Hello- as promised a retrospective blog entry!
So the past two days we've had a break from teaching and got to sample some of the attractions Beijing has to offer. On friday we went to Beijing proper (We've been staying in Shunyi district, about an hour or so from the centre).
It was quite a hectic day, after getting up to be on the coach for 6:30am for a Macdonald breakfast (yum yum :s) which consisted of a spicy chicken burger, a hash brown and a cup of their trademark questionable coffee (good to know some things don't change no matter where you go- although the spicy chicken burger was an interesting breakfast concept). We arrived in the centre of Beijing at about 8:30am (traffic).
We immediately went over the the national museum which is literally across the road from Tian'anmen square and the forbidden city. After some practice at queing we managed to find the que we were supposed to be going in via and made it into the museum. We were allotted precisely 1hr in the museum of China (which wasn't even a quarter of the time needed) so didn't manage to see half the stuff we wanted to see. There was some art in the lobby which was quite interesting and a room full of paintings depicting the red revolution and the rise of Chairman Mao (a Chinese visitor kindly came over to explain this to us but didn't go into any detail) and after about 10 minutes of searching we managed to find the ancient China rooms- which were huge and filled to the rafters. We only managed to go back as far as the Qing dynasty before it was time for us to leave- but we plan to come back to Beijing before we leave for home again so we can look around at our leisure rather than at breakneck speed.
After the museum we went to Tian'anmen Square across the road. I wish I knew a little more about the history of Tian'anmen but I never covered it in a history lesson, all the books about it are in Chinese and I don't want to ask a Chinese person about if for fear of offending them (Tian'anmen is apparently one of the "Big Three T's" you do not discus (those been Tian'anmen, Tibet, and Tiawan). We had an hour to spend in Tian'anmen which was unnecessarily long in my opinion- not knowing the history or been able to find out kind of killed any potential interest the place held and nobody mentioned that Mao's body was open for viewing (the que for which would have taken at least 30 mins to get through, more likely 2 hours- it was that long and slow moving).
After lunch we went to the Forbidden City (time allotted two hours- be on time or be left behind) It's a very beautiful place and has a lot of history- which I only know a little about- but most of the information was in Chinese and we weren't given audio tours (which are apparently expensive but definately worth it) or even a map of the place. But we managed to find out way around the place easily enough and to take some nice photos.
BTW: The cost of everything in the Forbidden city is literally 3 times the price of anything immediately before its doors 3 yuan for an ice lolly compared to the 1 yuan in the que- I know we're talking the difference between 10p and 30p here but when the Chinese look at you scandalised when you tell them you spent 8 yuan when you could have spent 3 yuan it starts to rub off on you!
All in all it was a very tiring day, not only because of the temperature or the amount of stuff we saw, but the relentless pace of our guides rushing us around everywhere. My advice- if you want to see either the forbidden city or the Chinese Museum properly take a full day to do each and take plenty of water with you (and don't be afraid to take photos of the exhibits- no one is likely to stop you and in some displays it almost appears to be encouraged!)
On Saturday we went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, I was a little disappointed at how foggy the weather was (especially after having beautiful blue skys for the past few days (except of friday were it was grey- not sure of that was the smog or if it was actually foggy them too). However we still managed to have a good time. Jon and I chose to walk up to the top of the wall, along it, and walk back down again- we were very tired by the end of it, our legs were shaking with the strain but it was worth it, we got a fair few good pictures. There also is apparently a Chinese saying that you are not a man until you have walked up to the Great Wall of China, not sure how true it is but if so I claim honourary man point! There is also an option to take a lift up and/or down the wall (expensive) and, much to my amazement, the option to tobogan down to the bottom from the top of the wall (apparently dangerous and I have to say it did look a little rickety). On the way back down we got mobbed by Chinese market sellers and ended up buying a wall hanging of the great wall, a fan and a silk dressing gown
All in all two very fun but tiring days out and we definately plan on returning to Beijing to be tourists again.