Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Beijing, I miss you already

It's unbelievable how time flies, we'll only be in Beijing for about 11 more hours before moving up towards Mongolia. After lots of running around, waiting at counters and whatnot we finally bought a ticket to Jeanin (I'm sure I misspelled that) yesterday. From there we're hoping to catch a train to Elian (I think I spelled that correctly) which is the last stop before the Mongolian border. Then we'll need to get a train or bus across the boarder before catching a train to Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar. The best-case scenario for this trip is about 2 days, the worst-case scenario is closer to 5 days with me personally placing me bets on something like 3 days. Anyway, as always we'll have to see how it goes...

One thing is for certain, when stepping on that train tomorrow we'll leave most of what civilization has to offer behind us. So let's enjoy these precious last moments with showers, water-toilets, real beds and the internet! I honestly have no clue whether I'll be able to get to an internet cafe anytime soon so this might well be the last update for the next week or two.

These past 2 days were quite busy and I think I really fell for Beijing. It's hard or rather impossible to describe but there's something about this city that really attracts me and wants me to stay longer or rather come back in the not-too distant future. I always knew that 4 days here were going to be very little but I've only started to scratch the surface around here and I could easily spend another week here without being bored.

Yesterday, after purchasing our train-tickets, we went to the Forbidden City which was a really great experience and significantly better than what I had expected. The whole day was a bit foggy which normally makes taking decent photos more difficult than it should be but yesterday it only added to the magic of an already stunning place. Additionally we were quite lucky because there weren't too many people around at times which really made taking photos a pleasant experience. I can't wait to see them on the big screen! I guess the one thing I liked best about the Forbidden City, or in fact about Beijing in general, is the use of space when building something. The Tian'anmen Square is probably the best example of this as it's the most amazing man-made space that I've ever seen. 400,000sqm of space. You really have to see it to believe it! In fact I liked to square to much that I'm going to get out of bed early tomorrow morning to still have some quiet time to simply sit there and enjoy it. The Forbidden City is somewhat similar in that it's use of space - the yards - between the various buildings is simply breathtaking. I'll definitely upload some photos once I get home and then you'll see what I'm talking about as it's really not possible to describe it in words.

After being in the Forbidden City for around 2 1/2 hours Patrick and I decided to look for the Temple of Havens. Of course we didn't have a map so we started walking into the general direction of where we though it would be. After some time we realized that our feet we demanding a break so we went to a subway-station, took a photo of the map with the Chinese characters for the temple and then proceeded to look for an empty taxi (not that easy during the rush-hour). After spending more than 15min looking for such a taxi we found one but the driver had not clue what to do when I showed him the map of Beijing with the Temple of Havens characters on the screen of my digital camera. First he wanted to take a photo of me, then we showed the image to a collegue and in the end he turned us down, somehow gesturing that he wouldn't want to drive us there. You can imagine how happy we were about that. So we ended up walking the whole way which took us more than an hour. We finally did make it, lucky yo arrive at the Temple 10min before it was closed. This gave us a great chance to enjoy the temple, or rather the main 3-story Pagoda (spelling?) with as few other people as possible. Just before leaving that great place we even managed to take some pictures of the whole structure without any people being there. Needless to say it was well worth the exhausting way.

Today we got up at around 5 a.m., had some breakfast and then started out tour to the Great Wall at 6:20 a.m. The three hour bus-ride (which wasn't all that relaxing due to the excessive A/C and bumpy road) took us to JinShanLing from where we made a 10km hike on the wall to Simatei. The weather was beautiful and the light allowed for some great (or so I hope) photos to be taken. The Great Wall just basicallz sits a top of hills and often offers breathtaking views of the wall (and towers) ahead and behind you. For the first 2/3 of the way the landscape is also extremely nice and unspoilt by civilization. According to Patrick, who visited it at Badaling - which is much closer to Beijing - the Great Wall as a monument is significantly more impressive there (bigger, higher, faster) than what we saw today. I also have to admit that I was a tiny bit underwhelmed by the structure itself, given that the wall we all know from photos is up to 7m wide and 16m high. In JinShanLing on the other hand it's significantly smaller than that. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'd rather recommend going to Badaling, especially if you're on a tight time-budget. Don't get me wrong, I had an outstanding time today (except maybe for when we had to go up the infamous "130 steps" which nearly killed me and when a Chinese vendor asked whether Patrick and me were brothers) and even though we suffered through the midday-heat and 6h of riding on a bus the whole experience was great. Walking on the wall really does give you a good impression of the astonishing construction-marvel it is and it also gives you the necessary time to reflect and really enjoy the beautiful scenery. However if you're more into the "shock & awe" type of experience then Badaling should probably be your first choice.

My evening was spent waiting for the washing/drying machine to finish getting its work done on our clothes (remember no more civilization in the coming week or so!) before heading out to look for some food. Having read through Martina's guide-book I had decided that a restaurant for Indian and Thai food sounded like a good place to spend the last evening. (Patrick stayed at home due to a messed up stomach and Martina plus Fernando had already eaten.) So I took the last subway (note: subways here in Beijing only go until about 10:30 p.m.) so the district where I was hoping to find that restaurant. 30min later (and several questions about whether I was looking for massages, drugs, prostitutes, whatever) I gave up the search for it and went for a beer in the garden of a more or less fancy hotel close to the Chinese Trade Center. Still being hungry (I had only eaten breakfast and a sandwich as lunch) I looked for other options and decided that a 24h Chinese fast-food joint going by the name of "Be there, be square" sounded like a viable option. At this point I discovered it's really impossible to find a decent place to eat after 10 p.m., unless you want to go for an American fast-food brand called McDonald's that is, as most Chinese restaurants seem to close to 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. I guess you can find something if you know exactly where to look but that wasn't the case here as none of the places mentioned in the Lonely Planet "Best of Beijing" seemed to exist anymore. Hell, I didn't even find a 24h convenience-store (7/11 where are you, I miss you!) to buy some instant noodles and beer. At some point I even considered going to one of the restaurants at the Grand Hyatt Beijing (not the cheapest hotel I might add) to ask for a sandwich or something. In the end I decided to call it a day and went home, grabbed a beer ("Tsingatio" which is quite good) at a small store and now I've spent the past hour or so standing in front of the computer in our hostel's lobby and typing these lines...

Without any beer left in my bottle and my hungry stomach coming to haunt me it's probably a wise decision to press the orange "send" button and head off to grab some sleep.

Beijing, I miss you already

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

also..dein blog findet sich leicht bei google und auch sicher interessant. muss mir allerdings mal die zeit nehmen alles zu lesen. auch david stöhnt neben mir dass er ihm das zu viel ist.
schöne reise noch
bis bald
querida hermanita