Saturday 5 November 2011
We set the alarm on my phone to wake early and have the hotel’s breakfast. It was ok, nothing spectacular. I have some egg fried rice amongst other stuff, which I find to be a bit of a weird item for breakfast. The orange juice is served warm. Liwen tells me that most Chinese people prefer warm drinks, as it is believed to be better for them.
As soon as we finish our breakfast, our coach is waiting outside for us. It is a small coach, probably a 20-seater, but comfortable. There is a few stop-offs at other hotels. There is a quartet of French people on board who take every opportunity to smoke when we stop off at other hotels.
There are 12 of us tourists in total. Other than me and Liwen there is 1 polish guy, 2 American student girls, 2 Indian fellas with a Chinese girl and the group of French tourists: an older couple, the older woman’s daughter, who is in her forties and her son who is studying in Beijing.
Our tour guide introduces herself in English. She says her name is Tina, as it is easier for us to pronounce than her Chinese name. She seems very confident and a very experienced tour guide.
Our first stop is the Ming tombs. I think we were told that this is where Zhu Di is supposedly buried. Whenever Tina says his name it sounds like Judy. Apparently he is the most respected Emperor. He was very successful in military campaigns and improved the economy and education system. However, at the same time he was a despot who murdered and tortured many Chinese people.
We are told that we are not allowed to smoke on the grounds. This doesn’t go down well with the French group. The older members of the French group look like they are thinking ‘zut alors!’ We see lots of artefacts. Tina gives a little talk at each of the glass cabinets. She is very ballsy. She raises her voice and tells other groups to move out the way, although she doesn’t really have the authority to do so. We miss some of what she says as it is noisy and she talks fast and it is some times difficult to pick out certain words.
The tombs are 27 metres under the ground, so tourists just kind of walk around the general area, which makes it a bit underwhelming. We see other groups go through a gate and shout something as they step through. Tina explains that we aren’t go to do this, as we need to shout the word in Chinese and we won’t get it right and so might die or summat. Balls. This was quite an anticlimax and makes me suspicious of Tina’s motives.
We have a comfort break and get back on the coach. Tina starts banging on about jade. Chinese people wear jade bracelets on their left wrist. Blah blah blah. Jade can scare ghosts. Blah blah blah. Jade was the best housemate ever. Blah blah blah. It dawns on the group that someone is going to try and flog us some jade.
We arrive at the jade museum/shop. A museum/shop employee gives us a tour of some impressive looking statues of jade. We are then shown the merch and a very quick demonstration of how you can tell if jade is real or not. Then a pack of about 8 sales girls swarm on us and try to sell us green goods. Not one member of our group could give a shit about jade. As a group we all just kind of nod at the sales girls and walk off.
We are given 30 mins to meander. It is Tina’s hope that this is time spent buying jade, but instead Liwen and I talk to the Polish man. He is a nice guy and we enjoy talking to him. He is working in Shanghai for a few months, something to do with HR. He has come to Beijing for just 2 days. We agree that this jade stop is a waste a time. We discuss if we think there will be any other similar sales stops. Liwen says that Tina has mentioned silk, so we might stop at a silk peddling emporium.
We have lunch at the jade museum. It is actually good with a good mix of stuff. We sit by the French group. We have a nice chat with the young student, Hadrien, who speaks English extremely well. He is teaching Chinese students French while he stays in Beijing. Liwen says his Mandarin is also pretty good.
Hadrien’s mom can speak some English and seems to understand what we are saying. Liwen gets Hadrien to say a number of things that he probably didn’t want to discuss in the presence of his mom:
- He hasn’t got a serious girlfriend.
- He doesn’t cook much. He gets McDonalds delivered to his door.
- He enjoys drinking a lot with his student buddies.
- He has considered staying in China (and thus not returning to his mom in France) after he has finished studying.
We get back onto the coach feeling drowsy after our lunch. We head to the Badaling section of The Great Wall. We have 2 hours at the wall. This isn’t long enough to get to the highest point of the Badaling section going from the ground by foot. Therefore, all members of the group opt to take the cable car. I think it was around 60 yuan, but I’m not certain. We then had 2 options:
- Take a short climb of about 300 metres to a nice spot for snaps.
- Walk 2.5km to the highest point of the Badaling section.
