Arrived in Beijing on Friday and it appears that I am going to be stuck here for some time. Apparently, my visa has expired!! I had no idea it had,Ithought it was good until October, so I've had to apply for a temporary, 10 day visa and leave China in the next 10 days. I then have to apply for a tourist visa when I return. So, very reluctantly, I'm taking the train to Hong Kong next Saturday, having spent all day yesterday chasing around for the cheapest way out of, and back into, China, that doesn't involve yet more visas!! It is absolutely infuriating! Absolutely the last thing I want to do is spend 24 hours on a hard sleeper, only to turn around almost immediately and come back again! The extra cost is another thing I could most definitely do without! But there is nothing for it, I should have checked more carefully.
Once I return, I will have to set about getting the Russian and Mongolian visas for the train journey back to Moscow. So, with one thing and another, it looks as though I shall be in Beijing until the middle of next month, which is a real pain! All my travel plans have had to be revised and the final 2 months are going to be a bit of a whirlwind but I have no excuse, it was my fault entirely.
I've got myself a real cheapo hotel this time! The pennies are having to be watched very carefully! It is clean, comfortable and very central (right opposite the main railway station) and a couple of metro stops from Tiannanmen Square, so that's OK. The weather is really quite pleasant. It's very hot but there is a bit of a breeze and, at least, the heat is dry. A thick grey cloud of pollution hangs over the city, blocking out the sun and, one suspects, trapping heat and greenhouse gases, but no longer am I a walking sweat machine!! (I was amazed to find how damp my clothes were when I unpacked).
Before coming to Beijing I spent a very wet couple of days in a little village about 3 hours from Guilin in a really splendid old Chinese house that had been restored (almost) to its former glory. Thge house is used for volunteers working in the local primary school - very beautiful but even more remote that Yongfu! The house was so interesting because it had not been altered in any way, so the rooms were either open to the elements or very dark and windowless. The floors were on different levels, with steps leading into the rooms, a fish pond in the middle of the central courtyard and an upstairs gallery around three sides of the courtyard. It was built in a grey stone and must, at some time, have been the main house in the village. It was a step back into the past and an idea that should be copied instead of letting these beautiful old houses fall into decay, which is what most of them are doing.
I said goodbye to Bianca on Friday and went back to Guilin, then flew to Beijing. Bianca was returning to school for her final week or so, then she goes back to Germany. Time is up, I shall have to go! Until next time...
Thursday, 1st July - Not much to add so far. I've been finding my way around Beijing's public transport system, which is cheap, usually crowded and very easy to use. The subway stations are similar to, but not by any means as grand as, the ones in Russia. They have a central platform with trains going in opposite directions each side of the platform. The names of the stations are written in pinyin, with illunminated maps inside the trains indicating its current position. Another strange phenonema is the ghost-like appearance, outside the windows of the speeding subway train, of advertisements which seem to be moving at the same speed as the train, thus appearing to remain static. They suddenly appear, spectre-like, haunt the occupants of the train, then as the station approaches, they disappear again just as suddenly.
Last Monday I went to an area outside Beijing called the Western Hills and to one area in particular, called Fragrant Hills Park. My objective was to try and escape the heat and pollution of the city - it was about 35 degrees that day and everyone was a walking sweat machine!! (I don't know who was idiotic enough to suggest that the weather in Beijing was 'pleasant'!). It took some getting to and a lot of walking in the midday sun but the reward was a 10 minute trip to the top of the mountain in a chair lift, over the tops of the trees and into the coolness of the hill top! No glorious views, unfortunately; the fog of pollution put paid to that! It was possible to climb steps to the top, but in that heat, even walking down would have been punishing. So I sailed down on the chair lift as well, strolled aound the park then took buses and subways back.
I've spent countless hours juggling my travel plans to try and fit everything in and just hope that there will be no hitches in obtaining a new visa for China, or indeed any of the other places. I collect my temporary visa tomorrow and am hoping that I'll be able to get a 90 day visa issued on Monday in Hong Kong. Then I return (by train, flying is too expensive) on Tuesday and get back to Beijing on Wednesday. By paying a hefty supplement, I'm hoping that I'll be able to get the Russian visa issued on Thursday. I would like to then go away for the weekend (none of the embassies/consulates are open over the weekend), and allow all the following week for the Mongolian visa. So, that's how things stand at the moment! I suspect that it will be a miracle if everything works out as I would like it to, but one has just got to hope for the best !! I'll keep you posted!
Friday 2nd - It rained yesterday, for the first time in a week, and what a difference it made! It was cooler and fresher and, for the first time in a week, I saw the sky! The sun blazed forth, instead of just being a smudged full stop and a huge half moon appeared above the tree tops. I'm excited because I can't remember the last time I saw the sky, yet, today the pollution has been washed away, the sky is a cloudless blue and the sun is shining with a vengence that leaves me dazed and light-headed. At night the 'day storage heaters' of the streets release the stored heat back into the atmosphere, keeping the temperature a steady 30+ degrees.
Well, Hong Kong beckons. Until the next time...