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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Shanghai to Beijing

CHINA | Monday, 21 July 2008 | Views [1364]

Wed 16th Jul –Had so much time on my hands after getting myself sorted that I decided to go out somewhere. A few things left that I could have done but chose to treat myself to a trip on the Maglev train. Off to Longyang road station and bought a return ticket to Pudong International Airport. You go through a baggage scanner and security check as expected. It is a smart domed tunnel and a clear view of the track to watch the train coming in. It is a super smooth design as befits it's task and glides to a smooth stop exactly in line with the red roped entrance. When given the all clear you are allowed on board and greeted by the smart sky blue uniformed hostess. Very quiet on his trip so plenty of seats. A digital speed display above the aisle registers 0km/h. Soon on our way and  a gentle sensation as the speed ramps up rapidly...50km/h....100....200...300....then it eases up to the 431km/h limit. It is amazingly stable as it tilts when it goes smoothly around the curves...and then.....like a soft hammer blow.....bang.....as another train comes the other way and the air turbulence creates a squashed pocket of air at a relative speed of 862km/hr.... whooooshhh..... fanbloodytastic! I love this....great choice. It takes a mere 8 minutes for the journey and slows down as rapidly as it ramped up.

Only spent a short while at the airport, as without a ticket there isn't much to do. Typical KFC as soon as you come out of the Maglev terminal... they are as common here as McDonalds golden arches. Bumped into a guy and his parents at the airport on their way to Beijing, that I had gotfriendly with, so that was a nice surprise. Time to head back on the maglev. Just as exciting the second trip.
Decided to make a stop at the Shanghai Science and Technology park. A couple of highlights of this area are firstly an amazing stainless steel space station Space probe in the centre of the traffic island at the top of Century Avenue. A dramatic landmark indeed. Across from this is the Oriental Art Museum. Unfortunately, it was closing so couldn't on inside. Anyway, it was getting late. From the photographs you see, It is best at night when lit up. Time to head back to the hostel as have to get ready for heading to the train station, and need to eat too.

Left for the train an hour before departure, and that is the minimum as I later found out. When you get the metro to Shanghai station, it isn't immediately obvious where uou come out. Aim for exit 1 or 2 and chaos reigns. It is a massive place and queues seem to be everywhere, with people scurrying about pushing and shoving. Got in to the right queue for the main entrance which started some way from it. Inside on the upper wall is a electronic display of the trains and their platform. Mine is the T110 leaving at 20:42 from Platform 5. All easy enouh from there. The departure area was a heaving mass of bodies...inore that and push right through to get to the platform corridor and then down to the platform. This came out at carriage 16 and mine was Carriage 7. To get there took nearly minutes, the train is so long! Soaking wet by this stage... carrying a backpack and daypack in this heat is painful. Jumped in to the carriage, found my berth and threw off the pack. Yuk! My ticket was unfortunately a top sleeper so had a climb and a low ceiling. Comfortable though.

Not long and the train was on its way, complete with announcements in english to help. About 5 minutes into the journey and the ticket inspector appeared and I guessed wanted to see my ticket. He took I and gave me back a green eLong.com credit card. No idea why or what I was supposed to do with it as he couldn't speak any english. Next task to find out. If you need anything either ask the Chief captain or the policeman on train. Well here goes...turns out to be nothing more than for identification and they exchange it back for your ticket when you get to the other end.

Thu 17th Jul - A good night's sleep and fairly quiet. Must have been the heat that knocked me out. Activity started about 7am when attendants come around. Someone pushing a trolley of the most unappetising looking stuff for breakfast. Then I thought there must be a restaurant car, so went and found it. For 15 Yuan there was a self service chinese only buffet (noodles, rice, various veg) and a coffee for 5 Yuan, and not bad. Thought it funny when he gave me chopsticks with my coffee. Looked at him puzzled and he motioned for me to stir it with them!

Regular announcements that seem to go on for ages in chinese. When there is an english one, which isn't very often, it lasts about 10 seconds. Not a clue what the other announcements are about. Probably the one that tells all th chinese where the restaurant car is!

