Let’s head to Beijing!
Having been teaching for around 2 months now, it was great to get away and have our first holiday in China. We’d managed to rearrange our classes so we could catch the 17.51 train to Beijing West station on Sunday evening. We only had hard seats, but didn’t really think too much about it, as we were going to Beijing! The train would be overnight and we’d arrive in Beijing the next morning around 9am. The hard seats were ok, however David suggested heading to the restaurant car next door for a bit, to get some food and just get out of the carriage for a bit. There was another guy in there, who we were seated opposite to. He spoke fairly good English and was helping us a little with what the waitress was saying. Turned out that we could pay 35RMB extra (we’d paid 120RMB for the hard seat tickets) and get to stay in the restaurant car until 6am.
We decided that this would be a good idea, as the car had more bench like seats so as least we could try and lie down! The decoration was a little twee though, a term that we had to explain to Morgan!
All told, it was not the comfiest night I’ve ever spent anywhere, but I got a few hours sleep, finally properly waking up at around 4am. At this point, we’d just stopped in a station called Datong. A guy was wandering up the aisle of the restaurant carriage and he pointed at the empty seat next to me, obviously wanting to sit down. The next thing that came out of his mouth was ‘where are you from?’ Now, this guy looked Chinese, but was actually Russian, called Eugeny and he originated from one of the towns near the Russia/China border, as he managed to explain by drawing all over my guidebook (I wasn’t bothered, it’s fun to think I had a conversation with a Russian who drew all over my guidebook, it’s a great memory!) He was telling us about how he was on a business trip and people kept speaking Chinese to him because they thought he was. We had a good example of this at breakfast the next morning. We weren’t forcefully kicked out of the restaurant carriage, but we thought we’d better buy breakfast to make sure. We ordered two breakfasts and the waitress kept saying ‘and you?’ in Chinese to Eugeny. They couldn’t understand why he wasn’t understanding them! The whole carriage was watching this and we just ended up laughing in the end, as it was pretty hilarious. The breakfast wasn’t too bad all told; some bread, ham, random, tasteless Chinese porridge and some kind of fruits.
We said goodbye to Eugeny in Beijing, as he was heading home to Moscow, via Shanghai and Dubai. We contemplated getting our return tickets and I managed to find an English Speaking Counter, and the lady was very helpful. We managed to get sleepers for the Thursday night we would be returning, at 325RMB each, but we were very happy. I loved knowing that I wouldn’t have to go back to the station to get tickets so I could use my time very productively for sightseeing! With tickets in hand, we headed in a taxi to the hostel we would be staying at, at Beijing Zhan (station). David had stayed before so recommended it. It’s right outside an underground stop too, which is really helpful. Our bedrooms were great, really good price too so can’t complain about that at all! By this time, it was only around 11am so we headed to McDonalds for lunch (yes, I know, don’t judge me, but we don’t have it in Erdos so it is a luxury when we see it now!) and then headed to the Silk Market. For the uninitiated, the Silk Market is a pretty scary place. It has 6 floors of stalls selling fake goods and everyone asking “would you like a tie/scarf/jacket/Louis Vuitton bag?” every other second. You also have to barter like crazy, as they always quote ridiculous prices, saying things like ‘”you are my friend/brother/sister” “what’s your best price today?” It’s very hard to browse in a place like this, so it’s better to know exactly what you want before you head in. I was after some Toms and a bag so with this knowledge we headed in. It is simply a crazy place and I do hope to go back again at some point, but in the end I came out with my pair of Toms (55RMB) and two fake but brilliant bags (Longchamp and Mulberry, I’m a classy bird at heart you see ) for less than half the asking price, so I was pretty happy. After the Silk Market it was time for a Starbucks, (I never usually drink the stuff, but again it’s now a luxury!) and then back to the hostel to nap. I attempted going out in the evening, but failed and was in bed by about 9.30pm. David and Morgan went to get drunk on all you can drink for 68RMB though!
The next day I presumed that they wouldn’t be up early, so I headed to Carrefour on the Underground, in the hope that I could find some imported goods. It was right out near the zoo, but I was unlucky as the selection of imported goods was as bad as the one in our supermarket. Never mind though, as I headed back and met David and Morgan on Tiananmen Square, in front of the picture of the great leader, Mao himself. We wandered slowly towards the Forbidden City, not before I got a beautiful painting of my Chinese name
(it was cheaper, only 2 characters instead of 5!) gong zhu– it means princess. The guy was using blocks to paint and was very good but very quick at it.
When we got to the Forbidden City (40RMB, 1stNovember the price went down from 60RMB, score!) it had begun to rain a little. We’d had a foggy/smoggy day the previous day and this was turning out to be the same, with some rain stuff too. But nevertheless, the Forbidden City was still beautiful. It’s very sprawling, just like Pompeii really, and we didn’t even do half of it I reckon. We had our photos taken a couple of times, once with a group of Chinese who had all just bought Commie hats, so that was pretty hilarious.
