I went up to the Lama Temple today and it was absolutely heaving. With it being the last day of the Chinese new year celebrations, everybody in Beijing headed there to light incense and pray for good luck in the coming year. Pretty much everywhere in Beijing today had firecrackers going off and it was really busy.
Thinking that the trains would be busy tomorrow with everybody travelling back home after the celebrations, I got my train ticket today. Beijing station has 4 million ticket counters for natives and 1 ticket counter for foreigners. Wouldn't you know it, it was closed. So I queued for an age and did my best to mime: '1 train ticket to Huludao for tomorrow please'. As the girl behind the counter was rubbish at charades this went on for a little longer than at first anticipated.
Feeling adventurous I picked a local Chinese restaurant to eat at before heading back to the hostel. Unfortunately not one of the waitresses spoke very good Chinese so when I asked for chicken and rice they didn't understand me.
I nipped down a hutong after eating to find a Chinese SIM card. A hutong is a narrow side street with shops and local eateries all the way along. They're sort of alleyways left in between the rows of buildings. I asked for a China Unicom SIM card because I knew my iPhone would work on that network and he only had China Mobile. All hell broke loose. After I let him out of the head lock he brought up Babel Fish on his computer screen.
The Lantern Festival was tonight too. Nobody can launch a lantern these days because of health and safety but the parade was (apparently) very good. I didn't go because I wanted to go to the theatre to see Road to Revive, pretty much a musical about the history of China. I didn't understand a word. Was good though. The National Centre for the Performing Arts is a massive dome and is mostly underground. Inside there is an opera house and a few theatres. What was odd was that the audience only clapped after one particular character said anything and at the end the performers clapped as the audience left. Very odd.
When I came out the whole of Beijing was under an inch of fresh snow. The National Centre was breathtakingly pretty: snow had collected on the top like frosting and the blue lights made the whole thing glow. All the way back to the hostel was the smell of Bonfire Night and the sky was dark with snow clouds but bright with sporadic splashes of fireworks.
When I got back to the hostel nobody was around and I went up to the dorm. My Dutch compadres were laughing away over Skype with their relatives back in Holland - 180! Gijs very kindly gave me a keyring with a yellow clog on it to take with me on my travels - Dank u voor de klomp, Gijs! They are off to Tibet on a 47-hour journey on a train that is so high in the mountains that it has oxygen masks fitted! They have done some great fundraising for www.braillewithoutborders.org and are going to deliver the cheque in person. Great going guys, safe travels.