This blog entry is coming at you from an internet cafe in downtown Beijing, just near Tiannamen Square, to be exact. All the characters (except the 0nes I'm typing) are in Chinese characters, so if there are some stuff ups, you'll know why!
Yes, Beijing. I hope you all enjoyed our "audio blog" post from the Temple of Heaven! What a day - for about $7 each we spent the day rambling around this massive park, with buildings and temples dating back to ancient times. The most famous is the "Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests" - it's an old, three-tiered structure m0deled on the lunar calendar. Stunning!
Anyways, I should back-track a little.
We had a fabulous time in Hong Kong - thanks so much to my Uncle Jan, Aunt Eliza and cousin Natasha (a newly ordained member of the worldwide Clumsy Girl Association). Saturday saw us blow our budget at the Stanley markets - Greg splashed out on an exotic crushed velvet jacket (because he just would, wouldn't he?) and I spent a fair whack on four Tintin prints to hang on the walls of my new flat when I get home. Did anybody realise by now I'm a Tintin nut? ;)
Saturday night we had a fabulous buffet dinner at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (they still have the "Royal" in English - although since handover the Chinese leave it out!) - with spectacular views over the harbour, and of both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. We followed that up with a trip up to "The Peak", the premiere destination for a great panaroma of the city. Wow. We scored a clear night too - even my uncle said he hadn't seen it that good for months.
Sunday Greg and I foolishly attempted to climb a giant mountain behind Jan's apartment block (I say block, but really "Parkview" is a mass compound, comprising apartments, serviced apartments and a hotel. They moved here because it's closer to the "Country Park", although to some of the H.K. elite, it's "too far away". They've obviously never had to drive from Brisbane to the Gold Coast for work!). I say "attempted", but really it was only I who "attempted" - Greg managed to get all the way to the top, and I felt so unfit and awful that I piked at about the three-quarter mark. Then....and I can't believe this....I left the dog lead at the top where I'd sat to get take a breather. (We were walking the family's gorgeous dog Dusky). So gallant Greg headed back up, and almost died, the poor thing! I felt so horrible, but not horrible enough to volunteer to go back up myself! ;) I did, however get horribly sunburned on my back. Yes, I was wearing sunscreen. Damn you, Cancer Council of Australia! Your 30+ did nothing! Nothing!
After a nice lunch yesterday and an efficient check-in at the Hong Kong train station (you can check-in for your flight at the airport, then you don't have to worry about carting your bags! What a great system), it all went wrong. Well, dodgy, anyway. Our flight was delayed by an hour, then we spent another TWO hours sitting in the plane on the tarmac, after China decided to close its airspace because there was too much traffic! I mean, WHAT?!?! Can you imagine at the Olympics, the Aussie team being delayed because there was a sudden no fly zone?!?! Crazy talk! Anyhoo, we finally took off at 9pm, landed at midnight, spent 45 minutes queuing for immigration (during which we discovered that the Chinese don't actually queue, that's really just a British thing), then spend another 1.5 hours getting a taxi into the city. We experienced our first Beijing traffic jam - at 1:30AM!!!!!
However we got to our hotel, which thankfully had a 24hour conceirge, and check-in. A hotel bed has never felt so sweet, even if it does have a Communist-style hard mattress. ;) Today we indulged ourselves and had a sleep-in, and walked out of our hotel confidentally around midday. We then realised something important.
"Oh, yeah. We don't actually SPEAK or READ Chinese, and we have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHERE WE ARE."
So back into the hotel to pick up a 10RMB tourist map (about $2). That was a bit of help, but street signs in Beijing appear to be optional, so we just took a punt on the location of the Temple of Heaven based on the fact there were some foreign tourists walking past us, having obviously just been SOMEWHERE. We eventually found a beautiful-looking temple type building, only to discover it was a shopping centre. Ah yes, an East meets West commercial reality. A friendly rickshaw driver saw us looking confusedly at our map, and helpfully pointed out the Temple of Heaven was about 100 metres in the opposite direction. He must have been a bit disappointed not to pick up a fare!
For 35RMB each (about $14 total) we got a through-pass to the Temple, and had a good wander for about 4 hours. Strange thing - a LOT of people stared at me. Heaps. Two even asked to have their photos taken with me. I was a bit nervous, and a bit upset, as I thought it was because at 5"9 and a Size 14 (sadly), I am The Giant Woman. Seriously, I'm taller and bigger than most everyone here, and really it's a bit depressing. But Greg reckons it's because of my pale skin. And I am whiter than Moby Dick. Well, except for the sunburned back. So I like that theory better.
On leaving we consulted the map and thought, "Yeah, it doesn't look too far. Let's walk to Tiannamen Square."
For the record, Beijing is HUGE. Not that Hong Kong isn't, it's just Hong Kong is built on a small island and everything is up. It's super-streamlined. Beijing is flat, and wide and spreading faster than my waistline (and I'll get to that in a minute). There are no real skyscrapers that we can see, the buildings are more squat. The roads are so wide - there are intersections the size of King George Square. I guess that's what happens when you have a bogload of land and a bogload of people.
Anyhoo, it took us a good 45 minutes at a steady walking pace to get through to the big one: Tiannamen Square. On the way, I noticed a lot of brick walls going up along the sidewalks - effectively cutting the pavement in two and blocking off the frontages of local shops. I mused that they're being put up in time for the Olympics - so that all the shabby and smelly old stores (of which there are many) are hidden from close international scrutiny.
We got to Tiannamen Square and yes, we did it.
We went to McDonald's.
I know, I know!!!! Six days in and already we're onto the Macca's. But really, how much more ironic does it getting eating from the palm of the world's most famous capitalist icon in the centre of the world's largest communist country? (Plus is was cheap, clean and the toilet had a seat - a BIG plus).
We wandered off around to look at Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall - the big guy is on display in there, so we'll probably go check it out tomorro. We were accosted at that point by a young man who we soon came to discover was a student studying English and traditional Chinese art. We knew something would come of this, but he was such a charmer we kept chatting to him, instead of shushing him away like most of the spruikers and peddlers here. Mind you, he could speak English very well, so that's probably what sold us. He explained to us a bit about the Square and the Monument to the People's Heroes etc - and then it came.
Michael - as his adopted English named turned out to be - was an art student, and his class had an exhibition on at the Museum of China, conveniently located on one side of the Square (on the other side is parliament; the two buildings balance each other for feng shui purposes). Would we like to come and see their exhibit? Sure, why not, we replied. He'd been nice, and he really didn't look the type to gut us and steal our cash (not that we have that much). We ended up buying a sample of his calligraphy on a nice bamboo and silk scroll. He wrote "Good Luck" on it, as well as our names in Chinese characters. It cost us around 160RMB (about $30).
We knew we were getting a bit fleeced, but we gave ourselves over to the experience. We learned a little bit, and we got to see some nice artwork in the exhibition. They were trying to sell us more, but we refused. And at least it's a souvenir I can whack up in the new flat. Although I'll have to get someone to check that he actually wrote our names, and not "Stupidly Trusting Foreign Idiots".
Anyway, I gotta run - I've been bollocking on for ages and we're out of net time.
Will talk again soon - no idea what we're up to next although I suspect dinner is on the short-term agenda. Vodkatrain starts Wednesday night!
Hope everyone is well, and my love to all. Natalie.
P.S. Oh, yeah. There were two rainbows over Tiannamen Square. TWO! A pair of them, one inside the other. Amazing. Isn't that just the best advertisement the Chinese government could have for such a place?!?!