Tag Archives: Beijing
I thought it was about time that I uploaded some photos from the days where we were in a hotel with a slow Internet connection and just wanted to get something uploaded.
I know there’s a few days of stuff that we haven’t mentioned yet, but we thought it was worth writing up this evening while it was still fresh in our minds.
Having arrived back in Beijing after our “7 beds in 7 nights” tour of a small part of China, and quickly getting the compulsory handbag shopping out of the way, it was decided that for this evening’s dining it was about time I got to experience the culinary delights of Donghuamen Night Market.
This is obviously set up for the tourists, Chinese as well as Westerners. Some of the snacks are pretty standard fare, and we took advantage of these to line our stomachs to start with: something burger-like, made with chopped-up cooked pork, fresh chilli and coriander, which was really quite nice; and some fried dumplings, not the best we’ve had but still quite palatable. We thought we’d seen something that looked like a cheesy chip butty, but it turned out to be something like two fried eggs with chips squashed in the middle, so we gave that a miss.
Then we could put it off no longer: it was time to sample the more esoteric offerings. The big scorpions were quite expensive at ¥50 (£5) each, so we went for two small ones on a stick for ¥15. As Clare had tried these before, it fell to me to have the first one. Not too bad, actually: a bit like a small shrimp, deep-fried in its shell. Not very meaty at all. Clare had the second one, barely turning her nose up at all.
The first hurdle having been crossed, it was time to raise the stakes a bit: crickets. Not just a little cricket, but decent sized ones that looked like they might have a bit of meat on them. Not too expensive either, at ¥20 for two. I decided that the legs weren’t worth the bother of nibbling separately, so just put the whole lot in my mouth in one go and crunched it. Quite meaty in the middle.
Clare had to brace herself to eat her cricket; I think she’d spent too long looking at it and watching me eat it, rather than just getting it over and done with. Probably didn’t help that it was the one from the middle of the stick, not so easy to just stick it in your mouth and chew!
We decided that was enough dodgy food: the starfish didn’t look that appetising, I’d been warned that the snake was just chewy and unpleasant, and the silkworm pupae seemed like the casing might be a bit too crunchy. Besides which, the lights had been turned off on all the stalls, so it was obviously packing-up time. We grabbed a quick large stuffed pancake just to make sure we weren’t hungry, then headed off round the corner on to Wangfujing Street.
This is lined with expensive designer shops (most of which I’ve never heard of), and leads off to Wangfujing Snack Street on one side, through a traditional Chinese gate, as if we haven’t seen enough of those this week. (What you can’t see in the picture is the woman who’s trying to get me to give her money because she’s got a baby.) This area has a mixture of tat stalls and food stalls, selling much the same assortment as the night market, but with still-wriggling scorpions (before they go in the deep fryer, anyway), and something else: seahorses. I really didn’t fancy trying them, not just because I thought they’d be all crunch and no meat, but mainly because I didn’t think it was the sort of thing that should be encouraged.
We had a token browse around the tat stalls, and discovered that Chinese hats don’t fit my very Western head, lucky cats aren’t as cheap as we hoped they might be, and no, we still don’t want to buy any more chopsticks!
On Monday morning, we briefly got out of bed at 5:45 to wave goodbye to the rest of the teachers… then we were on our own in China! Of course, the only sensible thing to do at this point was go back to bed…
Later, having got up at a much more reasonable hour and had breakfast, we got a taxi to take us to the CITS (travel agency) offices, so we could pick up our tickets for that evening’s sleeper train to Xi’an. This being a Monday morning, it seemed to take absolutely ages, but we got there without any problems (aside from our first encounter with “professional friendly locals”, who I think try to engage you in conversation then get you to go somewhere for something expensive that you didn’t really want).
Then I got my first experience of the Beijing Metro, as we headed to the Lama Temple. The subway seems perfect: 20p per journey of any distance, clean, regular, punctual, easy to navigate and work out where you are at any stage of the journey. I suppose that’s the advantage of being fairly new, rather than having 100+ years of history to deal with like the London Underground.
The Lama Temple is incredibly tranquil and peaceful inside, despite being at the junction of two inner-city dual carriageways. You pass through a number of different main and side temples, containing different types (manifestations?) of buddhas, each of whom have their own specialities. Outside of each is a place to light incense sticks as an homage to Buddha; you’re not allowed to take pictures or light incense inside them, but you can leave the incense sticks or other offerings instead.
