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Memories will be made of this.....

Anyone For Duck??!

CHINA | Tuesday, 20 September 2005 | Views [457]

Well - its been a long time, but i'm finally getting back in touch with the many people i've met along the years and have kept far too infrequent contact with.....that obviously means that i'm up to something less mundane than sitting behind a desk and yes, indeed i am.  I'm currently on a bit of a whistle-stop journey around China. I'm only away for about 4 weeks, but after a week it already seems as though i've been here for ages and work is a distant memory.
So i arrived in Beijing to a rather murky, smoggy city with my bags stuck either in London or Vienna?  The troubles that seem to follow my first night on any trip returned again....and this time i had to attempt to converse in Chinese to explain that yes i did have somewhere booked, but i wasn't too sure where it was - great start!!  Eventually, i realised that in order for them to one day deliver my backpacks (and all my clothes) i'd better check where i was staying.  A bus ride into the town revealed a city that is in the process of mass construction (on the sort of scale that i've never seen before) - everything is being changed in order for the 2008 Olympics and the buildings are immense and make you feel so small here.  My hostel that i was staying in was in the Hutong area of the city - which means the poor part where the people are all living in quite bad conditions.  However, this is the part of the city that has a major charm to it - the streets are bustling with activity all throughout the day and night and you eat the fmaous Peking Duck (not crispy and aromatic like back home) on the streets with cars driving past your ankles.  The really disappointing thing is that the Hutongs are all being knocked down for the Olympics and they seem to be replacing them with a Chinatown that you could see in London, San Francisco, Melbourne, Singapore etc...The thing you just can never get away from is that everybody spits the whole time - i'm surprised there's not swimming pools made of spit here!
Within a couple of days, i got my backpack back and could finally have a nice change of clothes - i'd don't think i've ever been so glad to have a change of clothes!  I spent a day wandering around the town and visiting the Forbidden City (an area by Tiananmen Square) which is dedicated to Mao.  After seeing so many temples over the years, it seemed to get lost on me the importance of this, but still was impressive all the same.  Tiananmen Square (which is the largest square in the world) is absolutely massive, but you can't go through it without at least 5 students trying to get you to go and see their art exhibition 'just around the corner'....a trick that is used the world over but with a slightly different emphasis in Beijing.  I hired a bike one day, which everyone thought i was mad for doing, as the drivers were as crazy as in all the other South East Asian countries, but it was good fun!  There are lots of stories from my time in Beijing which are either too long or too rude to talk about in this e-mail (including me getting the strangest marriage proposal of my life!), but i'm sure they'll come out at some point when i see everyone!
I spent a day trekking the Great Wall of China - and it was absolutely wonderful.  Despite the weather conditions being particularly poor (it was raining for nearly all of the day) and the Kodak moment being very hard to achieve it was great.  Parts of the wall have been fully restored and these were very easy to walk, but the ascents and descents at times were very hard and i wasn't completely prepared for them!!  However, it was amazing and despite lots of Mongolians trying to sell you T-shirts, postcards, water etc. etc. this didn't put a dampener on it at all.
A lot of the time in Beijing was spent drinking (at about 16 pence for 600ml) and after spending a bit of time with some students in Leeds, a group of 17 Morris dancers who were doing a tour of China, a couple from London (Neil and Ead - a policeman from the Met and a restaraunteur) stumbled across me during a drunken stupour and had just started on their round the world trip.  They'd been in China for nearly 2 weeks and were spending every night getting quite drunk and wondering how they were still there.  I decided that i should take them under my wing and get them to see a bit of the place before their visas come out!  So after some persuasion, i got them to get on a train with me to Xian and after an overnight train (of ridiculously high comfort in comparison to the Thai trains), we arrived.
The only real reason to visit Xian is to see the Terracotta Army of Soldiers (which the Chinese like to describe as the Eighth wonder of the world....whether this is official or not i'm not sure).  Unbelievably, it was only discovered in 1974 whilst locals were digging wells.  The terracotta soldiers are absolutely stunning.  The history of them relates to over 2000 years ago and the story goes that it took about 85,000 people 70 years to create them to celebrate their leader of the time.  However, the following dynasty destroyed the soldiers (as is customary for people to destroy things created by people before them) and they lay undiscovered for over 2000 years.  There are now over 7000 that have been fully restored (soldiers and horses) and it is a wonderful site.
Upon returning to the hostel that evening, we were ushered off of our bus and straight onto a basketball court where we were told that the hostel had arranged a basketball game against the University of Xian's teachers. When we got to the court, we suddenly realised that this was a bit more serious than we first had thought and there was a crowd of about 100 people who had turned out to watch it as well as 2 photographers from the regions newspapers!!  Now, there were only 2 Americans there who had to try and teach us very quickly how to play the game...obviously they thought my height would be to some advantage.  However, during the first quarter i was thinking about just curling up like a ball and passing out....obviously i had to play up to the crowd and played the fool quite well (just for a change!).  I thought my most significant contribution was to start the cheerleading (of which the Chinese people eventually got the hang of!).  It was only in the last quarter that i got the gist of the game, and by some sort of fluke managed to score a three-pointer with the last play of the game to win 27-26 and get the Man of the Match award.  We were all presented with Panda teddy bears and then they had a party for us with free beer all night - bonus!!
On my last day in Xian i went with Neil and Ead on a bike trip around the walls of Xian (a 10km bumpy ride) and you got to see the city from the elevated walls which was good fun and very painful on the posterior! Then it was time for another train ride to Chengdu (18 hours, but this time a slightly older and more rickety train).  At Xian train station i encountered my first real staring session where everybody was sitting there looking at us and spitting in our general direction the whole time. We will be here for a few days before moving on again - at the moment Neil and Ead are trying to convince me to tour them around Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and not go home and work!!
The three most noticeable things of China so far have been the spitting and that there is so much construction it's unbelievable and you can see the tangible changes everyday - its not like back home where they need a cup of tea before they will start and then a cup of tea after 10 minutes....everything is so efficient!  What has been very nice is that it feels so much safer in China compared to most of the other countries i've visited and i don't need to worry about where my wallet is at all times, because it seems that it just gets returned to you...something i'm not used to on these trips!
I know for the people that have had updates in the past this may seem very short, but i've got a very mad Israeli guy behind me breathing at me and looking quite angry (why is is always those Israelis!!).
Anyway, must dash - i'm off to the Opera tonight!!
PS - Top 5 IPod Songs of the last week:
A Certain Romance - Arctic Monkeys
Shanghai - Ed Harcourt
Don't Look Back Into The Sun - The Libertines
Politix - Coldplay
Asleep in the Back - Elbow

Tags: I should have known better!

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