It wasn't too cold, and wasn't white (seemingly unlike the UK and Sweden etc. I always seem to miss the best winters or summers by being somewhere else), there were people with guns wandering around, and we did not much more than eat. Jen, I, and two other surfers, the Chinese Canadian duo of Nat and Mel had moved into another appartment for Xmas period, closer to the city.
Christmas (or Christmas Eve, depending on which part of the world you are in and it's respective celebration time) is one of those things that is great when you are a kid, and again when you have kids, but can lack a tad for those years in the middle. But being in a non celebration country which is pretending to celebrate anyway is an interesting twist. But it consisted almost entirely of food. And stupid hats. A lovely green tinselly type effect was added underneath a goldilocks style red Xmas hat I seem to have ended up wearing, to the constant amusement of most Chinese and white peple alike. Ah, what the heck. It's Christmas. Except it wasn't. I hadn't heard Slade at all, and anybody that has even been in the UK for december/Christmas, will know how much you are used tpo hearing it, and why getting to Christmas without it is a strange occurence.
A huge Hotpot type brunch was followed barely 3 hours later by another trip to the ducky place for a huge Roast duck Xmas Eve dinner.
I've said it before, I know.
Carving Beijing Duck
The gap in the middle i used to be vaguely touristy, and visited the Yong He Gong Llama Temple. Which strangely managed to stay surrene and quiet despite being squashed up next to one of the ring roads and an industrial plant. And surprisingly colourful and looked after. Including some somewhat plump looking lama's who look to have beer bellies, although that seems more unlikely.
Yong He Gong Llama Temple
And after a huge duck dinner, we randomly came across sick-Nikki's (NikkiDutch, a TPer) hostel, talked or way inside and woke her up sufficiently confused that she was convinvced that I was Chinese trying to feed her more food. I blame the stupid Christmas hat, but that can't really be the answer. And of course, the only way to continue after 2 huge meals (after the inevitable crawling taxi journey. Where the heck is everybody going at 11pm on a Friday evening?!) was obviously more food. I had the constant feeling of being fattened for the kill. Cake, cookies and fruit. Plus the odd beverage. I somehow got talked into heading to a club/bar type place by Jen to cleberate the arrival of Christmas with a load of people, (Phil, no show) which essentially mean't i got to go clubbling in a stupid Christmas hat, and then - Grrrrr. Annoying Chinese - climb up 12 floors on our return because the lift had shut off at midnight.
Smile, kind of. It's now Christmas. Both the stupid hat, the reasoning behind Jen's yellow tongue and Louisa's happy state are probably best left un-inquired about
I can say without question that i got up the earliest on a Chistmas morning since back when we were little kids annoying the parents by trying to greet Santa at 4am. And that waking up at 8am on Christmas Morning, barely 2 hours after getting in to go and stand in the freezing for an hour waiting for a bus which didn't turn up wasn't neccessarilly my idea of fun. Ah heck.
The original plan was for a load of us to go up to Simatai on the 24th and spend the night up on the wall, waking up to watch the sunrise at Xmas over the unrestored wall. Which sounded a damned cool thing to do at Christmas, I must admit. By the time we actually left, it was down to 3 of us going for a day trip to Simatai, but even that didn't work.
The bus was supposed to take us out to Simatai, the old unrestored but accessible section of the Great Wall of China. But as it didn't turn up, it didn't. Or might have done, just without going via our bus stop. Who knows. Instead we ended up in Tiananmen where we hoped a regular tourist bus to the Badaling Great Wall section. The most touristy part, sure, but with changing plans and time running out, it more or less had to happen.
But I wasn't going to miss both the wall and the DMZ within 2 weeks of each other. No way. It was't too bad, in fairness. We had enough time there, scorned the cable car, ignored the famed starbucks, which thankfully isn't actually on the wall itself as originally planned, but rather is in the tourist village at the bottom, and together with a guy from Derby we picked up along the way, turned left on to the wall instead of right like 98% of all other people, and had a good old chunk pretty much to ourselves.
We pondered the point of building the wall as they had. It isn't actually one wall at all, but rather lots of individual defensive walls taked together. It's long. So long that they are still finding new chunks. Some as long as 1400km. And under no circumstances is the daft idea that you can see it from space true, nor has it ever been. I can't believe - and haven't for years - that so many people believe such utter garbage. Just think about it, if you want to know why. Around Badaling, bits of wall seemed to dissappear in all directions, including a number of cutoffs, toilet breaks (!) and what semed to end up as a circular wall. Hmmm. And much of it was fr1ggin steep. I really wouldn't have wanted to be carrying much up and down some of these inclines at all, let alone have to run up and down in military formation.
The wall gets a bit steep in places...
We amused ourselves happily for about 3 hours, playing with the hawkers (one guy wanted to see a plaque to say we'd been there. He started on 85, I started on 6. He came down to 10, but refused to go lower, whilst another I tried to sell my stupid Christmas hat to for 500usd, and then utterly confused her by switching currencies back and fore as normaly happens to you, but had no sale in the end. Fate mean't i had to keep wearing the hat) and wandering along the wall to its accessible limit, which was great because you could then see the unrestored section snaking off into the distance.