The Buddha statues are in an incredibly variety of shapes, some with many arms, feet, faces and heads, and range in size from roughly person-sized up to the biggest which is some 16m tall (IIRC), carved from a single piece of wood.
After wandering through every bit of the Lama Temple, we made our way back out to the noise and hubbub outside, and took a chance on a restaurant that Clare had spotted on our way in, which turned out to be perfect. Clean and modern inside, friendly service, and not at all expensive despite being in a very touristy area. Probably one to go back to if we’re ever in the same area.
After that, we got the Metro back to the nearest station to the hotel, which is about a twenty minute walk. We did find another area that’s worth exploring if we had more time, as this is full of art shops and music shops, but we just needed to get back to sort ourselves out for the evening train.
We’re currently travelling, and experiencing hotel Internet speeds that are slower than my first ever modem back in about 1995. I thought I should post some quick updates on what we’ve done over the last few days, and what we’ll be doing. This is going to be quite brief, and no photos; it’s taken me 30 minutes just to get an email to send successfully, trying to upload photos would be futile!
You have to see a ‘proper’ bit of the Wall when you visit China, so we’d made arrangements to join a tour. We could have had a private guide and driver for the day, but that would have cost ¥800 (£80), plus admission charges, plus cable car tickets, and we would have had to buy our own lunch; that lot quickly adds up.
For the bargain price of ¥740, we joined a small (9 people), all-inclusive tour. (Apparently this was a very ‘special’ price, a discount of at least ¥100 each. Allegedly.)
The downside of joining a tour is that some of the ‘extras’ aren’t always wanted. We were picked up from our hotel at 7:10 (yawn), then had to criss-cross Beijing to make pick-ups from two other hotels. Then a brief stop for a photo opportunity near the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest (mostly a waste of time because of the haze/fog/smog). A visit to one of the many jade factories (each of which claims to be the only place that guarantees to sell you genuine jade), where your group are promised a ‘special’ discount (but only on items which aren’t already discounted, which is just about everything except the really expensive stuff).
And so, three-and-a-half hours after leaving our hotel, we’re still not at the Wall, despite being told it was just two hours’ drive away…
The bus dropped us at one of the car parks beneath the Wall at Mutianyu at 13:10, five hours after we were picked up. We were told to regroup in two hours, but before we could get on the Wall our guide had to pick up our entrance tickets and cable car tickets, leaving us about 90 minutes by the time we’d ridden the cable car. That was probably enough for anybody, unless you’d gone fully-equipped for an expedition; it was very hot and humid up on the Wall, as the many sweaty-looking photos prove.
Clare, veteran of many Wall trips, thought this was one of the best sections that she’d seen: the wall was in reasonably good condition without having been overly repaired; there were few enough visitors that it wasn’t too difficult to get a clear photograph; and the Wall itself was quite undulating and winding, with a variety of steps and slopes.
After traipsing along the Wall for as long as we had time for, stopping for a selection of arty and cheesy photos along the way (including some in a Black Horse cap; pity it doesn’t fit!), and running the gauntlet of the obligatory tat vendors (“You wan T-shirt? One dorrar!” “One dollar? Really?” “OK, OK… two for a dorrar!”), we met back at the minibus and were taken five minutes back down the road to a “fish” “restaurant” that we’d passed on the way up. The food was pretty good, but would have been better if the Spanish couple hadn’t taken a third of the fish for themselves. The complimentary drinks weren’t excessively generous: the standard over-sized shot glass each; extra beer, for example, was ¥20 (£2) per large bottle.
On the way out, we stopped to admire the restaurant’s fish pond (you can catch your own lunch), and noticed that the header tank was used for beer storage. Also dead fish storage. Lovely. I hope that was one that had been recently caught…
Another hour’s drive now, off to some sort of tea ceremony place; something else we didn’t know about when we booked this trip.
So, the tea ceremony place wasn’t very ceremonious, more a basic introduction to different kinds of Chinese tea, their origins, and their alleged beneficial properties. And, of course, an opportunity to try to sell us overpriced tea, tea sets, novelty mugs that change pattern when they’re full of hot water, etc. I think I’ll just wait until the next time we’re in a local Chinese supermarket. Either that, or get it from Pumphrey’s as usual.