We are told that we will only just have enough time to do option 2, so we’ll take that deal. I love a challenge. I start to think that this whole excursion would be much improved if we didn’t bother with Judy’s resting place and we definitely didn’t need the jade place.
We take the cable car with the 2 American’s and our Polish buddy. Everyone shits themselves. One of the chicks (American for lady) and the Polish dude say they are also going to walk to the highest point with everyone else going for the easy photo point.
We set off along the wall. Some bits are very steep. It takes me a while for me to find my feet when going down a steep part, but I get to grips with it after a bit. I walk alongside the American girl. She seems alright. She has short hair, specs and probably wears a lot of natural fibres. She tells me what she is studying and some other stuff that I can’t remember.
It isn’t long before Liwen and I lose our tour mates. They stop for photos and we carry on, thinking they will catch up but they never do. We power our way along the wall and it is a lot of fun. There are thousands of people on the wall. Liwen says that some of them might be very poor. Visiting the wall is probably a big deal for them.
We hurry across The Wall, but still stop for a few photos. As we climb one of the steepest bits, a Chinese peddler snaps at us ‘hurry up’. It gets me and makes me giggle. He must say this a thousand times a day, but in the moment I found it funny.
We get to the top of (what we think is) the highest point. We take lots of snaps and head back. It is hard and sweaty work. We started the walk feeling chilly and had put extra layers on. On the way back we had to take these off.
We get back to the cable car. Liwen doesn’t want to seat in the cable car facing the opposite direction from which she is going, as it makes her sick. There is someone in a group directly in front of us who is also like this and wants to sit facing forwards. This means that both the group in front and Liwen refuse to go in the first cable car and wait for the next. This makes the woman who is in charge very angry. She starts shouting and getting others on the cable cars before us, so we have to wait for a bit until we push people out of the way and force ourselves on to a car. I wanted to tell the woman to just shut her mouth and do her job.
We get back to the coach just as our 2 hours is up. We our the last to get back. The American and Polish guy had decided to go back to the easier climb. We were the only ones to make it to the highest point. (Liwen and I are still waiting for our round of applause from the rest of the group.)
We head off back to central Beijing. As Liwen had predicted with her great foresight we do go to a silk place on the way back.
We have a tour around the silk museum and its actually quite interesting seeing the silk worm farming and silk making processes, but there is quite a lot of emphasis on look how good silk is, as we are going to try and flog you some of this stuff later. Quite rightly when it comes to the point when we have the opportunity to buy, the group once again could not give a shit.
The Polish guy is amused by the bedding sizes. They have lots of different sizes i.e. small, medium and large and then right at the bottom it says ‘Norwegian size’. He howls with laughter and takes several photos of the sign. From his reaction I think this was probably his favourite part of today’s excursion. I wonder if a Norwegian guy with a weird shaped bed once went in there and demanded satisfaction.
We find out that we are near the Bird’s Nest (Beijing National Stadium), so instead of getting back on the coach we decide to split. The tour has been nice, but our time would have been better spent if we would have had a few more hours on The Wall and skipped the jade and silk peddlers and the tomb.
We say our goodbyes to the nice people we met on the trip and cross over the road to a fast food place called Master Kong.
Master Kong specialises in noodle soup dishes, so I decide to have a beef brisket in a dark gravy with rice. Liwen does have a noodle soup. Both meals are decent and cost a couple of quid each. My meal comes with a free soup, which I do not touch. Although we have table service, we have to pay before eating.
There are lots of nice little bakeries around China including one next to Master Kong. We make a quick cream cake stop before taking the short walk over to the Olympic venues.
It has been 3 years since the Olympics was at Beijing, but the Birds Nest and the Water Cube (Beijing National Aquatics Center) still attract a great number of tourists and an equal number of people trying to sell the tourists stuff such as imitation medals, photos and a plastic thingy that you shoot up into the air and it lights up.
I think in the daytime you can have a tour around the Birds Nest, but it is locked up by the time we get there. We are happy enough to just walk around and take some snaps. Both venues look very impressive and it is nice just to walk around the grounds of the stadia.
The Beijing 2008 Olympics will probably be the most impressive of all time in terms of putting on a show. This makes me think that our little London Olympics might seem a bit crap in comparison.
We head towards the nearby tube stop, but when we get close we are told it is closed for refurbishment or something. Luckily we manage to catch a (legal) taxi. It is quite a long journey back to the hotel, so we are surprised when it costs just about £4.