later from Xian.
The following days were spent seeing the other sites of Beijing such as the Temple of Heaven, Summer palace and the forbidden city. They were all impressive but the smog had got really bad which gave the whole city an odd vibe. At times it was so bad I was just glad to be inside. That said the city has so much to see with as many UNESCO world heritage sites as the whole of Eygypt! A large city but really easy to get around via the excellent subway system. For me the highlight were the alleyways (Hutongs) that wind their way around the city and show what real Beijing would have been like. They also had some of the best food!. Time to jump on a plane back to Hong Kong then meet Jolene in India. China has been really interesting but I cant help but feel a bit sad for the brain washing, lack of respect for each other and the general attitude that somebody else will clear up the mess (not just rubbish).Outside of that there are some fantastic people, great food and wonderful sites and traditions to be seen and explored. I just hope they manage to hold on to some of them.