It's about time I wrote something in this blog so here are another few random musings about life here.
To work backwards, I've just come back from a few days in Beijing and it was so easy. The city's been transformed since I was last there in 2006 due to all the Olympic preparations but spitting is still alive and well in the streets, if not in the subway, and Chinglish is still around to gladden the heart, so all is not lost. It was just an overnight direct train journey to get there and the only slight panic was, would I get back to Suzhou in time to get packed for Malaysia. The train ticket office told me the usual 'mei you', apart from soft seats on the train the day after I wanted to come back, but said I'd get them in Beijing, and so I did, after queuing for an hour in the freezing train station plaza to get the new day's allocation.
The walk on the great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai was spectacular, 10 km of steep ups and downs on sometimes crumbling steps, with the Wall meandering in the mountains ahead and behind, and a great rip cord over the reservoir at the end to get you to Simatai. Certainly the highlight of my trip but it was also great to witness the Bird's Nest stadium personally, despite the 50 kuai entry ticket fee. Nothing vaguely touristy is ever free here and prices are often well out of proportion to their worth or to wage levels but I duly paid and took the obligatory pictures.
In front of the Forbidden City I happened upon the Raising the Flag ceremony. Not knowing what was happening I, along with crowds of others, was ushered out of the way and a big soldier with gun, close to Tiananmen Square, pointed at me. It was only a friendly warning to watch my bag, whew.
It was good to get away for Christmas and New Year and avoid the parties, all-night all you can drink ex-pat jobbies at the international Marriot Hotel, that the others are so fond of. So I party-pooped Christmas day on top of Huang Shan in Anhuiprovince and spent the chimes of New Year sleeping on a train along with Chinese who don't celebrate it anyway.
Huang Shan was a great choice, cold and a bit icy on the 9many) steps, but nothing that warm clothes and some throw-away 10 kuai crampons couldn't cope with. It turned out to be a crisp, clear day. On arrival at the station in the city I was met by my Hostel man who could speak no English and the hostel, though well placed next to the station, was not of the usual foreigner-friendly type. I was just working through my Chinese repertoire to find out how to get around when a group of Dutch people turned up, with Hostel man's cousin, an English speaking tour arranger, so it got easier from there. I ended up spending Christmas night in a hotel on top of the mountain with a French woman who was travelling everywhere without any flights, two jolly Hong Kong girls and some Chinese. The French woman and I put on our party hats and ate our Pot Noodle Christmas dinner, then watched the fabulous sunset. Ideal.
Day to day life in Suzhou is so unlike how it was before in deepest Yunnan. I sometimes feel frustration at my pitifully stagnating Chinese and lose track of my motives for living here. Being so cosmopolitan in this part of the country there's not such a great need to speak the language and all too often people speak back to me in English after my best efforts in Chinese, seeing I'm a 'lao wai'.The job is much more routine than before and there are the partying compatriots. But being able to do all this travelling on my wages makes it worth while and the lack of a job to go back to is a slight concern to be addressed some time.
Well, maybe more later but I must pack. 24 hours back from Beijing and I'm off to meet Tim in Kuala Lumpur for a month of holiday and travel in warm but stormy Malaysia.