Well, the past 2 days have been amazing!! Arrived in Beijing late enough on Wed, went straight to the hostel after a not-too-tiring 12 hour flight spent catching up on lots of films that I've missed at the cinema in the past couple of months. Been sharing a dorm with 3 girls from Siberia of all places. Spent yesterday with Jessica, an Aussie I met on the shuttle from the airport to the hostel, and Erica, an American we met at breakfast. We visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and all that area. Unfortunately (or not) Mao's mausoleum has been closed for 6 months for renovations, so there was no viewing of the embalmed communist general. There were also renovations going on in the Forbidden City and a few of the buildings were surrounded by scaffolding - I guess it's all to do with getting Beijing in shape for the Olympics next year. We wandered up to the lake for some lunch and then taxied it to the silk market which was a little dissappointing to be honest. There's no such thing as browsing there - if you so much as glance sideways at something, you get bombarded by the very persistant sellers and it's all about bargaining a price which I'm not too fond of...so we didn't stay for too long.
The best thing about the day tho' wasn't any of the sights we saw (which all looked rather grey and colourless under the grey sky - thought it was the pollution but apparently the sky over Beijing was blue today so it must have just been a cloudy day!), but just wandering the hutongs (alleyways) and main streets watching everyone and everything that was happening...there's so much going on.. Traffic here is chaotic - it's a bit like all the vehicles, from buses and trucks down to bikes, are all looking for the path of least resistance to their destination, and if that means driving on the footpath then so be it..cars, bikes and mopeds on the footpath, pedestrians pushing buggies and wheelchairs in the cycle lanes...it's crazy - why bother painting lanes on the road at all? There's alot of hooting of horns too - a quick little one to warn everyone around you that you're about to do something completely erratic and probably unnecessary, a really loud aggressive one if an erratic mover looks like the may crash into you.. And as for pedestrian crossings - well, they do have green and red men - but again I don't really see why, as all the traffic drives thro' the crossing regardless of the colour of the little man! So really, sitting at an intersection for a few hours would be highly entertaining...in my opinion anyways...
This morning I headed off on a hostel-organised trip to the Great Wall. We hiked about 8 km along the wall from Jinshanling to Simatai - and it was tough hiking, nearly even tougher than the Tongariro Crossing, cos of the unevenness of the pathways and the steepness of some of the slopes - needed to use all fours on several occasions! It was amazing tho'. I think we passed thro' 30 odd watchtowers, in varying states of disrepair. And the views of the mountains and the wall stretching ahead and behind us was wow. There were lots of locals trying to sell off souvenirs and drinks along the way, but being very rude meant that mostly they leave you alone and don't try to follow you along the track.
The food here is ridiculously cheap - in fact everything is, not just the food - main course and beer last night for less than a euro!! Lunch today from the supermarket the same... And speaking of food, I'm starving now and am meeting the others for dinner in 5... There's nothing more to say really except that 2 days is not enough, altho' it's better than nothing.. Tomorrow I fly back to Dublin and I'll be in work on Monday...how sad...
Take care and will see some of ye really soon
Some pics from Beijing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niscratz/sets/72157626410776406/