We arrived back at the hotel over ten hours after leaving. Thoroughly knackered and ready for bed again, but it was a pretty good day out at the price. We’re both suffering from whatever lurgi was going round the teachers at school, with added assistance from the delight Beijing air quality, so it’s an evening in bed until we wake up, and maybe join the others at the local KTV place. If we don’t wake up… well, we obviously needed the sleep.
The teachers’ “day off” had been postponed from Thursday to Friday, because the weather forecast looked better. You can, of course, guess what happened…
But the transport was already booked, and a lot of people still wanted to see the sights anyway (despite some having a little trouble focussing due to the previous night’s overindulgence), so we all traipsed on to the coach and set off for the First Pass Under Heaven, the easternmost gate of the Great Wall (not to be confused with the First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven, which is obviously at the other end of the Wall).
I don’t think we took the most direct route, as it seemed to take much longer than expected, but we did see some interesting sights along the way (through the rain-blurred windows of the coach).
When we got there, it soon became obvious that brightly-coloured raincoats, accessorised with umbrellas, where the in-thing this season:
… although the local wildlife went for the transparent poncho look:
Much of the wall at this point seems to have been rebuilt (or perhaps just regularly maintained) and is in very good condition:
… but the same can’t be said of the local residences, literally within the shadow of the wall:
After we’d managed to round everybody up, with a slight delay while some locals had their photos taken with these exotic Westerners on the steps of our bus, we set off for the Old Dragon’s Head, the point where the eastern end of the Wall meets the sea.
By this time, the rain was getting increasingly heavy and tempers were getting shorter, so the Old Dragon’s Head didn’t get all the attention it deserved, especially when battling through a sea of umbrellas being carried exactly at eye height.
I did manage to make a new friend though, and he certainly didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather.
[Some time after the previous post…]
Getting away from Newcastle took a little longer than I expected: Air France “lost” a plane somewhere (or that’s what seemed to have happened), and we ended up leaving Newcastle about an hour and 40 minutes later than scheduled. All credit to the Air France pilot though: he didn’t skimp on the Jet A, and got us in to Paris Charles de Gaulle just 30 minutes later than scheduled. I think he must have taken a shortcut somewhere.
This left just about the right amount of time in Paris for a leisurely beer (0.5l of Affligem for €7.10; it was worth it at the time) and a triangular ciabatta-type thing before boarding was announced. As I got to the front of the queue, I discovered that for the first time ever I’d got an upgrade; woo-hoo! Only to “Voyageur” class, but that’s a lot better than sitting in cattle class in the back.
The seat-back entertainment system didn’t work properly, but with it being a night flight (notionally, at least), I wasn’t that bothered. Between my Kindle, a couple of meals, and trying to get some sleep, there wasn’t that much spare time to occupy.
We arrived at Beijing airport almost precisely on schedule, and I quickly found my way to passport control. I expected this to be quite scary, like getting in to the USA just with shorter , but it was all very smooth and pleasant and over quite quickly. Of course, having got through security quickly, my bag seemed to be the last one off, but that’s just typical.
I’d been warned to expect crowds of people when exiting the Arrivals area, and thought it might be hard to spot the driver who’d been sent for me, but it wasn’t busy at all, and I spotted him quite easily… and quickly discovered that we had a mutual lack of comprehension of each other’s native language. There wasn’t going to be much conversation on the 3 hour drive, especially as my head hadn’t quite caught up with my body.
The first fifteen minutes lulled me into a false sense of security. Everybody seemed to be driving quite sensibly, sticking to their lanes; perhaps not indicating as often as they should, but definitely and clearly avoiding each other. Then we found a traffic jam, apparently caused by a truck and a car having stopped in the middle of the road after hitting each other…
Any notion of a “3 lane carriageway” disappeared completely. If there was a gap wide enough to fit half a car in, somebody would squeeze their car into it, and everybody would shuffle over to make room. And although the cars were about eight-abreast, they weren’t all moving in the same direction; most were moving diagonally, towards what they thought was the quickest way through, but it all seemed to work quite efficiently. Certainly better than the very British idea of getting into a single file queue as soon as possible!
There wasn’t really much scenery to see on the journey, which was broken only by a quick stop to use the “facilities” at a service area. Most of the road had trees along the side, with big advertising boards (mostly for rice wine) on posts rising above them. There was a little bit more to see as we passed Tang Shan, some industrial areas and hilly terrain, but it was starting to get dark and misty by then.
