The flight although with the dubious 'Air Ethipia' actually turned out to be fine and was virtually empty so we could sprawl out and sleep. There was however some demented Chinese guy, entirely unchaperoned on board who attempted to smoke during the flight and wouldn't listen to any of the in flight staff. Still at least he provided more entertainment than the films! Arrived in Beijing at around 6pm to be nicely surprised by Thom waiting for us at the airport. He is to be our host for the next week - it will make a nice change from slumming it in basic accommodation. First impressions of Beijing are all good - Thom lives in the Chao Yang district which is where all the expat community tend to congregate. The skyline is somewhat impressive with much construction ongoing in time for the Beijing Olympics.
Wednesday was Al's 24th birthday so we had a big night out planned. Sam and Alan also have a friend from uni who is out here teaching. We started with a few drinks chez Thom, getting nicely stuck in to Bombay Sapphire courtesy of duty free. For cambridge readers, Dan Barry and Abi Brown are also out here trying to get to grips with mandarin so we all went to a French BYO restaurant for dinner (apart from poor Dan who had to work) before going onto the student district of Wudaokou to a 3 quid all you can drink place. Apparently the alcohol they use there is fake and gives you the mother of all hangovers so I steered clear of it!!
We had another big night out on Friday which started as a flat warming for one of the expats out there before sipping many a cocktail down at Susie Wongs. Beijing is a lot friendlier place than I originally anticipated and I preferred it to my previous experiences of China (which was in SHanghai albeit briefly).
The other great thing about Beijing are the markets - a minefield of bargains to be had. I would certainly recommend a trip to the pearl and silk markets as well as a trip down San LItun(where quite a few bars of note are situated too) for DVDs. I managed to get the whole collection of Sex and the City for 10 bob!
Amongst the sightseeing in Beijing, we covered the main areas of interest. We walked on tianneman sq, took a trip back to the CHina of old in the Forbidden City alongside enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll at the Summer Palace. Yet the true highlight for me was going on the Great Wall. This was Monday's activity. An early start and a 2hr taxi drive to the site of our conquest, we readied ourself for a 4hr hike. The views are incredible and the trek is intially hard work with continual uphill battles with the ramshackle stairs before going back down the stairs only to reach a steeper climb ahead! Soul destroying stuff - but it did get easier.
We finished off the trek in suitable style by doing a zip line across the reservoir and finding our driver on the other side!