Friday, 28 July 2006

Beijing and Shanghai.

Beijing

I'm sitting in a Beijing internet cafe having crossed the Mongolian/Chinese border and passed through the immense Gobi desert. I've been in China five days and I love it. I saw my first guy having a shit in the street yesterday! I've also recovered from a week long bout of the runs after sampling fermented alcoholic horse milk in Mongolia - good job Immodium exists.


Beijing is a must-visit destination for any traveller. On arrival the culture shock will blow you away. I reverted to a baby-like status unable to read, speak, eat (chopsticks failure) or handle the frenetic nature of a huge Chinese city. Talk about being outside your comfort zone, this was like being in outer space. 

I left the St Petersburg-to-Beijing tour group happy to be alone and independent again. An Indian guy gave me directions to a hostel near Tianemen Square. I took the subway and quickly became hopelessly lost. A local guy called John (his English name) approached offering to help. It took us three hours to find the place. I bought him some lunch and we've been friends since - a great Chinaman.

Last night we ate in his flat on the outskirts of Beijing where I met his girlfriend. It was quite a humbling experience - very impoverished by European standards. No foreigners venture where he lives and I was the object of much curiousity. We walked around a hectic farmer's market where young kids ran around naked. He seemed to really enjoy showing me around and practicing his English.

John's originally from Jilin and has only been in Beijing for two months. He hadn't seen any of the tourist attractions so we visited them together. First we saw Chairman Mao's corpse. This man killed millions yet remains hugely revered here. We had to queue for two hours just to get a glimpse as thousands of Chinese threw flowers on him.

Next they let me, a mere peasant, into the Forbidden City. I saw the throne that Emperors exerted their mighty power from. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to have a huge harem of beautiful concubines at your service. The Temple of Heaven was next followed by the Great Wall of China. We walked about 10km along the only man-made object that can be seen from space. Some sections are very steep - imagine the poor souls who had to build it thousands of years ago?

There is much effort being focused on preparing for the 2008 Olympics. If spitting was an Olympic sport the Chinese men would definitely get gold, silver and bronze!

So after a fantastic five days in Beijing I 'm currently waiting to board a 13hr overnight train to Shanghai where I'll meet Fen who's flying over from Newcastle. However, I don't have a bed on this train and locals tell me I'll have no sleep tonight - probably better to drink? John's coming to see me off and I'm going to miss the lad.

Oh, I forget to mention the food. You won't go hungry here. After the slop of Russia it's good to try exotic food from people who smile. You need to be able to use chopsticks though!

Whore of the Orient

or Paris of the East? That's what some people call Shanghai. I call it: 'The hottest place on Earth!' This place is scalding in August. I've done nowt but sweat since I got here - and when I say sweat I mean rivulets of perspiration pissing out of my skin. I never knew it was possible to sweat this much!

It doesn't take long to appreciate why Shanghai is given the above names. It reminds me of a cross between London and Amsterdam. Not exactly the China of rice paddies and peasants I had in my mind's eye! To say this place is bustling is like saying Antartica's a touch nippy. It's mayhem........the roads, the heat, the street hawkers, the noise, the heat, the pollution, the noise, the traffic etc etc.

I teamed up with a 6ft+ German lad on the train from Beijing - he sticks out like a sore thumb here. We found a hostel near Nanjing Road and The Bund for £3/night. After sleeping all morning we had a 20p bowl of noodle soup then hit Nanjing Road.

Scam

Like gullible fools we were befriended by two Chinese con-artist birds. They duped us into having a beer in the most expensive bar in China. Four small beers and some melon came to £30. We thought the melon was complimentary but it was actually £10 and the tissues (that we didn't order) were £5! We were basically scammed - not impressed. The lasses then claimed to have no money as it's a Chinese tradition for foreigners to pay (more lies). Next, two Chinese gorillas emerged warning us what might happen if we didn't pay the ludicrous bill - it wasn't pretty.

The German lad was willing to fight but I talked him out of it and we ended up paying. It seemed like a well tried-and-tested scam. The girls probably return later to collect their winnings! Anyway - that's one expensive lesson learnt. Trust nee bugger. We should've known better and were kicking ourselves later. It'll never happen again. (The bar's on the 7th floor above a Nanjing Road jewelry shop by the way).

Maglev

Wow - I caught the Magnetic Levitation train and travelled 30km from Shanghai City to Pudong Airport in about 8 mins, reaching speeds of 431km/h!! Very impressive German engineering - I love stuff like this. The ride is as smooth as a baby's arse - infact it's a bit like flying.......very cool. I met wor lass and headed back to the hostel where I traded the dorm for a double room. It's nice to have your own shower and toilet. I'd forgotten what it's like.

Suzhou

After a few days in Shangaz, we headed to Suzhou for garden tours and meat-on-a-stick treats. The meat can be scorpion, frog, dog or anything you can think of really - they'll eat anything here. An old man cycled us around Suzhou in a rickshaw. I always feel uncomfortable in these situations - like I'm a slave master or something. We then booked a 48hr 'hard-sleeper' train to Chongqing in order to commence our Yangtze River cruise!


18.jpgImagine building that? China's great wall near Beijing.
















14.jpgA photo point at the top.

















13.jpgThe Olympics are coming.

















22.jpgWith John at the Temple of Heaven.
















21.jpgChairman Mao's pic at the Forbidden city across from Tianemen Square.















17.jpgThe Bund in Shanghai.


















23.jpg
Our taxi around Suzhou near Shanghai.

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