Ed: The train journey to Beijing was an absolute nightmare. I would have been grateful even to have the opportunity to have a nightmare, but the fat bloke sleeping in a nearby bed managed to snore at the same volume as a person shouting. I ended up getting a few hours sleep before waking up again at 0530 to get off the train in Beijing. Jo had a similarly rough time, but it would prove to be worth the difficulty to get back to Beijing. (Of course, we had to get back to fly home, but we also planned on doing some sightseeing here.)
Beijing weather is fantastic! As dawn was breaking the chill was lifted by the sunshine, and it became warm but with a cooling breeze. As we have neared the end of our trip, it has felt like we have been getting closer to home: going from scary noisy Hong Kong back into real China was nice, and coming from Kaifeng provincial town back into the capital is even more exciting, as Beijing has taken on a sort of comforting value in our many trips here (four trips, including this one, for me, and five for Jo).
As an homage to last year's stay in Beijing, we went back to the Central Arts Institute to see if we could get a room there. We found someone there at half past six, and they let us into our skid marked room where we settled in and marvelled at how welcoming a bed was after the train journey of doom. Jo went to McDonalds to get some much needed, morale boosting french fries, and we had a little munch and went to sleep. Waking up at mid-day, we felt a little bit dirty, but throughly pleased with our room which was cool, bright and decorated with some interesting bum prints on the walls. And it only costs three quid each to stay there - bonus.
My new favourite non-chinese bulk up on the cheap food shop is Subway, the place that sells big sarnies for about a quid. Jo new of an outlet near the People's Stadium, so we got a taxi over to the Stadium (easy place to ask a taxi driver to go to) and planned to walk over to Subway from there. When we got to the stadium however, it turned out that there was some sort of exciting festival on. The gates were flanked with large inflatable windmills, and there were some scottish people playing the bagpipes and walking off to what we hoped would be something frightfully exciting. We should have known better - it was just another one of those Chinese goodwill events where people come along and meet with some Chinese students and smile for the TV cameras and say how great everything is. In this case, the event was linked to the recently completed International Universiad, which Beijing was hosting as part of its Olympic hoo ha. Talk about stringing it out, and they were competing for space with the upcoming Octoberfest that is in the same car park.
Some crazy looking old people were playing Mahjong outside the Subway shop. It was really funny watching the old woman playing as East winning all the time, especially as the bloke who was West got really upset by this and walked off with his pile of notes in a sulk after half an hour of losing. Old people here seem to have so much fun with not a care in the world (apart from gambling).
Vegged out in a park after eating a foot long sandwich, and then played a cheeky round of crazy golf while being devoured by mosquitoes. A bit suprised that they are still around in such cool air, but not really any bother if one washes one's legs in N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide. The park was quite a little activity centre actually, for as well as a round of golf, one could go and do some weight lifting on the park playground / gymnasium or go and fly a kite in the kite flying circular couryard. The gym also had a great cheap version of a running machine - there was a frame to hold onto while you ran on top of a freely rotating barrel underneath you.
Jo and I had a good poke around the little mountains in the park as well, which had many little caves and secret paths around them. We found lots of places which smelt of wee and also bumped into a couple of chinese teenagers having a snog. At the time, I was desperate for a wee, and was in danger of having to take part in the local custom of using the secret grotto path over the smelly stream. This urge came just as we were round the corner from the snogging couple - lucky for them I didn't decide to we over the edge of the rock where they were hiding below.
Found a lavatory (portaloo) in the end, and went over to Yu Yuen Shui Yuen (language college), where Jo stayed last year, to find some cheap Beijing Duck and some Internet. We found both, and I had a good chuckle at my friend Hugo Hudson's marvelous attempts at building a website for Caius Boat Club. He is putting a lot of effort in, and it will be fantastic I am sure, but it is funny to see someone else going through the torture of making complex websites that look like they will be even more complicated than this one!
The duck took ages to cook (or maybe it just needed catching) but was yummy and lardy. I think we drank too much Coca-Cola though, as in the taxi back, Jo asked the driver to take us to "the Central Art Hospital" (in Chinese of course) which we all found most amusing. On that note, Jo has had to take great care when asking for a bottle of Sprite in China, as if you say it slightly wrong, it sounds like you are a saying "Can I have a bottle, you silly bitch?". Tee-hee.
Many friendly people ask us where we are from on the main street near our hostel here, and we know perfectly well that there friendliness is because they are poor art students wanting to sell us some pictures. We now just ignore them, or even better, as soon as they start chatting us up, we just say "You're an arts student aren't you?". V. satisying.
Our hostel is also v. cheap because it is on the eight floor of a broken lift building.
Jo: Today we had a bit of a lie-in in our Arty Student dorm which was nice but meant that the day was rather shortened. We spent a few hours walking to Qianmen which lies just to the south of the Forbidden City, and which from where we are staying is not far at all. It mainly took so long a) because we were walking very slowly, and b) because the pavements were really, really full of people. It is nearing National Day (1st October) here in Beijing and everyone and his grandparents appear to have come to Beijing to see the flowers and fountains in Tian'anmen Square. Very impressive I'm sure, but Ed and I agree that when it is covered with people the square is a lot less imposing.
Qianmen is actually a little area that has escaped the notice of Beijing's town planners and is full of hutong (alleys) and siheyuan (traditional northern Chinese houses built around a central courtyard). It's generally a delightful area for wandering around and forgetting that you are in Beijing, which is what we spent a few hours doing - watching elderly men playing chess and looking down little alleyways. We also spent some time reading numerous public education posters that have been put up in the area, for example 'Safety for Hooligans' (from shurely? -ed) and 'Safety for Urban dwellers'. Just as we were reading this last one a chap ran by us holding a foot long saw out in front of him, which was actually mentioned as point 2,367 in the list of 'Urban Dangers', just underneath 'blindfold chainsaw juggling - the dangers'.
After all this quaintness, we both felt in need of a reminder of imperial repression and hopped over to the Lama temple in the north-west. History lesson time; the emperors of the last dynasty weren't content with just being Supreme Rulers of the Chinese Empire, so they became Mongolian Khans and Tibetan Lamaist sakhravartin kings too. All those titles meant they had rather a lot of ceremonies to keep up with and to keep various Buddhist sects happy and to make them feel at home, they built the Lama Temple in the 18th century. The whole temple has been maintained in really nice condition and is very pretty, but does include some rather depressing exhibits propounding China's rights to Tibet. In fact, the temple was stormed by Tibetan sympathisers recently, which accounts for it being the only Buddhist temple in the world surrounded with electric fences. Why the freedom fighters had to come over the walls and couldn't just buy a ticket I don't know, but point made. The temple has had one very important addition in the form of a statue of Buddha made out of a single tree trunk - the important bit is really the plaque outside with Norris McWhirter's signature etched into it. Our first pilgrimage!
After this it was off to the Beijing Grand Hotel for drinks on their roof terrace as we watched the sun set. Unfortunately the drinks had a rather depressing effect on us and we moped off to a restaurant and moped (moped- past tense of 'to mope' not a mod's chosen form of transport) back to the Arts College.
Ed: Just a quick point to make that Jo's drink was depressing because it had evil gin in it (she asked for it to be served in a tea pot, but they didn't understand), and mine looked and smelled like a yummy cocktail thing, especially as it had an olive in it, but was actually rather yukky as the olive imparted about a shots worth of brine into the liquor. Yuk yuk yuk. Salty booze.