As we turned off the main road and into Qinhuangdao, we went through some kind of junction that seemed more like the road had been started from each end and hadn’t quite met properly in the middle, with sand bags and temporary barriers to guide you the right way. Apparently it’s been like that for over a year.
I got to the hotel just as the bus was leaving to take all the teachers (apart from Clare) to KTV for the evening, where we joined them after I’d had a quick shower and we’d grabbed a quick-but-expensive (£11!) meal in the hotel restaurant. By the time we got there, some of them seemed to be ever-so-slightly tipsy… can’t have been the beer, which was only about 3%, but judging by the waving and shouting as they were getting on the bus, I think a few had been getting a bit of a head-start on the drinking before leaving the hotel…
I love the first day of Summer School: as hard work as it is, I am suddenly reminded why I have come back.
We arrived in Qinhuangdao yesterday. It is a coastal city, a little over 4hrs coach ride from Beijing. The route along the way starts to give way to the ‘real’ China, right down to the wrinkly old farmers in coolie hats. Qinhuangdao has little exposure to Westerners, and so wherever we go, we are met by bemusement. A group of 30+ of us sitting at a roadside bar last night became a local attraction. Traffic slowed and beeped at us as they passed, groups of giggling girls came over to practise their English and take photos with us, whilst the ‘cooler’ boys used us as a background whist their mates took their photo. Countless people stood nearby talking on their phones as if to say “you’ll never guess what I’m standing next to!”.
A small group of us headed off for food afterwards, returning to a table-top BBQ restaurant which was a previous favourite. Once again we caused such a stir that no one seemed to think we were being rude as we walked around, pointing at tables asking for “nage” (“that” – unfortunately their menu contains no pictures!). We ended up with a leg of lamb, corn on the cob, courgette salad, fried dumplings and sesame bread. And beer, though somehow we know how to order that ourselves! The lamb comes cooked ‘pink’, and is finished on a spit over hot coals in the middle of the table. Diners receive what can only be described as a knife and fork on stilts, to hack away at the meat from a ‘safe’ distance. A top notch dinner, assuming you are neither a vegetarian or Health and Safety Officer!
Alas, we are here for another purpose other than drinking, eating and entertaining the locals, and so off we went to school this morning to do our thing. As it is an English language summer school (and as correct pronunciation of Chinese names is so difficult), the children use English names in camp. We’ve had some crackers in the past: who can forget Bumble Bee (a boy), Harry Potter, Shark or Kate (also a boy, though he was gently encouraged to change his name last year). Today I met Arthur, a 13 year old girl. To be fair, she had already sussed it was a boy’s name and asked if I could pick a new one for her. I tried to match it to the sound of her Chinese name as often happens (though not always: see above), but she thought both Joanne and Jane sounded too boyish and she wanted “something prettier” (her words – my apologies!) . After several more suggestions from me and her class mates, she settled on……yup, Arthur. Oh well.
It must be those rose-tinted glasses in duty free that make me forget on the flight home about all the irritations and annoyances of the preceding few weeks of Chinese summer camp. Instead, by the time I land, I seem only to remember the amazing time I have had and the fantastic experience I have been a part of. And so when January comes around and we are asked to apply for the next year’s programme, I can’t resist. The result? Here I am again in Beijing, about to embark on another English Language summer school.
How quickly it all came flooding back to me.
To be fair, my troubles started before I even got through security at Newcastle, where I found myself in an altercation at security about contact lens solution: he won, I lost my (less than half full) bottle of solution. The 9 hour flight from Paris was a particularly hot and sweaty affair and I managed only about 15 minutes sleep. My mood was not helped by being penned in by two strangers who slept the entire journey, meaning I couldn’t even get up to wander. Note to self: why insist on a window seat on a night flight?
Arrival was typically chaotic. Not the airport – that as you can imagine runs very efficiently – but the chaos of collecting 40 people from two flights coming into two different terminals, and transporting them and approximately 80 pieces of luggage (we need lots of resources…) to the hotel. Entertainment was provided watching our cases being squeezed into the “luggage bus” (essentially a people carrier without the seats). We waved goodbye to our luggage, wondering if we would ever see it again. Thankfully we were all reunited at the hotel: current condition of luggage bus unknown, but the prognosis can’t be good.
Transfer time between landing and check in to hotel: three and a half hours. Oh, it’s good to be back!