Train got into Beijing station at 10:20 and follow the mass exodus into the big square out front. I had instructions on which bus to get and despite asking a few people and walking up and down in the heat for a while, could not find it, so decided to get a taxi instead. Although it was the expensive option, it got me to my hostel, which is the Beijing Lotus Hostel in the Hutongs. On the way there the taxi went past Tiananmen square...one seriously massive place.

The hostel is cosy and traditional chinese in feel and staff seem helpful enough.Got sorted in the hostel and then off to see some sights. This is where the confusion sets in....Beijing is a seriously big city. The tourist map which you pick up for 8 Yuan at many places, si deceptively small and in no way conveys the large distances involved in getting anywhere. There are few metro stations and from where I am, the nearest is apparently a 20 minute walk. To complicate thins there are loads of buses and no map to show where any of them go. To compound this, the traffic is horrendous at any time of day. I found out that the 22 bus goes to Tiananmen square and then promptly got on it going the wrong way. Daft I know....blame it on the heat affecting my brain! Got off and onto the bus in the right direction and what looked like a 5 minute journey on the map took almost 30 minutes! All busses here only cost 1 Yuan, no matter where you are going...incredible that isn't it? Bloomin' cheap.... The bus dropped off at the south/main gate entering the square which is in itself is a wow factor. A massive grey stone structure with ornamental roof in blue, red and gold... an appropriate symbol and statement of this awesome place. Tiananmen square is the biggest public square in the world. When you get there, you understand why.....biiiggg... The buildings that surrounding it are the dominant Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, which is somewhere I will be visiting tomorrow morning. Free entrance but only open between 8am and noon. Opposite it is the entrance to the 'Forbidden Palace' through the 'Gate of Heavenly Peace', over which hangs the famous picture of chairman Mao. More on that too tomorrow. If you can manage to get here for 5am, you would witness the raising of the red flags ceremony. Tricky one that! It is incredible to actually be stood here.... It is an iconic place in the world that everyone has heard of and probably seen, but few people get to stand here. I got adopted by a student whilst walking around, and we spent a while talking about what is going on in Beijing. They have levelled vast areas of historical sites in order to build new sites for the olympics. They are living and breathing it in large quantities....the famous Beijing 2008 banners are everywhere. Screens hide works still in progress and they are painted with banners. Cranes litter the skyline everywhere. But...my very short experience of a few hours in this enormous city, suggest that there will be large quantities of tourists next month, wandering around scratching their heads like I am, wondering where the hell they are and how to get from A to B, and hardly anyone being able to understand english to help them! More on this later...

Police are everywhere in large numbers. Saw many being put through their drill by their seargent and many others marching across the square in unison. Took a random decision to go into the gardens next to the Heavenly peace gate called Zhongshan Park. Only 3 Yuan and well worth it. Beautiful decorative covered pathways, pretty gardens with red lacquered oriental bridges, lovely planting schemes and areas of stately old cypress trees with the very old Zhongshan hall to the rear. Just enough for this brief trip into the heart of the city...more tomorrow. For now I have to head back to get ready for tonight, as I have booked to see the KungFu show at the Red Theatre.

Showered and fed back at the hostel and theoretically with instructions on how to get to the red theatre!! Simple....get on bus 826 and hand them this piece of paper and they will tell you when to get off...should only take 30 minutes to get there. Had arranged for someone to meet me there with my ticket...peformance due to start at 7:30pm...I left at 6pm....one and a half hours for a 30 minute journey...ok.....all will become clear?
So, got on the bus after a long wait...time ticking away...handed the conductor the paper...couldn't understand It at all. Here we go. Fortunately, I had the thought to have my map with me and drew on it where I wanted to go. The bus doesn't go there...where does it go...the map and the instructions got passed around the bus and between a dozen people who touched it, nobody had a clue where it was, but agreed the bus didn't go there...yippee...i'm stuffed! So where are we then...about half a dozen people tried but couldn't even agree where we were on the map! I laughed as I knew, so showed them. We carried on for a bit and then the bus went off in a random direction. One girl on the bus...the only one who could speak english, said they had changed the routes due to the construction works and I would have to get off and change to another bus and then walk a bit. She felt sorry for me and offered to help by getting off with me and taking me to my destination.....wow, what a wonderful gesture I thought. She was continually apologising for the chaos...time ticking away...meanwhile i'm following which turns we've made on the map. So we got off the bus and asked a few people and showed them the map and instructions...they all pointed in the opposite direction to where I knew we had to go. I now had 25 minutes until the start of the show! Where did that hour or so just go? So, almost nobody in Beijing knows where they are, or can speak any english, or know where any of the important landmarks are or what the maps call them....exciting isn't it. I broke away and grabbed the first taxi I could lay my hands on and we tootled along in the grid-locked traffic. Kept my eye on the map and we made it 5 minutes before the start of the show...two people stood outside with my name on a banner....grabbed my ticket, paid them for it....they even re-imbursed me for the cost of the taxi, which was nice...and hastily shot into the theatre...hot and sticky...that shower was worthwhile...not. Two minutes later the show started. How's that for timing!

