Alice was pleased to be touching down in Beijing. Where in India she had been stared at incessantly, here she was just ignored. From lechery to indifference. Progress. My experience in India had been completely different. I had enjoyed the way I was taken in by the locals, the respect they had shown me during my time there and, of course, being likened to David Beckham. Whilst there had been many culture shocks to process, with some being more difficult than others, I have always welcomed that aspect of travelling. It is probably what I like most about it. Walking around Beijing for the first time, as we made our way to the hostel, I couldn't help but miss these things. The Chinese really were indifferent to our presence and the streets looked no different to any you would find in a developed Western country. Suffice it to say, I was not looking forward to China as much as Alice was.
The hostel though was the best I've ever stayed in. Not only was it a really warm place, buzzing with friendly staff and a range of travellers all relaxing in the cosy bar, it also provided all the practical things you could need as a traveller: lockers, soap and shampoo, curtains for bunks in shared dormitories, transport bookings, day trips and, most importantly when we first arrived, laundry service. Washing clothes and underwear in the hotel sink with shower gel had got us through the north of India but it was not a long term solution by any means. So we were extremely happy to wake up to the smell of genuinely clean clothes in the morning.
According to Lonely Planet there were a lot of sights to see in Beijing and so we set off early on our first morning, determined to squeeze everything in during our four days in the city. First up was.... Park. I had high hopes for this place but in the end it was just a bit ordinary. All the temples looked the same and by the end we were bored of looking at them. After spending a couple of hours here, we moved through T..Square, another sight that flattered to deceive, and onto the Forbidden City, supposedly the top spot in Beijing. It was okay. But despite willing it on, there was nothing there that forced you to stop and say wow. Bit of a disappointment all round really.
However, just opposite the exit of The Forbidden City was a park which ended up being the best spot of the day. After climbing up a steep set of stairs you reached a platform that was home to an impressive golden Buddha and, most memorably, provided a great view of the Forbidden City, suddenly much more striking in its contrast with the surrounding areas of Beijing.
Having not eaten much during the day we stepped into a local Chinese restaurant where I was forced to do battle with the most frustrating cutlery known to man, chopsticks. It soon became apparent why the Chinese are so thin. After fifteen minutes of eating two grains of rice at a time they must just put the chopsticks down and give up. Unfortunately I don't have a Chinese appetite and so an hour had passed before I could put my own pair away.
With the sights done for the day and food eventually eaten, there was nothing left to do but return to the hostel in time for happy hour and enjoy some 2 for 1 Beijing beers at £1.50 a pint. It was like being back in Sheffield. We couldn't afford to have too many though. An early start and The Great Wall of China awaited us the next day.