Even managed to find some postcards, so to those out there that have given me their address, I should be winging a few to you all soon.
After the Forbidden City, we found somewhere to have a quick lunch and then headed to one of the shopping districts, Wanfujing. I went to the foreign languages bookstore and picked up a Sherlock Holmes book and also a Chinese textbook to help me learn some more Chinese. It came with a CD too, so I hope I will get round to using that, I will let you know. Off the main street, with such names as Zara and Jack Jones dotted along, there was a kind of mini market, similar to the Silk Market. There were also lots of food stalls and we saw live scorpions on a stick.
Um, thanks, but no thanks. They were still wriggling and everything! Morgan and David headed back to the hostel after this, but I headed to one of the other shopping districts, Xidan, in search of some more clothes.
Not before I’d seen a sign of Wallace and Gromit advertising a clothes shop though!
Ended up getting some shorts and a shirt from GAP before heading back to the hostel. We headed out for some food at a night market, full of various delicacies such as scorpions, testicles, cockroaches, starfish, snake and many more interesting things. Whilst here, we stumbled across a school geography trip, (easy to make out because of their hoodies!) and I ended up finding their teacher and talking to him (very geography teacher like, North Face jacket and everything!) Apparently they’d been in China 2 weeks and were going home the next day. We saw them all crowd round the cockroaches and scorpions and heard their shrieks of laughter. We then headed to find some drinks. I had a couple of G&Ts, another luxury that I wouldn’t normally spend that much money on, but hey, I was on holiday! We couldn’t find a club though, despite me asking some Germans in my best German whether they knew anywhere to go, so we headed home around midnight. I say headed home, some woman approached us and said for 20RMB she could take us to a club where there were loads of foreigners. I was getting cold by this point and we all thought, why the hell not. Maybe not the wisest thing to do, and we didn’t end up at a club, instead being dropped off outside the foyer of the Park Hyatt hotel. As we were there, we felt it rude not to go up and have a nose, so we ended up on the 63rd floor, in the reception overlooking the whole of Beijing at night. It was quite a sight to behold. How the other half live.
We headed to Tiananmen Square the next day, it’s pretty busy and you have to have your bag checked as you go into the square.
This isn’t unusual though, as in all the underground stations you have to put your bag through an X-ray. We had our photos taken with what I thought were Russians, but all I really knew was that they weren’t Chinese! After the square, Morgan and I headed to a park at the far end of the Forbidden City, as the day before the view wouldn’t have been so great, but the weather decided to be kind to us. It’s called Jingshan Park, and apparently an emperor hung himself on one of the trees there. Morgan and I weren’t interested in that, so we just headed to the top of the hill to get a great view across the Forbidden City.
It gave a much better sense of scale at least! After this, Morgan and I headed to the Olympic Park. It’s a bit of a way out of the city, but definitely worth a visit. The Bird’s Nest really is impressive, and the Water Cube too.
When I go back to Beijing again, I want to go at night and see them lit up, which would be even more spectacular I think! It’s made me want to go back to the UK to use my Olympic tickets anyway! After getting back, we decided to go and find some Beijing duck for dinner.
We managed to find a really good value one and it was really tasty! I’m going to do another post about some of the randomly translated signs and menus I saw in Beijing later this weekend.
In the evening, we decided to try going out an actually finding a club this time! Whilst Morgan had a shower, David and I were in the hostel bar and I’d got down slightly later to find David chatting to another foreigner. Turned out that Adam (his name, obviously!) was from Newcastle! I did actually shriek with excitement, and had to go and get a beer to calm down. I love Newcastle and I’m unashamed about the fact, and as all three of us had spent some time there, it was good to have a chat about it. He is also a massive Toon fan, so ribbed David about his supporting of Man Utd and mine of Swindon Town, standard football banter really.
Adam text one of his friends to find somewhere to go, which was probably a big mistake as I don’t really remember much of the evening, after tequila shots, mojitos, more tequila shots, gin and tonics, beer and more tequila shots. I also don’t know how I got back to the hostel, but I did and I’m unharmed so don’t worry! The next morning I was nursing a massive hangover. Adam suggested a beer, but I couldn’t face it, so we just drank Coke and ‘controversial Sprite.’
David and Morgan headed to the Silk Market again, but being mortally hungover I didn’t even attempt it! I was just so glad that we had 15 hours of soft sleepers ahead of us, otherwise I don’t think I would have made it home.
The soft sleepers were a revelation and as our train was at 20.48, I pretty much went straight to bed and had a pretty good sleep. We ended up back in Dongsheng/Erdos around 12pm this afternoon and we were back in the swing of lessons this evening.
All in all, we have so much more to do in Beijing, we didn’t even attempt the wall this time, but we hope to do that in the snow for some great pictures. We will definitely be heading back at some point anyway!