The show was well worth the hassles of getting here. No photography allowed unfortunately...for safety reasons they say, as it could be too much of a distraction and the cast could injure themselves. I did think that KungFu was about self-control? I think more a merchandising ploy....not sceptical am I?

Wow, what a show. High energy and non-stop action.  It tells the story of a young boy who arrives at a monastery, and is given the name Chun Yi (means the pure one). It charts his progress from boy to man as he learns the art of Zen Buddhism and KungFu. He gets distracted from his path by a beautiful imaginary fairy and he loses his way...women can do that sort of thing to a man's mind (she who shall not be named knows what i'm talking about! For everyone else...will just keep you in the dark on what i'm talking about...sorry). Anyway, he recovers his way eventually and successfully becomes a warrior monk. The old master, who has been his mentor, passes on his stave to him, and Chun Yi becomes head honcho... the Abbot. All in all, the show was an incredible experience. At one point, one guy lies across three sharp swords, with a block of nails on his chest and another guy lying face upwards on top of him. That guy then had a concrete block on his chest that someone smashed with a large hammer. Made you flinch...ow, bet that hurt! Of course, all in a day's work for a kungfu monk!

Some wonderful sets of aerial acrobatics and smoke clouds whilst the 'fairy' was doin her stuff. A super show and full of dramatic scenes, including aerial flips landing on their heads repeatedly. Don't do that one at home!

After the show the performers were outside for photo-shoots with the audience. Headed outside for a taxi....the sods wanted 100 Yuan to take me back to the hostel and wouldn't use their meters....stitch up or what! Laughed at them and walked down the road a bit and picked up a taxi for 30 Yuan.
A long day but full on....tomorrow will be another one I guess?

Fri 18th Jul - Breakfast at the hostel then off to Tiananmen square again to visit Mao's Memorial. The second I made a move towards the door of the hostel, the sky decided to dump 3 months of rain in a few seconds....from nowhere it was phenomenal. At least it cooled things down a lot. Thouht I may as well go out, so up with the umbrella and wade through the floods that seemed to have instantly appeared. The bus was a sauna. Total steam-up inside. The poor driver couldn't see a thing, so the conductor was busy wiping the inside of the screen, whilst the wiper blades were struggling to keep up with the deluge outside. Got to my stop after longer than normal and the roads were flooded in every direction. It was hilarious to see people's attempts at trying to hop through the instant river flowing down from the Tiananmen square direction. I had my waterproof sandals on, so just waded down the center of it.
There was an amazing crowd waiting in the square ready to enter the memorial hall, which had been temporarily closed, so joined the masse. The crowd kept running from one place to another as the police kept moving the entrance queue. Really funny to see how desparate some people where with their tactics. What I hadn't realised was that a majority of people had bags like me and it wasn't until we got near to the entrance that they turned us away to o and put our bags in store. They waved away somewhere and I had no idea where the store was...looked around and didn't find it. Wasn't going to re-queue, so gave up and aimed for the 'Forbidden City' instead. This was higher on my list of things to do anyway.
You enter through the 'Gate of Heavenly Peace' with the ever watchfull picture of Chairman Mao above the central gate. This then leads you into the are where you buy your tickets for the mainpalace and also souvenirs (plenty of other occasions for that spread throughout). Ticket cost 60 Yuan. This place is enormous on a scale that defies the term enormous....it's bloody big!

