arrived in Beijing with Sam at 5am just as it was starting to get light and hopped on a tube to our respective hostels. After arriving at our hostel, we hired bikes and boshed it down to the forbidden city and tian'anmen square. Neither of them really lived-up to expectations: the forbidden city (amazingly impressive though it is thinking about the story behind its construction) is just a series of seemingly endless corridors and huge squares with a few massive pagodas in between, it's like a level from a computer game, and tian-anmen square is just a massive square filled with annoying people trying to sell Mao-watches at extortionate prices. But it's a very nice experience cycling around Beijing, there are loads of little alleyways (HuTongs) which cars can't really fit down and are filled with a throng of people (both on foot and on 2 wheels) selling, buying and eating sizzling food from little stands and generally having a jamming time. they remind me of The Lanes in Brighton, only everything is 1/10th of the price and even more friendly.
On the way to giving our bikes back, we bumped-into some people (including a nice german guy called Mattius) who we'd met in Mongolia and arranged to meet them that evening. we got lost trying to find our hostel but the very helpful and friendly policemen (a welcome change from their russian counterparts) pointed us in the right direction.
That evening we met with Ed, Dara, Mattius (a 23yr old german fellow), a chinese lady who somehow knew mattius, and some others and went for a meal, then to some bars and finally to a club; GT. Banana Club had the odd feel of a school disco and we left at about 5.
as we got a taxi back to ed and dara's hostel the night before and slept there without paying, we had to sneak-out very stealthily. on the way to the exit, however, we ran-into Simon. Beijing is turning-out to be a great-big UlaanBaatar/Gobi re-union.
we got our stuff from the first hostel we'd stayed in and 'moved-house' to another one, Qian Men Hostel, in this new area (which has a much nicer vibe and is riddled with hutongs) we learned on our arrival, to our dismay, that we had missed Ed's 'edparture' by about 10 minutes so decided to stay-in and watch 'Appocalypse Now Redux', which, although a bit over-long (over 3hrs) is awesome nonetheless.
we hired bikes with Mattius and rode south of the city centre to try and discover some of the non-tourist-filled suburbs and after an hour of so of cycling, stopping a couple of times to grab some street food, we came upon what we were looking for: everyone lived in ramshackle huts made from corrigated iron and wood and played snooker on outdoor tables covered in leaves, all the prices were much lower than in the main city and everyone stopped to watch us cycle by. we returned to our new hostel in the evening to rest after a long day and then went out for a meal and a smoke on a shisha pipe with the old UlaanBaatar cartel.
Oli and I seem to be seeing quite a lot of Mattius these days, he's very inteligent, frank and often very funny, and today was no exception: the 3 of us went to the 'Silk Market', in which hot chinese girls jump out at you from their stalls and litterally SEIZE you and try to drag you inside to look at their wares. despite not buying much, except some silk clothes, (oli bought 2 caps), this is a very entertaining experience.
That evening we went out with Mattius. first to a "traveller's bar" and then to a nightclub. MIX nightclub, supposedly the best club in beijing for young people, did indeed live up to expectations: 4 dancefloors on 2 floors, loads of bars and other little enclaves and other rooms. Although the music was just generic hip-hop and pop, the mixing was good and everyone seemed to be having a great time. we left around 5 and got a taxi back to Qian Men.
BEIJING FOOD - Beijing food comes in 2 types: 'Street food' and food bought in a resteraunt. both are very nice and I seem to spend all the time hungry (not because i have not eaten enough but because my senses are constantly being bombarded at the prospect of more) and food is so cheap, so we have been eating a lot during our time here.
Typical 'Street food' are things like: - cold noodles with beanmsprouts, cucumber, spring onions, corriander, soy sauce, sesame oil and chili paste, - baked sweet potatoes, plums encased in rice wrapped in leaves, freshly steamed dumplings, deep fried spinach cakes, rosti-style potato things, lots of different kinds of sweet and savoury breads, fresh fruit on sticks and much more
Eating in a resteraunt has both good and bad points: unless you go with someone who speaks chinese it may well be pot-luck what you end-up getting as we've just pointed at random items on the menu (most have been excellent, but some not-so-nice: bioled eggs soaked in what we think was ink for what must have been a looonnng time and sprinked with a LOT of huge chunks of salt)
Hot Pot - something we have never come accross in the UK is chinese-style hot pot. you get a big bowl in the middle of your table filled with half spicy broth/sause stuff and the other half mild. You then order a load of different things from the menu (which are brought out to you raw) and you drop them in the boiling broth until they are cooked. it's a novel and very interesting way of eating and a very social activity.