Some of the unrestored section near Badaling
Headed back into Beijing, collected a few people including a semi recovered Nikki and lost Stewart, and went for a wonderfully traditional Christmas dinner of Muslim food.... Erm.... Ok, so it wasn't pork, salmon or turkey (delete as appropriate for your own tradition), but it was damned tasty. Fantastic skewers of meet and chicken, and bowls of wonderfully tasty and spicy meet and veg.
Even the non Chinese food in China is amazing. I have to return here for the long haul if it's the last thing I do.
And then Boxing day, an almost alive again Nikki and I headed to the Forbidden City. In some places, there are certain things you just have to see, and in Beijing, that's it. Hugely disspointingly, the audio guide which so many people had recomended (Ian in Brasov being the first, i believe) because of the voice of Roger Moore, was actually read out by some Chinese woman instead. It turned out to be very funny in places, but also somewhat odd... The scene was set before even endering the city, where a group of Chinese soldiers were on manouevers in the outer courtyard. On a basketball course. Some of their moves were very fancy, but look like they had been stolen from John Travolta, whilst the random guys who went in and out of their command post out of uniform whilst drinking beers added to the spectacle.
The Forbidden City is kind of big. 9000 rooms, allegedly, although we sure as heck didn't see that many, or even work out where they could all be, unless there were several underground levels as well which they didn't admit to. The city consists of a number of palaces, temples, throne rooms and the like, all with names like "Palace of heavenly beauty" and "Room of incomparable tranquility". Plus a 9 dragon wall, amazing but strangely out of place rock garden at the rear, and of course, starbucks.
PArt of the Roock Garden near the rear, and Nikki outside Starbucks in the Forbidden City
Yup, in the central attraction of the biggest communist country on the plane, and a place so closed in it's history that even the high and mighty of the Chinese gentry and nobility were not allowed access, capitalism has reared it's ugly head. We half expected to run into some of the other old standards - KFC, Macky D's, Bennetton, Body Shop and Kwik Fit - but at this stage, only Starbucks are allowed in. Good grief. It was amazing to walk around, although you did get theimpression that there was an awful lot more there that was not being shown off, and after the first half dozen palaces, you start to flag a little. The incorporated Jewellery museum was interesting as well, although conspicuosly lacked anything even vaguely resembling jewellery. Hmmmm.
I was supposed to leave that very evening, but it's here that the story of the torch comes in to play. After I'd had a beer with Nikki, I headed to the station. Cleverly, I had realised that rush hour traffic mean't that I wouldn't get there in time by surface, so i took the subway and then a little motorised scooter taxi to the station. Plenty of time. It was then that I hit the metal detectors. All major Chinese stations seem to have metal detectors which all bags must go through before you are allowed into the buildings, and Beijing West is no exception. Nothing ever happens, and I haven't seen anybody get even vaguely stopped before. Or since. Unfortunately, however, Mine did. The same stuff that had gone through Beijing Main and Shanghai without incident was now being pulled up. Sufice to say, this was a rare enough occurence that it confused them a tad, even mnore so that I was a non Chinese speaking foreigner. Rats. Story cut short, but after about 20mins of playing, they discovered that what they were objecting too was actually my torch. I might have to change it actually, as It caused some curiosity by the gun wielding cops searching for bombs when i tried to leave my bag in Tobolsk that time.
With time rapidly running out, they finally let me go. I stuffed my cr*p back into the bag, stuff dangling everywhere and ran. Got to the departure hall with 3 mins to spare. To discover that thy cose the platform 3mins before departure. And thus, i got to stand and watch my train in the station for 3minutes. Then another 10 as it was delayed, and I still wasn't allowed on. And then got to watch it slowly roll out without me.
Yay. I knew they had to make up for letting me into the country so easily at some point.
I somehow managed to change my ticket without problem, although the nights late departure was full, so i had to wait until the following day. The wonderful Jenifer yet again answered a sheepish phone call and said I could crash at hers, saving me roughing it on boxing day. With time to spare, I then arranged to hook up with Stewart and take a wander. We went up to the Donganmen street market, now removed from it's traditional rabbit warren home to become a bright and cheery row of touristy stalls on a main road. But there was still lots of interesting foods to try.
Things like snake held little interest, as i had tried them before, and whilst the beef and chicken etc stuff looked and smelt fantastic, it's boring stuff. So i indulged first in sheep's testicles (surprisingly large, kind of a cross between soft Chicken
and pork tastes, and somewhat watery), followed by Starfish (tasy, crab like, but you are still pulling the little spikes out of your mouth and teeth a week later) and the inevitable centipede. On a stick. I have come across any number of contenders for wosrt (or most boring) job in the world on this trip, but the guy who has to put the skewers through the legnth of the centipede is well up there! Centipede was disapointing, in that whilst there wasn't a huge amount of meat (no sh*t, i hear you say), it wasn't the most amazing tase wise. The ends were ok, but the middles were a bit strange. It was quite funny watching them cook it though, and seeing all of the legs suddenly unfurl in the hot fat. And with that, a bottle of rice wine, some beer and the boxing day premiership games, It was time to leave. Again.
Sheeps testicles and Starfish, waiting to be cooked and eaten (by me) in the Donganmen Night Market
I never did meet up with Phil.
Happy Christmas and God Jul everyone.
Tiananmen Square at Night