Back in Laos when I met Andrea she invited me to stay with her when I got to Beijing, so for the second time in China I had a local friend and a free bed!
Well… half a single bed, so it’s a good thing Andrea and I became close friends fast.
After some awkward moments trying to meet up in the morning without a phone (I don’t remember how I survived before mobiles were invented – seriously, I’m worried that humans have devolved in this respect), she had to run off to work while I caught up on sleep and then ventured out to find my Trans Siberian tickets. We meet up in the evening again for a trip to the Wangfujing snack street.
We didn’t eat these, probably because they scream tourist trap. Actually to be fair, they were more likely to be screaming ‘Aaargh, get me off this stick!’ since they were STILL ALIVE AND WRIGGLING. Mmm, revolting bugs and animal cruelty rolled up into one tasty package.
We stuck with nice easy spring rolls and caramel coated mystery fruit instead.
And then, because we were in Beijing, we had to go for Peking duck (Andrea had to look away while they were carving for us, and refused to join me in eating the duck brain)
Next day Andrea shot off for work and college again (or college and work, I forget which, she’s a busy girl), and I headed off to the Forbidden City.
It’s big and old, and oy it’s crowded. It’s seems that all the expected crowds that I missed in Yuangyang and Chengdu and Zhangjiajie caught up with me here. I only had the patience for about an hour, but there are a couple of cool bits and pieces to see.
This enormous carved block is between two of the main staircases and is carved all in one piece. It’s so big that to get it to Beijing they had to flood the roads in winter to create an ice path to slide it along.
The corners of the buildings have mini processions walking along then starting with someone riding a phoenix and ending with… a dragony thing. The number of characters in between denotes how important the building is, so this is a pretty important one.
In a harmless exhibition of bronze pots I came across this. Uh… is it just me or… um… does that pot have a… No, it can’t possibly.
That evening after amazing street food dumpling omelette (frying them in egg had to be the only way to make dumplings even better – we ate way too many), Andrea announced we were going out to meet her friends for a drink. Did I mention they were all college students? Oh dear. I drank, I lost drinking games spectacularly, I drank more, I somehow ended up in a club, I apparently ended up in another club with no memory of leaving the first one, I danced on tables… Did I mention in Shanghai that my drinking skills are a little rusty? My hangover skills however are beyond compare. I can hold on to one of those babies forever.
Ughhh. I think I was still in bed when we were supposed to be going out the next evening, so much for sightseeing.
We went for a wander in the evening to Houhai park, which is a pretty area around three lakes where you can rent ordinary boats, swan boats, or rubber duck boats that blow bubbles. I have no idea why we didn’t do this. A tragic missed opportunity.
The lake side is crowded with people doing this…
PAH! China laughs (and probably spits) at your rules!
Houhai is quite close to some of the hutongs (small alleyways), which Beijing is famous for, and seem to be full of small boutiquey shops and food stalls.
That night we went out AGAIN. Oh dear lord. With yet more students, including a large contingent of Mexicans. Being students, they didn’t want to listen to the boring old person when she said she didn’t want a shot of tequila. Thankfully, being students, that also mostly didn’t notice when said old person ‘accidentally’ poured half her shot on the floor (it’s OK, we were outside, I haven’t become that uncouth). I managed to make it until 4am before I insisted that I really had to go if I was to have any chance of doing anything the next day. Andrea eventually came home around 8am, got changed, and went out to work. Damn these youngsters with their bouncy resilient livers.
Anyway, that should go some way to explaining why I nearly missed the Great Wall of China. I eventually crawled out of the flat at about 1.30 the next day. At this point I wasn’t too worried, as Andrea had told me that unless I wanted to hike the whole thing I’d probably only want an hour or two at the wall. I figured it would probably take me an hour and a half to get there, but just in case, I swallowed my pride and went to the easiest (so they say) part to reach – the super touristy Badaling.
An hour and a half was a joke. After about two and a half hours we got to what I thought might be the bus stop, but then no one else was getting off, and I could see a sign pointing to the wall further down the road so I figured it wasn’t. Just in case, I asked the girl next to me, and she shook her head. So I sat down again, the bus stated moving, and… turned around and went back to Beijing. Bollocks. After a frantic 20 minutes, I was let off the bus so I could run across the road and wait for another bus to take me back to what was in fact the very poorly signposted bus stop. Presumably it would be more obvious earlier in the day when stuffed full of people. After a good length of time wandering in every direction and swearing, I figured out that the shuttle buses had despaired of any more mad people showing up this late and had stopped running, so I had to walk a further 2km to get to the wall.
Success at last! I managed to climb to the first couple of watchtowers before I had to scurry back to catch the last bus back to Beijing, which then proceeded to get stuck in very heavy traffic for an extra hour. In all, I think I was out for about 8 hours, and got to spend a grand total of 10 minutes on the wall. Fail.
On the other hand, I got to see what is supposed to be the most hellishly touristy bit of wall with no crowds, so, you win some you lose some.
The next day, with much more success, we went to the Summer Palace with Andrea’s friend Sandra. The Summer Palace is much bigger than the forbidden city, and prettier to – I’d recommend this if you only have time to do one. Still crowded though. Bah.
While Andrea and I were running round taking photos of temples, Sandra was mainly taking photos of Chinese kids. We all share the opinion that we aren’t going to bother with kids of our own, we’ll just steal them from China where they’re all adorable.
Having said that, we’re pretty sure this one pooped in the urn.
Till next time, thanks for an awesome few days in Beijing – see you when you come to Dorset! (which is of course just as exciting and vacation worthy as the capital of China…)