After buying your ticket, you then enter the Forbidden Palace proper. To get from the inner Meridien Gate at its entrance to the far end Gate of Divine Prowess, could take an hour or more, let alone the diversions to the west/east sections. The whole site is otherwise known as the 'Palace Museum'. The name Forbidden city comes from nearly 500 years when no public were allowed in. It became a Unesco world Heritage site in 1987 and houses 1.5 million historical objects. As I say... Bloody big!
The layout is a number of concentric gated compounds with halls and steps and alleyways between. The whole site runs North/South. At the far end of Tiananmen square is a bronze inset in the floor to signify the north/south orientation. It is impossible to easily convey this place other than to say that there are numerous halls, each different and ornate in design. A bad case of photographitis after this, as you can take a serious amount of photos here....go armed with a large a memory card as you can! There are a couple of halls which require a separate entry fee...namely the 'Hall of Clocks' and the 'Hall of Treasures'. At the far end there are some nice gardens with lovely gnarled old cypress trees and a draon tree, called so because of its twisting creeping nature. This one is many hundreds of years old and has supports for its many branches.
After just over four hours wandering around, the heat was ramping up, so decided I had seen plenty, so headed out of the Forbidden city....then an uncanny thing happened.....I bumped into a guy I had met on the boat crossing from Osaka to Shanghai...small world isn' it?.
Headed towards the dramatic and sleek armadillo-like structure of the Performance center, passing the collosal 'Great hall of the people' on the way. They go in for everything in a big way here. The armadillo is perhaps an odd way to describe it....It is a sleek hemisherical building of glass and steel surrounded by a moat hat had a superb mirror image reflection that shimmered in the sunshine. There is no apparent way in, as you enter from underground away from the building. I walked around its perimiter and took quite some time as it is a bit...well....big!

Time is moving on and got another show tonight, so bus back to the hostel, but wandered around the area first to find somewhere to eat. The area I am staying in is referred to as the 'Hutongs', although a Hutong is just an alleyway really. The real interestin thing about the hutongs isn't the alleyways as they are very grey looking in parts. It is more what oes on behind the doors as they are little hidden worlds.
Found a nice cafe to eat at and then off to get sorted. Was picked up at the hostel and taken to the Tiangiao Acrobatics Theatre. The famous Beijing Acrobat troupe started their life here. It was an incredible demonstration of skill from fairly young performers. From trapeze, to contortionists, to bobbin spinners, jugglers, and many others. It was non stop and amazing to watch. Well worth It.

Stopped for a meal after the show and then had to get back to prepare for tomorrow, as hiking a 10km stretch of the Great Wall from Jinshailing to Simatai.

Sat 19th Jul - Got Picked up at 6am from my hostel by the our company and then off to pick up the rest of the group. A couple from Sydney, a girl from Spain, a couple of lads from Uk and a couple of girls from China and Malaysia, so a multi-national group. Set off for Jinshailing , which took around an hour and a half after escaping the confines of Beijing. On arrival and having sorted out tickets, making sure everyone had plenty of water, and hats etc, we had a short walk to the start of the wall. First though we had to climb a set of steps to get up there...a taste of what was to come!

On getting onto the wall itself...wow...what an awesome sight. Now this is one of the world's iconic sights...a wonder of the world....and I'm standing on it....amazing feeling after wanting to be here for so long. In both directions it snakes its way across the most rugged and mountainous of landscapes imaginable. The whole concept of its existence, to keep out marauders from the attacking forces from Mongolia seem ironic as you are greeted before you get on the wall by mongolian decendents wanting to befriend you and sell you stuff...even in this remote section of it! Genghis Khan once said that the strength of the wall is not determined by the wall itself, but by the people who guard it! He knew that guards could be bribed to let infiltrators through.
Mao Zedong once said...He who has not climbed the great wall is not a true man....that's why some stretches of it are crawling in chinese men!....fortunately not this stretch.

