Sparky Travels

December 3, 2009

Beijing pt2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 11:11 pm

I struggled out of bed at 4:30am on the 1st of December and jumped on the first tube of the day to Andingmen station north of the Forbidden City. A 20 minute walk later I was at Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel. Over 20 other backpackers congregated and we boarded a couple of minibuses heading towards the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall, 100km North-East of Beijing. I got chatting to a fellow Scot (a Dundonian) and a couple of Londoners. Three hours and a couple of toilet stops later we were deposited at the entrance to the wall. The area is arid and mountainous and completely lacks the tourist trappings that are supposedly par-for-the-course at other parts of the wall. We did of course each have our own personal hawker who followed us, befriended us, warned us of treacherous sections, told sob stories and tried to sell us anything they could. My old hawker lady had obviously met scots before as she gave up on me quite swiftly after I rejected her wares. We were given 4 hours to traverse the 10km of wall between Jinshanling and Simitai. This was ample time givijng us chances to take photos, eat our provisions and rest after some of the steep and crumbling sections. There were 30 towers along the route ranging in condition from unsafe ruins through well preserved originals to rebuilt ones. The weather was perfect, not too cold and sunny with good visibility. The area is arid and mountainous with few signs of modern civilization which really gave a feel of authenticity. The tour group gradually spread out along the route so that at points it felt quite deserted. Other than the dozen or so hawkers, we only met one other person on the route. After crossing the a suspension bridge to the 30th tower we had two choices to get to the pickup point. Either a flying fox over a reservoir and dam or a 20 minute walk. Most of us opted for the flying fox which gave an exhilarating, if short, finish to the trek. I’d happily have gone back up for another go if we’d had time. 3 hours later we were back in Beijing and I headed back to the hostel to relax.

I got up on the 2nd with a the desire to see a dead communist leader. Fortunately Chaiman Mao Memorial Hall was a ten minute walk from the hostel. As with everything at this time of year, it was quiet but that doesn’t really have any effect for this attraction. Busy or quiet, you get funnelled past the suspiciously well preserved body of Mao Zedong in 20 seconds with no chance to stop and strictly no photos. I’m happy though, Mao & Uncle Ho done, only Lenin remains unseen.

Next, I headed along to Beijing train station to buy my ticket to Shanghai for the next evening which was easily done though it did cost 327Y (£32). I opted for a hard sleeper to ensure I had some sort of rest before arriving in Shanghai.

Hunger was setting in so I made my way half and hour up the road to Wanfujing snack street, a lane with stalls full of various exotic delights. I started with some fresh doughnuts followed by some fried dumplings. My immediate hunger sated I moved on to the scorpions. These were wooden sticks with 4 live scorpions welded onto them. They were thrown into a vat of oil for 60 seconds and then handed over for me to eat. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to eat the pointy end of the stingers so I snapped them off and munched away. They weren’t unpleasant which I wish I could say about the next skewer. This held three whole chicks or tiny birds of some sort, plucked and with the front half of their heads lopped off. They were crunchy and tasted like a bunch of innards. I threw some noodles in pancake down my gullet after them to take the taste away.

By now my cold was really taking hold so I retired to the hostel and spent the evening chatting to my roomate, Nicolas. Nicolas, from Normandy, is cylcing round Asia for the next few years but was taking a wee break in Beijing waiting for his mate to join him. He was good chat but then I have to say that cos he’s probably reading this. ;-)

On the 3rd, the day of my train to Shanghai I had a relatively quiet one to try ( successfully it turns out) to and beat my stinking cold. I did manage to buy some trainers since my old ones are quite literally falling apart. After that exertion I relaxed and finished The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the warmth of the hostel bar. For dinner I ventured out to Donghuamen Night Market where I bumped into Nicolas. For the last few hours before my train we  swapped movies and music from our laptops.

At 22:15 I said goodbye to Beijing and boarded my train to Shanghai. Bottom bunk in a hard sleeper carriage for 12 hours. How very familiar that has become.

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