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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Raging in Beijing

CHINA | Sunday, 23 May 2010 | Views [480]

Arriving in China was a shock to our systems in many ways. No more combinis, no maps at every corner and impoliteness ruling the day.

We were  so tied up in stretching our final days in Japan that we forgot to write down ANY useful information - no hotel name or address, no phone numbers - needed for Chinese immigration as well as finding the hotel. SMS rescued us about 1hr before we docked.

The journey itself was a real experience. We had a private cabin and there was plenty of space to relax outside or in the galley. The loudspeaker gave instructions on when to get up, when to sleep and when to eat in three languages - "A new day is beginning!  On behalf of the captain and crew please allow me to wish you a good day.  It is believed that a healthy breakfast is the best start to a nice day".

The 'karaoke' on the fist night was a nix of hi-di-hi entertainment from the staff of mixed musical abilities, joined by the older Chinese who played traditional instruments, sang, danced and had a wail of a time. There were many families on board, potentially Japanese-Chinese, often three generations and a tangible feeling of celebration.  Everyone got flowers presented by precocious little brats.

Before we knew it, we were in Tianjin! The taxi wanted to overcharge us to get to the train station so we joined a motley crew of 'lone' travellers, led by two Chinese speakers. Two squashed bus rides, much negotiation and two hours later, we were on the new superfast train to Beijing.

The stay was as much about seeing family as sight seeing. My brother (Chris) and his partner (Mel) live there. My sister (Bridget) was visiting.  I was very dizzy by the time we sat down to hot pot with them, more dizzy after the Bai Xiao toasts and still rocking with the boat when we finally got to bed.  No rest for those with only 3 days in Beijing as washing, post and money needed sorting out before a trip to the Great Wall.

Chris took us to a beautiful section of the wall, it was a few hours away and we didn't have time to do the 4-hr walk, but that didn't matter. It is still incredible to think how far the wall stretches and how much blood and sweat must have gone into building it. Though a lesson for secuity strategists everywhere - any massive wall is easily breached by bribing the guard...

More meal servings and booze that did little for our efforts to lose those fried chicken pounds, and a few hours sleep before Emma and I got up early to visit Mao. Despite the sign, you do not need your passport to get in (so no need to trek back to the hotel to pick them up and re-queue!) The whole experience was interesting, much quicker than many of the 4hr queue horror stories we'd heard.  Whether it's the Helmsman himself or just a wax statue, it's hard to know.  The Chinese take it very seriously indeed, all the shoving and pissing in bins stops and the atmosphere is properly reverential.  It's really something to see an icon, even if you don't agree with all the good he did.  For Oli it was the standout thing for China, especailly since the whole thing takes place in the maginficence of Tianmenen Square, a monument to a Communism thrown away like all the remnants of the plastic consumer culture replacing it.

Bridget joined us for the seemingly never ending wonders of the Imperial Palace,
Evening lead to more food, more booze (Chris's live night) and yet another hung over departure.  After a brief panic over provisions, we settled down in our bunks and got ready for the 2475km, 25hr journey to Hong Kong.


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