Some details......
It had apparently been claimed to be the only earthly landmark visible from outer space with the human eye, something that has been challenged and proven wrong.
The original wall was begun over 2000 years ago during the Qin dynasty and consisted of separate walls that were later joined together.
An estimated 180 million cubic metres of earth forms the core.
It works its way from Shanhaigun in the east to Lop Nur in the west. A distance of over 6,700km in total (4,160 miles).
At its peak it was guarded by over 1 million men
Between 2 and 3 million men died during its construction.

Once on the wall we had a bit of a discussion about which direction we should go and aimed left and how amazing is this....you hear about it enough, but in this rugged place, the renovated parts soon vanish, to leave behind a historical landmark that shows its age and in grand style. Large sections are falling apart whilst others are in good condition. What is certain is that...in Richard Nixon's well worn phrase....'This is a Great Wall'...yep...couldn't agree more. It is incredibly steep in parts with steps and slopes worse than 1 in 1 gradient. At regular intervals there are watchtowers. Imagine th fact above about 1 million men manning these places at its peak. The whole idea that so many soldiers would have lived their lives in this place and the support network of food and drink that would be required, is a mind-bogglin fact.
A good opportunity to chat other folk on the wall. For four hours we climbed up and then down and then up and then down each section between watchtowers. On and on....so many and so varied. Some are in a good state and others falling apart. The heat doesn't help today, as it's 91 degrees Fahrenheit...bloomin hot. At regular intervals there are hawkers selling water (frozen in  fridge, coke, beer etc as well as T-Shirts and souvenirs they conjure from their bag. Amazing to think they do this every day, but they look really hardened with their mongolian/chinese features and many years behind them plodding this wall.
The total trek is about 10km and after the half way point you reach a ticket check-point. The wall is split into sections with separate ticketting for each, so one ticket for the Jinshailing to the mid-point and another from Simatai to the mid-point. On nearing the Simatai end you have to cross a suspension bridge which costs another 5 Yuan and then you're nearly done. Absolutely shattered ad with calf and thigh muscles rebelling against the strain of what they have just been put through. And you're greeted with vendors offering ice creams, beer, iced water etc. Great business opportunity!
Now, from here there are three ways to go. One option is to carry on....nope! Option Two is to walk down to the Simatai Hotel and village....nope! Option Three is to take a zipwire around a kilometre down to a boat landing and take a boat from there. That costs 40 Yuan. Guess which one wins?
So, on to the zip wire and whiiiizzzz....now that feels better! Good fun and then a short wait for a small boat to pick us up to go to the hotel drop-off point for lunch.
A really nice mixed chinese meal and a really cold beer was well deserved and went down nicely. Then back on the bus for the return to Beijing and nearly everyone fell asleep...apart from me as i'm writing this blog whilst it is fresh in my mind....and then sleep...zzzzz
It has been a fantastic trip...A tough, exhilarating, landmark event. One that will be embedded in my memories forever, and a great group to have done it with too.
On the way back to Beijing it was quiet as I said and then the bus started to make a low whining noise...I know how it felt...the traffic was busy. And then it broke down, so we offloaded at the side of the road. A passing larger bus stopped to help and ended up fitting us all in and taking us back to the city. A really nice gesture. It did mean getting back later than expected as had to get from the drop-off point. A major plus-point of this change of plan was that we were driving past Tiananmen square exactly at the right time for the flag lowering ceremony a 19:45pm. Pefect time and got a great photo from the window of the bus. Then had to battle the throngs of chinese in the mass exodus from the square.  I think they say that the square holds in excess of 2 million people...saw most of them as they were leaving!
Made it back to hostel very weary and ready for a shower and bed....zzzzzzz

