On Saturday 7th June, Matt, Ian and I bode farewell to Southeast Asia, and flew to Beijing, China. We arrived in Beijing at around 9pm, and spent the best part of 4 hours tying to find the hostel we had booked. The Taxi drivers spoke no English whatsoever, and out Mandarin wasn't quite up to scratch either. After much walking around and several taxis, we eventually gave up and found another hostel.
On 8th June we found our intended accomodation, the Red Lantern House. Having failed to find it the previous night, we were a little cranky with it, but it was quickly forgiven. It was in a good location, had decent rooms and its social atmosphere meant we met some cool people pretty much straight away. With Jack (Canadian) and Stine (Norwegian) we instantly struck up friendships, and went cheap DVD shopping with them, before visiting Tiannenmen Square for sunset. This was quite an impressive place, however the level of pollution in Beijing became very apparent, and was quite shocking. We became aware of the statistic that a day in Beijing is the equivalent of smoking 70 cigarettes...ouch. Our hostel was also excellent because a 600ml bottle of Chinese beer cost 3RMB (28p).
Feeling a little groggy after teaching our new friends the game of Ring Of Fire, Jack, Ian, Stine and I went to a local recreation park and did some Tai Chi with the locals. Stine did some exercise based dance. This actually proved to be very relaxing and theraputic. We were in a group of about 30, outdoors on a sunny day, with a cool morning breeze passing through the park. On the way back to the hostel, Jack and I passed some Nike-sponsored basketball courts, that were packed with local enthusiasts. We joined them in a 4-on-4 game. Despite the language barrier, we never had trouble communicating when on the court. It was great fun, and the Chinese really were very good players!
The following day we visited the forbidden city. This is right in the middle of Beijing, next to Tiannenmen Square. It covers a very large site and in its entirety is very ornate and impressive. Essentially, the forbidden city contains the palaces and thrones of the emperors during the Ming Dynasty. These emperors definitely knew hoe to treat themselves!
On the 11th we visited the Templre Of Heaven, which wasn't that good and didn't live up to its name. The afternoon we hunted down the Olympic "Birds Nest" Stadium. I found this more impressive than Matt or Ian did, but i personally thought it was a breathtaking design.
Thursday 12th June was spent at Mutuanaya, walking on the Great Wall Of China. We had 4 hours of steep steps, super views and taking in the sheer magnitude of it all. This fully lived up to my expectations and was an all round great experience.
After this we had dinner with Kristina Wooddin and two of her co-teachers at the China Agricultural University. This was a real feast, and we had a great time catching up with her, and then making the foolish beer-aided decision to eat Bull's Penis.
On Friday night we were due to travel on a 12hour sleeper train to Shanghai, but moments before we were going to depart from our hostel, a Typhoon hit, and the skies emptied onto Beijing. So...ankle deep in water we waded to the tube station...which of course was shut! Taxi drivers wanted none of it and were ALL refusing to pick people up. So after 90mind trying desperately to make our train...we had to give up...it was gone.
Feeling a bit poor and sorry for ourselves, we trudged back to the hostel, and booked in for another night. We also booked the cheapest ticket possible for the following day to Changhai: Hard-seat stopper train for 24hours. The journey was far from pleasant, but we put up with it and the 90 degree angle the seats were at, because we eventually got to Shanghai. After checking into our hostel we check out the city and organised to meet up with some friends who we had met along the way, and one from home. This city would prove to be very trendy in the week to come...