25.11.2008 - 14.12.2008 10 °C
Arriving in Beijing was somewhat overwhelming. The simple task of getting to our hostel from the airport, with preprepared directions in Chinese characters was made difficult due to innumerable illegal taxis trying to rip us off at every turn. Ultimately we managed to bus it in to the city centre successfully, and ultimately found a legal taxi who still managed to charge us double claiming he couldn’t find our destination. A 4 km trip resulted in a 12 km trip – we find it hard to believe he didn’t know his way around the vicinity of the forbidden city. Frustrating!!!!
The top 10 highlights of Beijing were:
10. Bussing out to the Summer palace – beautiful gardens and lake. We also saw a free theatrical kung fu show.
9. The silk market which was 6 levels of the craziest market I’ve ever seen. I have never been hassled so much from every single stall you walk past, and bargaining was hard! Boy do they try you for extremely high prices! We managed to talk down 2 pairs of jeans from 1300 RNB ($400!) to 180RNB – they weren’t happy about it either, but didn’t want to miss out on a sale. I was called stingy – a title I hold with pride! Later that day a group of us were hanging out at our hostel talking about our purchases. One guy boasted he had bought 4 pairs for 400 RNB each. Everyone fell silent. Sucker!!
8. Street food – especially the crazy food at the night market - Dog stew anyone? How about scorpions? Silk worms? Sea horse? Crickets? No? Would penises, testicles or stomach take your fancy? Nick chose dumplings, sugared fruit and fried icecream....
The night market and its crazy food
7.Eating Peking Duck in one of the famous restaurants. Nick even ate the tongue, not knowing it. Apparently very tender. Not for me.
6. Our amazingly beautiful hostel – the best we have ever stayed in. The hosts were incredibly helpful , the location brilliant, and the beds were super comfy and their food was yum! Located in a hutong near the forbidden city - City Walls Courtyard House Hostel comes with our highest recommendations!
The hostel common area
5. Forbidden City. Inside the forbidden city was huge – many temples, the thickest walls surrounding it we have ever seen and beautiful imperial gardens. We also visited a student’s art exhibition (=scam? Maybe...) and did end up buying some artwork that we are very pleased with – 4 pieces representing summer, autumn, winter and spring. They are beautiful and for a total of $50 AUD, we don’t really feel we can claim to be ripped off!
shot of the day - pretty sure this guy could be a model....
4. We saw an acrobatics show – we had VIP seats care of our hostel. They had some really neat tricks and tumbling acts. Nick’s favourite was a guy who balanced a ball on chopsticks in his mouth, he got to throw the ball onto the stage from the audience and the guy caught it on his chopsticks.
Crazy woman balancing stuff in her mouth while twirling rings and riding a unicyle with one foot. not bad...
3. Jinshan Park was great. There were so many elderly people in the park doing dance classes, twirling ribbons to music, singing etc. There were three temples on a hill overlooking the forbidden city, and from here there were great views of the city, only partly obstructed by smog.
The oldies doing ribbon twirling in the park
2. Hiring bikes and riding amongst the insane traffic – organised chaos. We passed Tiananmen Square – biggest square in the world, and went to the temple of heaven.
temple of heaven
1. Visiting the great wall of china from jinshanling to simatai which is mostly unreconstructed. It was a challenging and breathtaking 10 km hike. Nick had a beer to support his hbapg cause.
Drinking probably the best beer in my life, after hiking 10km on the great wall
sitting on the wall
The overnight train was not as bad as anticipated, but the smoke on the non smoking train made fi feel light headed. Consideration of others does not appear to be always the norm in Chinese culture. They have no concept of personal space, letting people off a train in order to get on, waiting in lines, obeying non smoking signs and general public hygiene (spitting, children defacating in public, availability of toilet paper...).
We did a day trip out to the terracotta warriors and were surprised to find so many remain unexcavated. Each warrior is unique, and their placement there, near Emperor Mings tomb, is thought to have been to ensure him protection as a ruler in his afterlife.
the terracotta army
In the evening we saw a water, light and music show at the big wild goose pagoda (biggest in china) near our hostel in Xian. We made good friends with the staff at the hostel. Nick had a Chinese lesson and managed to get the boss to let us borrow Jimmy to take us to a really hard to find traditional dumpling restaurant. It was amazing, the dumplings come on plates of 30 or 60! So we had one of each. 90 dumplings between the 3 of us!
Dumplings with Jimmy
The highlight however, was our trip to Hua Shan (mountain). Fi got really upset at a website which claimed that it was the most dangerous tourist attraction mountain in the world. We found it to be perfectly safe, and we had a lovely time hiking around the peaks and leaving a momento padlock at the highest point we reached.
Cloud ladder on Hua Shan
A lock with a view
Another night train and we were in the hustle bustle of Shanghai. Shopping galore! “fake stuff heaven” as promised by one of fi’s work collegues – thanks Emma! We did enjoy walking along the main street and being solicited by agents who took us down side streets to fake shop fronts and false doors that lead to a plethora of desiger ripoff’s along with rip off prices. Here we sharpened our bargaining skills and picked up a few really nice things at up to 80% off their original offer. We always felt a hint of satisfaction when the seller was not so happy with the final price. We ended up becoming "Kiwi’s" while shopping, to ensure the exchange rate game they play was to our best advantage!
We were met on arrival by Fi’s dad who preceded to spoil us for a week. Late night foot massages, delicious Australian wine and many "pijio", (our favourite being kingway, pronounced “ching way”) and we had some of the best food we have had this trip: teppanyaki, sichuan hot pot, yum cha, NYPD pizza (officially the best pizza in china), spicy prawn, thai, a lavish 6 star buffet at the Shangri la hotel, but the piece de resistance was drunken prawns at “the Island” cooked by the man himself! Nick made his spectacular karaoke debut, i think most people clapped when he finally got off stage. Shenzhen had amazing architecture and was more westernised than the other citys we had visited, the influence perhaps of so many "Guaylo" expats. Special thanks to Tim, Lindsay and Tracy, and Ian and Shirley for so many good times shared, and thanks to Bonnie for successfully taking us shopping for a new camera! We wish all the best for the opening x-pats bar, guarenteed to be the best bar in Shenzhen!
Sich uan hot pot, yes it tasted even better once it hits your lips.... so tingly
Fi's Dad in action, drunken prawns
Shenzhen municipal center
We spent a quick couple of days in hong kong. What a difference from mainland china! The taxi driver was really helpful, people stopped to help us numerous times and they actually queued for public transport!! We took the peak tramway to the lookout on Victoria peak. Spectacular night view of hong kong and hong kong island. Rode the 800m travelator/escalator, the longest in the world. Paid too much for the vietnamese visa’s cos we told we needed “express service.” We strolled the temple street night market - the best market we have seen so far. Space is obviously precious in HK, and we found ourselves paying the most for accomodation since Europe, for a room smaller than a prison cell and no windows!
The market at night in HK
the 800m travellator!
The view from victoria peak.
We are on to Vietnam next, and will be in Cambodia for Christmas. We wish everyone a safe and Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. We do not have mobile phones functioning at the moment, but would love to hear from everyone via email. We look forward to seeing everyone back home in Melbourne early next year! xx