Sun 20th Jul - First task of the day was to try and sort out a train to Pingyao for the day after tomorrow. Not a chance - all trains fully booked for 5 days. That is crazy, but this is China. So a change of plan as do not want to go by bus, so decided to go to Xi'an instead and see the terracotta warriors. Managed to get one of the last few sleepers going there. Will sort out what to do after that later.
Having got that out of the way, thought it would be a good idea to go and see the Olympic stadium, and see what all the hype is about. Bus 409 took me to the bottom of the approach avenue, although they have laid on a number of additional Olympic line buses too.
On getting in to the area, it is a pleasant stroll along to the most famous stadium of modern times....referred to as the 'Birdnest stadium'. The avenue begins with a couple of red monolithic statues and the pathways lined with nice thick glass ornamentation and floral displays. There are many other distractions including a rather funkily designed hotel, and an even more funky Holiday Inn Express, with and exterior like a Fred Flintstone cave. A superb hotel with wave-like top supplies another monumental piece of modern architecture that draws a lot of attention. The stadium itself is a magnificent design just like its name suggests, like a bird's nest. At present you cannot get right up to it, but close enough to get a good view. Adjacent to it is the swimming stadium, with its bubble-like exterior, glistening in the sunshine. With the olympic village surrounding it, it is a magnificent sight. Spent a while walking around and was surprised that other foreigners were very rare.
To the west of the stadium is a village that commemorates the devastating losses of the Chengdu earthquake disaster and access to that area marked by two dramatic totem poles.
I fancied checking out the metro system, so got on the nearest metro line and aimed for the Lama temple stop at Yonghegong. This involved a change from Line 10 to Line 5, but the whole journey only costs 2 Yuan, for any length of jouney....incredibly cheap. The metro is very simple to use, although I was surprised that no compact printed maps are available, only massive city scale ones. So you have to work out what to do with a combination of steps, but very easy to sort out.
Got to the Lama temple, otherwise called Yonghegong, which is only 150metres from the metro station. Entry fee only 25 Yuan and you get a mini-CD with your entry ticket. Have no idea what is on It yet?
This buddhist temple is claimed to be the most renowned Tibetan temple outside of Tibet, and is a real beauty. A number of buildings form the temple complex, but the most impressive part is the 17 metre high buddha statue in the main Waifu temple. You have to strain your neck to see the top of it as it is buried within the building.
I was also interesting to watch the pilgrims' worshipping ritual. Different to comparable places I had previously been to.
Another uncanny thing happened whilst I was there...met another guy who I had got to know on the ferry over from Japan. Now that is two coincidences in the past couple of days....really is a small world!
It started to rain and I had seen enough, so headed back to the metro and picked a route back to the hostel and then walkabout to find something to eat. Plenty of choice although it freaks them out when a foreigner walks in.
Off out to the Opera tonight, so have to get ready for pick-up at 6pm. Thought I had plenty of time and got ready early to find the pick-up driver had arrived early too. So off we went...I had no idea where. We ended up at the Liyuan theatre, which is based at the Qianmen Jianue Hotel. A rather nice place. Sort of made me wonder why I am spending all of my time in hostels, when I should be spoiling myself in this kind of place....then I look at the tarrif and remember why! You don't get a room here for 25 Yuan per night! Just got so used to value for money but might splash out at some stage...?
The show started at 7:30 but allowed in at 6:50 to see them applying their make-up. The theatre is split into two sections, a dining/pricey part in front of the stage and a normal seated section behind it. For pre-show entertainment, a couple of gold embroidered jacket waiters served drinks to diners from long-spouted watering-can type vessels that they did a range of juggling tricks with. Very suave waitresses came around selling drinks and ice ceam. There was a programme available, but whilst superb, was larger than my backpack, so I would have had to carry it for the rest of my time in China. Quite a souvenir though for 30 Yuan.
The show started exactly on time and was a dazzling lavish affair. Brightly coloured outfits and accentuated make-up added to the dramatic movements. This form of opera has a long history and reminded me of the Kathakali danceform that I saw in Kerala province of india, but this was even more bolder. At either side of the stage were display boards that translated the verbal sections, so at least you knew what was going on. The longest section was the final part of the Monkey god defeating 18 warriors....all eighteen....one at a time at first then in different combinations..went on, and on, and on. It was a bit farcical and a few people must have got bored part way though it, as they got up and left. The whole show lasted for an hour and a half, and was well worth seeing for the sheer exuberance and glitz.
After the show, it was nice to come out to the beautiful sound of a really talented female pianist playin in the lobby area. Stayed a while as she was terrific. Then chauffeur awaits to take me back to my hostel. Finished off the evening with a nice meal..was going to have eel as it is one of the common dishes around here, but wasn't in eel mood tonight.

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