Cindy informed me yesterday that it was my turn writing the blog update.
Beijing is an interesting place and definitely worth visiting, you take for granted how easy travelling to other countries where English is very prominent. Cindy compared it a little to Singapore and Japan and there are definitely similarities, but they have resisted many western comforts (that we take for granted) unlike other Asian countries we have visited, one example is the toilet.
However, the city is very clean, you don’t see rubbish anywhere, there are many beautiful parks, flowers and trees around but the culture of the people and their way of life is rather different. People are generally friendly, but their etiquette is interesting to watch. Their roads, highways and traffic is nothing I have seen before (except in Shanghai), the scale of it is insane. The lack of understanding or abiding of road rules confounds me. Crossing roads and hoping a car or a scooter who is weaving through people as the red light is just a suggestion.. I have gotten good at walking and putting a hand out to say stop – all our guides that we have had are very confident in doing it. Watching cars merge or driving in general sometimes takes me back to Egypt (maybe not quite as bad). Another observation is that you definitely can’t miss the amount of security cameras that are around.
Before coming to China, people warned us about the smog and pollution… we were confused the first day when we went out and it was beautiful blue sky… you will see in the photos. Our guide when we did the beer & food tour told us that depending who is visiting, that they shutdown the factories for the day to clear the sky of the smog.
The next day, no blue sky. Crazy to think how much impact humans actually have on the earth that by shutting down industry for a day can clear the sky.
I digress, Cindy wrote about our first day in Beijing. It was a great day.
Tuesday was a quiet day, spent around the hotel. We have been having some aircon issues in our room – where it had consistently been around 26 degrees in the room, a very dry 26 degrees… even when set right down to 16 degrees. So I didn’t want to spend the rest of the trip in a warm sauna. We spoke to reception, who got housekeeping to come and look at it for us. She came in and did the same thing we did (speaking 0 English, but talked to us happily in chinese) and then opened the window… knowing that wouldn’t cool the room down but not knowing how to say so, we left it and after awhile we went back to reception to say it didnt work. They sent the housekeeper back, we indicated by fanning our face that it was still hot… and she indicated back that she would get maintenance… between her coming the second time and maintenance – the aircon started to work… When maintenance came and had a handheld temperature gun – they told us in chinese that it was working. He ended up dialing reception and getting the lady at reception to translate. We weren’t complaining… but we found it odd in its timing.
On Tuesday, we went for a walk and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant that did fried chicken kind of like KFC but not. We weren’t that hungry so we shared a meal. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at family mart and grabbed some beer (Yanjing, a very nice drinking beer, brewed in Beijing. A bonus is Cindy likes it too) and a really cool looking dessert. It is very Japanese in its artistry, a cute shapped sleeping bear. We had no idea what it was but it was too cute not to buy. We met up with the tour organisers to pick up our race packs and have a chat. They invited us to dinner that night with others.
We went back to our room and looked at our race packs. Our race shirts are pretty cool but mine was a little tight, it fit perfectly on Cindy, so we are going to swap it out on race day.
The rest of the afternoon we had some beers, played some games and got interrupted by maintenance and other hotel staff for unknown reasons as they didnt speak english and we spoke no chinese. We ended up putting the privacy sign up after the 4th person rang the bell.
That evening we met up with the small group for dinner, we went to one of the restaurants around the hotel. It did western food and chinese food, so the pickier eaters (why come to China if you are too scared to eat anything and judge people who aren’t scared) could feel a little safer. We tried to order some of their chicken and pork dishes but they had sold out for the evening. Cindy got a beef curry and I got some chicken skewers, we shared some spring rolls and a beer.
We met a nice couple from Gladstone, they do a lot of triathlons. They are both doing the marathon, but it will be the ladies first marathon…. and geez… what a marathon to choose as your first… good on her. They ordered some yummy looking meals too.
The other people on our table were quite the picky eaters and ordered pasta, they got the worst meal on the table as they don’t know how to do italian well. The picky eaters questioned our ability to travel so much, which really pisses me off – like seriously, A) none of your business and B) we live and work to travel… plus we have good jobs and we don’t have kids. Cindy is going to start saying we can’t have children, so we travel to shut the conversations down before they can start. We get that question more and more, I get that we are travel alot – definitely more than most and we are still young-ish but it really bugs me.
Anyway, the next day was the official start of our tour and started with a tour of Tiananmen square and the forbidden city. The smog was bad in the morning but maybe because you aren’t used to it, you think its worse but by the afternoon you’re used to it.
Wow, the number of people at the square – our guide was telling us that many Chinese come to visit from all over China as well and will line up for hours to see chairman Mao who has been dead for decades in a clear coffin in the mausoleum. The square itself is massive, 40 hectares. Our guide didn’t go into details of the massacre but its other history. Our guide also warned us that being white may make us a bit of a celebrity among chinese who have never seen a white person before. This tour, Cindy and I had photos with 4 or 5 different people or groups… definitely an odd experience.
The forbidden city is massive and you would need hours to truly see it all. We got to bypass many lines and security being in a tour group. The different palaces and gardens in the city are beautiful but it was extremely busy. There were many many different Chinese tour groups and you could tell the difference between the groups as they wore different coloured hats.
We had a toilet stop during the tour and there were lots of toilets but only two western toilets, so all us westerners lined up for the two seated toilets. Its one thing squatting to wee outside in the bush, but when you need to aim – it just gets too complicated. So we waited and were patient.
