Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Final Stop - Beijing

Beijing was a big shock to arrive in after coming from the Chinese countryside. I really missed the peace and the relatively pollution free air and the wonderfully cheap local food that you find in rural China. Everything in Beijing is more tourist friendly. The food is more expensive but there is nearly always an English menu, English is widely spoken (a big shock after using my pidgeon Mandarin for weeks!) and there is even a subway. I found this all almost disappointing. Travel had suddenly become too easy. People in Beijing are more used to tourists, so I did not get flocks of people gathering round the strange blonde alien that I had out in the sticks but at the same time I had to watch out for scams in Beijing in place of genuine friendliness and helpfulness that I found in all other parts of China. Also as if the shock of arriving in a big city with a subway was not enough, I was also couchsurfing in a penthouse suite with a swimming pool and gym. I felt distinctly scruffy to say the least and very out of place, but I can't complain and it was nice to have a hot shower again and not have to go outside to use the loo!

For me Beijing was not what China was about and though there are lots of exciting things to do, nothing compared with staying in my own cave dwelling, hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, being the only Westerner in Western Sichuan, trying out my Mandarin (to rather humourous effect) and eating in genuine local street cafes with the most amazing steaming bowls of noodles or Baozi. I think most tourists start in Beijing which is probably a softer landing than coming from Vietnam as it is much more tourist friendly.

Scam alert: When visiting the Great Wall and walking to the bus station to take you there, do not allow yourself to become accosted by a friendly lady who speaks perfect English and offers to show you to the right bus. Unfortunately I was used to genuine friendliness in the countryside and did not expect a scam. The lady shows you to bus no. 980 which is mentioned in the Lonely Planet book so I thought it was OK. The problem is, is that before you get to the right place the bus driver (who has done a dodgy deal with said lady) will tell you to get off and then you will be stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing but some taxi vultures to take you on your way. They will unsurprisingly try to charge you 10 time the going rate. I had a big argument with them (I was not happy) and ended up paying twice what I should have. Thankfully the exchange rate is not so bad so I only paid about £2.50 extra but when that is a quarter of your allowance for the day (budget travelling!) it is hard to part with. It also put a rather sour taste on my Great Wall experience. As I said above, not the real China.

The Forbidden City, teaming with tourists

A rare quiet spot

Tianammen Square

A Hutong nearby, I managed to find a nice street cafe near here

The Great Wall

Sweeping off into the distance

I made it all the way up here

The Summer Palace

Beautiful traditional roof tops and blossom

A buddhist temple

The long corridor was very busy

Beautiful blossom everywhere

I brought a mini version of this dragon home

Me at the Lama Temple

Inside one of the temples at the Lama Temple

The bird's nest, I'm afraid I was too tired and limited on time to make it any closer

The view of the swimming pool from the penthouse I stayed in, lucky me!

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