woke up late so didn't do much in the afternoon but we met a very nice 23 year old guy from B.C, Canada called Owen who was travelling with his father, also a very friendly guy. we drunk some beers in our hostel bar and went out to another hostel bar where Simon and Will (a funny lad from york and also a U.B. cartel member) were playing guitar and singing. we left that place after a little while and went to MIX again. we were all pretty drunk and it was a fun night. Oli and I met a pair of 21 year-old cousins (Katie and Ally) who are very friendly and offered to take us out for a meal oneday soon. as we were leaving the club (at about 6am), we thought of Owen, who would've been just about to leave on a tour of the great wall after drinking more than either of us and getting no sleep whatsoever.
went to look for a football with Mattius to play in a park but we didn't find one so we played chess in a little park instead, to the amusement of a lot of chinese passers-by.
in the evening, we went to the 'night market' with Mattius, which sells very exotic meats (scorpions, grubs, sea urchins, seahorses etc etc on skewers) and then went to meet Katie and Ally, who took the 5 of us to eat at a hotpot resteraunt and then took us clubbing in MIX again. Matteus left after a short while, leaving us 4 in the club, and the rest is history as they say;)
arived back at the hostel in the afternoon and met a very nice guy called Ed who is making a programme about 'the longest train journey in the world' for radio 4. he has done pretty-much EXACTLY the same trip as me so far (starting in London and getting to Beijing) and is going on to vietnam next.
we didnt do much that evening and went to bed quite early.
we hired bikes again today and went round seeing all the places of interest that we'd not yet seen:
1. The Temple of Heaven - a very impressive multi-tiered circular pagoda that would have been more interesting (as with a lot of these sights) if we'd known more about its history.
2. jingshan Park - some nice views of Beijing from the highest piece of ground in the city and a very relaxing and chilled-out park atmosphere.
3. Lama Temple - containing the world's largest wooden statue of a budda. monks burn copious ammounts of insense in huge urns.
we also went to the silk market and the night market again. in the evening, exhausted, we returned to the hostel and met a cool Canadian girl called Amber and some finnish dudes whod moved into our room. we went to play mah jong with the Finns and Ed at a little mah jong club and realised that Mattius had left. we feel very surprised by this freak dissapearance. he didn't even leave us a note or anything!! JMF
exhausted after yesterday's full day spent sightseeing and cycling, we went to see Chairman Mao's preserved remains in his huge mausoleum. it is very strange how fake he looks (a lot more-so than a model at madame tussauds)
in the evening, while sitting at the hostel computers, one of the crazy Finns came in and invited us clubbing again, so we went. 'KTV Disco' was too crowded and I was too tired anyway so after getting seperated from Oli and the Finn i left and went back to Qian Men to sleep.
We fancied a change of scene today, so we moved hostel to another one nearby (which was also a bit cheaper) and spent the day doing not-very-much.
in the evening, we went out with Katie and Ally again. they took us to a kareoke place. kareoke in China is very different from in the UK. you don't perform infront of an audience as the rooms you're in are very small chambers, but neither of us are very good at singing so the singing was done by the girls. we ate some fruit and drank beer and 'talked' all evening.
In the morning, we met a little guy called Leroy. He grew-up in Beijing staying in foster-care but is old enough to leave home now and, as he doesn't really have anything in Beijing to stay for, he asked in not so many words if he could come across china with us. he seems safe enough so we accepted and spent the day with him making travel arrangements and going to see another temple. The Dongue temple is full of little rooms containing models of monsters, beasts and prominent figures from chinese myth and legend and was quite interesting.
In the evening we returned to the hostel where Ed (who took an immediate liking to Leroy) interviewed us for his programme on radio 4. we will put details on the blog of if/when it will be broardcast. it was a bit of a squeeze getting leroy into our small hostel room but he's quite a small chap so we got him in un-noticed by the staff. it will be strange travelling with a tiny chinese dude accross China. I hope we all get along well.
pictures will go up when internet connection is swift as a hawk.