I have some rare free time before we all leave for a posh, official banquet with lots of official education people so grabbed the chance to update you all. As you can probably tell we all arrived safe although the flights were painfully long. The Arabs sure know how to fly in style though and provided us with soft blankets, pillows, toothbrushes, earplugs and blindfolds with incredibly comfy seats and TVs where you could choose to watch pretty much whatever you want. Unfortunately all most of us wanted to do was sleep which didn't really go to plan considering the roasting temperature of the plane and the slight feelings of nerves. It was also worrying having to wait for over two hours while our plane was being 'fixed' before take off... I felt like a proper traveller for the first time standing at the back of the plane watching the deserts and mountains of Iran, Turkey and Iraq pass beneath along with a beautiful red lake.
After a smoggy bus journey we dropped our kit at the hostel and went to tianenman square and had a look around. It was pretty surreal standing in front of Mao's massive portrait and then we decided we were too hungry for the forbidden city yet. After struggling to eat noodles with chopsticks we found the forbidden city had shut hours ago and took a wander through some of the gardens and worshipping places to the side which were pretty stunning. That serene feeling was soon shattered when we tried to read a map in mandarin and got hopelessly lost, in the end we just hailed a taxi and experienced another of Beijing's delights; the roads. Roads here are nothing like England, the signals mean nothing and everyone's mental/fearless. Red lights only mean stop if you feel like it and the best technique for crossing the road is just walking without looking (if you look then they know you've seen them so they expect you to move not them). Everyone beeps at everything for no reason and after ten minutes with an angry chinese taxi driver we were pretty pleased to find it cost us 40p each.
The food deserves it's own paragraph - that night we went for a beautiful meal. They feed you huge amounts and keep bringing food out until you're falling off your chair from stuffing your face. May get hungry over the next few days as so much chopstick us has made some of our fingers bleed which makes it a bit painful.
The next morning we split into two groups, my group went on a 'scavenger hunt' which meant we were let loose on Beijing for a few hours to find stuff and practise our Mandarin skills. It was pretty fun although had some weird run ins with some crazy chinese and, once again, managed to get lost in an alleyway maze. After, we went and did the cooking class and I can now make my own noodles from scratch and a spicy chicken dish to go with it!
We decided to go for some beers and stayed out talking until the early hours. We grabbed a couple of hours kip on the bus to the Great Wall though (we didn't go to the touristy bit where the toboggan run is but instead went to a bit you're not really allowed to go to which is well preserved and no-one else really goes). We were staying in a traditional Chinese village and were proviied beds in the form of giant concrete slabs which slept 6/7 at a time. Bth was delighted to see these giant 'beds' (they were covered in a thing blanket) and belly flopped onto one which looked painful but was in fact hilarious. Again, we stayed up until the early hours talking and playing guitar (mine and Jono's first task during our Beijing free time) before trying to sleep on our comfy, king size rocks.
We woke pretty early to trek up to the Great Wall, it was hot and humid but me and Ned paced it up to be the first at the top. Unfortunately it was a bit misty so the view wasn't brilliant but we still got loads of photos and a couple of us ran along it to reach some of the other watch towers. I put my foot on a wall of one of them knocked a couple of bricks off... i may have knocked down part of the Great Wall oops.
We then returned for alternate Mandarin lessons and power naps before heading back to Beijing for another giant meal. Me and 4 others got dressed up in matching shirts (apparently we looked like a boy band) and we all ate a massive amount of duck. Lovely as it was the best follow up was heaing to KTV (the karaoke bar - the chinese LOVE karaoke). It looked like a really posh hotel and they have massive rooms with leather sofas, marble floors and a cinema screen with surround sound in the middle of what appears to be an industrial estate next to a motorway. Not everyone came, but those who did sang their hearts out and drank a lot. Once we'd sung ourselves hoarse we once again trekked out to discover another bar before crawling into bed at five. 4 hours of sleep later and I woke up this morning with the exciting prospect of a talk from the British Embassy and then a meal with the CEIAE (which I have to leave for in 10 minutes). Somehow we made it thorough the talk and I took some people to a gorgeous restaurant for lunch.
I really need to go now but there's so much more I need to tell you about! Tomorrow I begin my 20 hour train journey to my project and I'll try and get in touch from there. I'm having a wicked time and it is true that Beijing is one city that doesn't sleep. I'll reply to emails and stuff as soon as I can!