Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Two more days in Beijing

We visited the beautiful Summer Palace on our fourth day in Beijing. It was vast, and we spent most of the day walking around the huge lake in the middle of it.  At around lunchtime, we passed an old man who was showing everyone some circus tricks and letting people have a go. I kindly asked if I could have a go with one of his diabolos. He passed me the beginner one.

His diabolo was pretty old, the string was really worn and it was hard to do anything with it, but I managed to get in a few throws before getting bored and passing it back to him, thanking him for letting me borrow it. He said something in Chinese which I could only assume was a derogatory comment about my diabolo skills, and proceeded to demo his to everyone, throwing it much higher than I did and giving me a few smug looks in the process:

The Summer Palace

A few people gathered round to watch him, and were clearly quite impressed.  After a few minutes he handed the diabolo back to me.  It was on. 

I knew I had to do something good to beat what he did. Luckily I'd recently had a bout of exams, so my diabolo skills were well practised. I passed my bag to Shaneel and got the diabolo up to speed, but as I was about to do my first throw the string got caught and wrapped around the diabolo. I had to spend about 30 seconds untangling it, while he and the other people around looked on. I got it going again, and managed to do one of the easiest, but also one of my favourite diabolo tricks: the Lift.

The Summer Palace

 Some of the kids around really liked it, but I knew that to win I would have to do a higher throw than his. I did a few low ones, and then I went for it:
The Summer Palace
It was much higher than any of his had been, and I caught it perfectly as well. I handed the diabolo back to him, and thanked him again. He nodded. I shook his hand and had Shaneel take a photo of us together:

The Summer Palace


The rest of our day in the Summer Palace was quite uneventful, and even though the weather wasn't great (as Beijing is perpetually smoggy because of all the pollution), we saw some nice sights as well.  We visited the Bird's Nest and other olympic buildings in the evening.  The whole of the olympics site was still buzzing with tourists and locals, and there was a really nice atmosphere.  

On our last full day we visited Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City in the morning, both of which seemed a bit overrated and were far too busy. We ended up spending less than 2 hours there in total, and decided to go for a bike ride around Beijing instead. We visited Hongqiao market where I managed to buy a Chinese phone and sim card, and we both walked out with more useless electronic devices and less money than we'd intended.  Our cycling trip ended in The Village, a modern addition to Beijing's shopping and bar scene, where we met up with Sofie again, who took us out for an Israeli dinner and cocktails at a rooftop bar.  It made for a nice change in our diet, and was worth the 40 minute bike ride back to our hotel, across the scarily big Beijing highways where beeping seems to have priority over traffic lights. 

In a few hours we'll be boarding an 13 hour overnight train to Xi'an, where the only places available for us were 'hard seats'. We're going to try to get an upgrade to a sleeper cabin, or at the very least 'soft seats', but even that might not be possible. 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Beijing...

I've started uploading photos to my Flickr account, http://www.flickr.com/photos/hcarlens/.  I talk about some things in a bit more detail in the photo descriptions, so it's worth checking out even if you don't care much for an endless stream of photos containing mainly my face. 

We both had a mediocre night's sleep on the train from Shanghai to Beijing, so we set off to find a hostel in Beijing where we could drop off our bags, shower, and maybe find a stationary bed for the night.  We spent a good hour and a half trekking across Beijing with all our stuff until we realised that taxis were dirt cheap, flagged down a taxi and found a hotel. The hotel we found (listed as a cheap hostel on booking websites) gave us a very nice ensuite room located right next to all the action: just a short walk from Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and The Temple of Heaven. We immediately booked a trip to The Great Wall at Mutianyu, destined to leave the next day at 7.

The wall was an experience I can't find any adjectives to accurately describe (although maybe 'great' would do), but it was surprisingly tiring. You may have been deceived into thinking that the wall was just a long, flat bit of... wall, but it's actually more like a never ending staircase which goes both up and down, depending on which way the land beneath it decides to go.  When I say staircase, I mean that the were long stretches with steps and stuff.  And even though some call it the great wall of china, it actually seemed to be made mostly of stone.

