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nomadnorrie From Sydney to the formula 1 grand prix in Shanghai, Beijing, South Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and Europe. Final destination by train is London. Hopping on a flight to Finland, then on to Japan and finally back to Sydney.


CHINA | Thursday, 3 January 2008 | Views [2357]

Within the old walled city - the west is red!

Within the old walled city - the west is red!

Trying to organise a place to stay in ShanHaiGuan before buying the train ticket caused a lot of confusion at my hotel. The day before leaving I wanted to book accommodation, that day the only English speaking staff member was not working. Trying to find out the dialing code fully utilised 4 hotel staff for 15 minutes, although 2 were mostly just watching and listening. Thank goodness for the Internet (for anyone needing Chinese dialing codes this website is useful: http://www.china-inc.com/yamei/areacode.htm). An expat that lives here later told me that there is no such thing as a phone book in China, I certainly have never seen one.

From there I went to the train station to buy a cheap (hard seat) ticket. The more expensive (soft seat) tickets are sold by English speaking clerks at the train station. For cheap tickets the ticket office queues in Beijing are mostly outside, and you’d be lucky to find an English-speaking clerk there. It was cold enough for me to do things the Chinese way and leap in at the front; I stood at a window with no one waiting and straight away got served. No doubt some of the hundred or so Chinese people waiting to my left and right were cursing me. While I was being served a couple of guys tried to ease me to the side of the ticket window, with their necks stretched out they leant in to fire off their question. Fortunately the clerk was not so easily distracted, that was a good thing because the strong smell of garlic caused me to lean away slightly. I left with a big smile having bought my first train ticket without using English, although since I couldn’t read it I did wonder if it was right or not.

Incidentally hard seats are not hard, they are just not as luxurious as soft seats, they are also a lot more cramped.

Calligraphy Lesson

Later that day I had an hour of tuition in calligraphy, which would have been great, except that I didn’t get any further than writing the equivalent of the full stop. Actually there is more to calligraphy than you would think. There is the combination of paint + water to worry about, getting the correct amount of paint on the brush and stroking the brush correctly in three dimensions. I'm looking forward to more lessons somewhere else.

Chinese people are often complementary, I asked the teacher how I was writing and he said I was doing really well. The problem is Chinese always say that sort of thing. After hearing two words spoken in Mandarin they say "your mandarin is the best". Or after seeing one character written down they say "you write characters really well". I could have been his worst ever student, when everything is graded A there is simply no way of knowing.


On my way to ShanHaiGuan the train was packed full until the first stop about an hour out of Beijing. Fortunately I had a window seat so I was able to daydream while looking out of the window. The seats are so cramped in the cheap section that until there was more space I was sitting half on top of the heater, slowly roasting my right leg. I’d suggest to anyone with a slightly larger than normal size rear, get a soft seat ticket. When there was more space a few people moved about and I was able to slouch again. Relief. Shortly after we started off a slightly camp looking Chinese guy asked if he could sit next to me. He spoke good English and was talking for a few minutes before he asked why I came to China, is it for romance? I probably overreacted but I told him that I didn’t want to buy anything at all in Chinese. After that he got a free English lesson.

The first thing to say of ShanHaiGuan is that there are some very delightful people there. They are full of smiles and I was often turning my head to see who was shouting hello at me. In ShanHaiGuan staring (at foreigners) is a much more serious pastime for the locals. Typically people stare no matter what they are doing, working on construction sites, riding mopeds or just walking nearby. People walking towards me often turned their head so that they had their eyes on me all the time until we passed, for one guy even that wasn’t enough; he stopped as I passed him. So I stopped too, looked back and we both laughed. Another time a young boy, whose parents were standing behind me, stood by my side and keenly peered round at my face. His mouth was half open and his eyes wide as he peered round at the foreigner. This of course happens in Beijing but it is normally much less frequent and a lot more subtle, I’d actually forgotten about the way Chinese people stare.

Looking up JiaoShan from the entrance gate.

I originally decided to go to ShanHaiGuan to see where the Great Wall of China meets the sea, but it also has an old walled city and a museum that were apparently worth seeing. Sadly a large section of the buildings within the walled city were currently being rebuilt. All of the buildings in the old main street were knocked down and new ones are currently under construction. No doubt there will be an abundance of shops selling the same $2 stuff as other tourist attractions in a few months! The museum was also closed and it grounds are currently in the middle of a construction site.

The newly rebuilt main street, still a construction site in Jan 2008.

The afternoon that I arrived in ShanHaiGuan I climbed JiaoShan, which is the first peak that the Great Wall of China climbs from the east. From the top of JiaoShan it was possible for me to see the wall as it passes to the east of the old walled city and to the coast in the distance. Being winter there few people about but I was feeling rather pleased that I’d managed to escape the hordes of Chinese tourist groups at last. It was perfect weather for climing a hill. The only thing to spoil the view were the factories and an open cast mine to the north or the wall, sadly they were rather close.

The next morning, in the nippy morning air, I had a quick look around the east gate of the old walled city. After that I hopped on a local bus and headed to where the Great Wall of China meets the sea a place known as the dragons head. Instead of paying to enter the classic Chinese style tourist attraction I went around the side and saw all I wanted to from there. I even rode a horse along the beach to the wall although it was a bit unnecessary really, as it is not that far. I did get to have a good chat with the horse owner though. The weather was getting warmer and the salty air was refreshing, as was the view. After a chat with a Chinese guy with wonky black and yellow teeth I headed back to board another overcrowded bus to take me back into town. Then it was just three more buses and a subway ride to get back to my hotel in Beijing.

Me on a horse, with the old dragon behind me.

Tags: Sightseeing



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