I love the extremely old trees in the temples and palaces we have seen here. They are beautiful.
After exploring a fraction of the city (we had walked about 6km), we left and walked to find the bus. We walked past a group of school children (waiting for their bus) and they were ecstatic to see us and were waving and yelling English sayings. “Hi, nice to meet you.” “Hello!” “Welcome to Beijing.” “Hello!” It was extremely cute. When their bus turned up, they got to walk past us and they got to say their goodbyes and lots of waves. “Bye!” “Have a nice day!” “Goodbye.”
Back on the bus, we headed for our big lunch. It was yummy, they had many selections of different foods and peking duck, I did avoid the real chilli looking dishes – but Cindy enjoyed them. Thankfully there weren’t many beer drinkers so we didn’t have to share the 2x500ml beers with too many people. After stuffing our faces, we jumped back on the bus and went to a silk museum and shop.
When Cindy and I saw this on the itinerary, we had a feeling it would be like the papyrus and tea museums in Egypt or the Peruvian alpaca wool ‘museum’. Where they show you how they make their product and then they take you into their shop. The guides then get a commission for taking us there.
It was exactly like this, but this was the first time we had done this with a whole group of Australians. The Aussies were not keen at all, we looked and watched but then 98% of us left the shop pretty quickly. Not like when we have travelled with Americans.
After this ‘museum’ we went back to the hotel. Grabbed an icecream each. We showered as we felt dirty and spent an hour resting in our room then went out to find dinner. We tried a different restaurant and we did walk past a couple of times and didn’t really look at it, but we saw another white couple in there and they had a menu that looked like it had pictures! So in we went, it was really good.
We got dumplings but rolled like spring rolls, so good! We also got some Xiaolong bao, delicious! We tried to get 2 noodle dishes but were told no! So they must have run out – so we got a BBQ pork dish. Tasty but a little spicy. Washed down with some cold beer.
We grabbed some icecream for dessert and off to bed.
I’m writing this from the bus, we are off to the wall to inspect part of the course (the wall) that we will be running on Saturday. If you can’t walk it, you won’t be allowed to compete. It’s a 2.5 bus drive to the wall.
So we are on the way back to Beijing after our course inspection. I had a nap for the first bit of the ride home. Exercise, heat, a full belly and the movement of the bus = a sleepy kath.
We arrived in Huangyaguan, which is approximately 100km north east of Beijing. It is alot different to the city, dirtier, older and definitely more rural. We jumped off the bus and walked through a few alleys into Ying Yang courtyard where the start and finish line will be of the race. Cindy and I grabbed a seat, but after a while I noticed people were swapping their shirts out – we headed over and I swapped my shirt out for a small mens shirts. The ladies small and medium were too small and then the large was like a dress. The men’s running shirts generally fit me nicely. I was happy I could swap this out today and not race day.
We were run through the briefing, the half marathon would go around 5km up a large hill to get to the wall and then 3.5km on the wall and then approximately 12.5km around the small town. We had an 8 hour cut off, same as the marathoners but they had to be at the 33km mark by 6 hours or they wouldn’t finish in time – so they have a little more pressure.
After the briefing, we jumped back on the bus as we were being driven up the hill we would be running to the start of the wall. This hill is insanely steep… I don’t think I will enjoy this hill at all. It took awhile to get to the top as there was a lot of buses to get up and then turn around.
So this section of the wall was apparently built by the great Ming general Qi Jiguang who lived from 1528-1588. The part of the wall we would be running was restored in 1984 and has a number of towers that were used for signaling, fighting platforms or watch towers.
The walk was tough, hot and long. We were extremely grateful to only be doing the half as it was a long slog up and down the stairs and the marathoners would have to run the wall again at the 33km point. Some areas of the wall are really steep and slippery. It is still extremely smoggy out here – on a blue sky day this area would be absolutely stunning. How the wall curves and up and down large hills is crazy and it was fantastic to walk but exhausting. It was around 33 degrees out and hot, we were soaking but thankfully brought lots of water.
We did the 3.5km section of the wall in about 1 hour (the first two taking the longest) which is crazy slow but shows you how tough it was. Step wise, I did about a 6km run with the amount of steps taken.
When we arrived back at Ying Yang courtyard, we went to the merchandise stand and waited semi-patiently to be served. We got 2 hats and 2 of the cheaper finisher t-shirts. They told us we’d be served sandwiches, which we were hesitant about but happily surprised to see they were catered by subway. So we grabbed a footlong ham and cheese, banana and a water each.
After smashing our sandwiches and cooling down in the shade, we checked out some history of the wall, went to the toilet and then back on the bus back to Beijing.
We are currently coming into the 5th ring road and trying to merge and cars are crazy… I would hate to drive here. We still have half an hour till we get back to the hotel for a quick feed and shower. Tonight we are going to an acrobat show.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we had a little over an hour until we had to be back and ready to go to the acrobat show. We went to the restaurant we ate at last night and got dumplings and shared a pork/rice dish.
Then back to the room to get ready.
The acrobatic show was fun and impressive to watch, only one set was disturbing where the main lady had crazy flexibility and did freaky flexibility things that just didn’t look natural. The rest of the sets we enjoyed and they were all extremely talented – I snuck some photos.
Tomorrow we are getting up to do a small 4km run with some people before spending the morning at Temple of Heaven and then the afternoon at some markets. Cindy has some high hopes about getting some things… so fingers crossed.