The Great Wall
We had a really nice filling lunch after the wall, and headed back to the hotel.  That evening we had Beijing Roast Duck for the first time here, and it was amazing. Far better than any duck I've ever had, perfectly crispy on the outside yet still moist on the inside. It was served with a sauce which looked exactly like Hoi Sin sauce, but tasted completely different.  I took a picture of it on my phone, and will upload it to my Flickr account as soon as I get the app working. 

Our second day in Beijing was spent visiting the Temple of Heaven, which gave us some good photos. There were some temples and stuff, all nicely built in a park. After tirelessly tracking down and reading all the signs in the whole park to corroborate our historical knowledge of the Ming and Qing dynasties, we sat down under some trees and read some books for a while. 

For dinner we met up with one of my dad's friends, Sofie, who lives in Beijing. She gave us loads of useful tips on where to go, what to do, and even managed to coax our stubborn lips into pronouncing some potentially useful phrases in Mandarin. She also took us to some nice bars and a lovely restaurant, which we otherwise would never have been able to find.  Thanks! 

Shanghai, Shangbye

I tried to post this a few days ago but found out that, in a blatant effort to subdue my Tibetan freedom campaign/travel blog, the crafty Chinese government had blocked all access to Google blogs. I've since managed to set up blogging by email, so if you're reading this it means that I've been able to foil their little plan. I still can't view my blog though, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to post photos, so forgive me if the formatting is a bit off for the next few weeks. 
 
I arrived in Shanghai around 8AM to find Shaneel waiting for me at the airport (having attempted to sleep on an airport bench for the 8 hours between his flight and mine). We spent the entire morning trying to buy an overnight train ticket to Beijing, which we eventually did after finding the one English speaking woman working behind the ticketing desk. 
 
I had a lunch of pork, rice and ice tea which I returned, neatly wrapped in a British Airways sick bag, to a Shanghai bin within an hour.  I spent the rest of the day feeling ill, so we didn't end up seeing very much.  After crawling to The Bund (the one thing we managed to visit in Shanghai), we retreated to the Peace Hotel lobby to take a well-deserved rest. 
 
We headed to the train station early so we didn't miss our overnight train.  I felt slightly better by then, so we sat down for a meal of chicken soup and pork dumplings.  After buying some instant noodles for the journey and exchanging biscuits with a little boy on the platform we boarded the (surprisingly comfortable) train, to arrive in Beijing in the morning. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Happy Birthday to Me....

Just had my last two jabs, all that's left to do now is pack all my stuff.

I fly to Shanghai tomorrow, where Shaneel will hopefully be waiting for me at the airport. We're going to spend a day looking around Shanghai and then attempt to get an overnight train to Beijing.

As I've got nothing interesting to post yet, here's a photo my sister took during the storm at Pukkelpop last week:


We were in the Marquee when it happened, just opposite the Chateau tent which collapsed. It had been raining for a while but just before Panic! At The Disco were meant to go on, at around 18.10, the sky went really dark and the rain got a lot heavier. The wind picked up and water started spraying into the tent as some of the walls started to give in. People started panicking and we ran out of the tent when it looked like the roof of the might not hold up. The sheet covering the tent started moving up and down with the wind, and the metal bars holding it in place looked like they were bending more than metal bars should bend.  

The three of us stood behind a tree for a while, at least feeling slightly safe from the pounding of huge hailstones that suddenly appeared despite the weather being uncomfortably hot less than an hour before that. When our tree started swaying and we saw what was happening to the other trees, we ran for it again and found shelter next to a food stand with some other people until the storm was over. The picture above was taken from the food stand, after the storm had died down a little bit. You can see two big trees which fell onto the Shelter tent, and some branches which were ripped from the trees under which we were standing.  

All in all the storm lasted about 10-15 minutes, and when it stopped it seemed like Panic! At The Disco might start playing and the festival would just go on as normal. No one really knew what was going on, but then we noticed that the Chateau tent had collapsed, which meant that there would almost certainly have been people injured.  After walking around for a while we realised how bad the storm actually was, and how much damage there was. There were a lot of people looking for friends or relatives, but no official announcements or any statements on what was going to happen or what we should do. After waiting around for about and finding out more about what happened through texts, we decided to get our stuff from the camp site and head off because there was no way it could go on.  

I'm glad we all managed to make it out unscathed, and very sorry for some of the other people at the festival who were less fortunate.