Saturday, 11 August 2012

Last Day...

Can't believe that today is the last day of the trip; it's three and a half months since we set off, and here we are, at the opposite edge of the world, wondering where the time has gone. In reality of course, we have done so much in that time and covered so much distance, but we have kept moving forward and in doing so, have lost any sense of placement. It is a really weird feeling, because although we  know we are in China, we could actually be anywhere in the world as the usual reference points that serve as spatial boundaries have changed, and no longer mean much.  Maybe that is because we rode here rather than flew, and absorbed the changes gradually the further we went, thus avoiding the culture shocks that often occur when you fly.


Both of us had travelled extensively before this trip, but this time round, we both feel totally displaced. That's not good or bad but it is very definitely an odd feeling, and it is hard to put distance into perspective as a result. Its a bit like money; spend five hundred quid and it's easy to understand but spend five or fifty grand and it sort of starts to loose meaning as the boundaries start to change.

Anyway, enough of the thinking stuff and back to what we did today on our last day in Beijing. Nadine was a lot better this morning, although not totally recovered, but was well enough to go out, albeit that she was very tired. So we tubed it to Tienanmen Square (we would normally have walked) and went to a nearby market where we found all sorts of interesting toot. Why is it that foreign toot is so much more intriguing than the toot back home, especially as it's all made in China anyway?   So we spent a couple of hours wandering around, being shown all sorts of things we didn't want to buy like knives and suitcases, haggling with stall holders over things that we did, and picking up several small bits and pieces to take back home for people.

Then we wandered back via the city gates to the tube station, where the melon man was doing his thing, the same man tried to sell us the same kite that he has done every day this week – we're not sure if he really doesn't recognise us because we all look the same or he is just pushing his luck. Either way, we didn't buy it because we already have one.

The same people were asleep in the tunnel under the gate, in the shade, just as they were when we passed by earlier in the week. I'm assuming that they have moved in the meantime, but you see so many people asleep in public places, that it's entirely possible that they have stayed put.

We also watched a wedding party arrive as we left the hotel; the car was parked right outside and all done up with flowers. It really struck me how western the bride looked too – white dress, bouquet, hair all done up etc. There was no signs of any Chineseness about any of it - apart from her features and the car rego.  It was clearly quite a posh wedding and I wondered why she'd gone for that look as opposed to something more traditional. It  was the same with the wedding that we accidentally gatecrashed last week in the Legation Quarter; the whole wedding party – bride, groom, guests, cars, flowers, clothes - looked like they belonged in Central London or down town Sydney.

There is clearly a thing here about mirroring western styles in just about everything, but the Chinese are so clever in the way that they go about it. They don't copy but adopt, assimilate and then tweak to fit in with Chinese ways, a sort of imitate and infiltrate approach. And it works because everybody does it - it's not just a big city thing. They seem to have total confidence in themselves as a nation, and they have no qualms about nicking ideas and repackaging them as their own but they do it subtly; western clothes, western haircuts, goods, bands, sports, goods, TV etc – they' re familiar to us on the surface but all have a Chinese touch about them, and it is very impressive.

So now we're back in the hotel, our bags are packed – except for the carry on stuff - we've checked in, got our seats, and we're ready to head back to London. I'm a bit concerned about our additional luggage though – we've paid for one extra check in bag and are allowed one piece of hand luggage each, but there is the small matter of our bike helmets. They are too big to go in the carry on, and I'm not paying for another bag, so it could be that we have to wear them. Watch this space.......

Just a little bit more from this evening...
Raining in Beijing tonight. Ventured out for a some local scoff which was OK but not great, then stopped off to get this guy to put a protective screen on Nads's camera. Bless him; it took about 15 mins, he did a great job and charged us just two quid!!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Oh dear...

Had to replan today because Nadine was unwell. Despite the wet towels and the paracetomol last night, she woke up still feeling crap and so stayed in bed all day, trying to sleep herself better. It sort of worked and she will be OK tomorrow which is just as well as I'll be leaving her here if she's not as tomorrow is the last day of the trip.

I went into the city to get some food, which was interesting as always, Check out these turtles and stuff in the local supermarket. Also bought a large bag to pack our assorted crap into – cost all of two quid - and then managed to stuff most of it into a workable arrangement.

So tomorrow, hopefully, we will have one last trek around Beijing before heading back to London on Sunday morning. The long flight will allow us to write a talk for next weekend and sort the photos to go with it. Neither of us can quite believe that we actually did make it all the way here, on unsuitable bikes, having decided it would be a laugh to try it. I'm not quite sure that had we thought about it properly, instead of just doing it, we would have actually had the bottle to set off. But we did and we had a fabulous time; we've been to some great places, met some great people, got into many scrapes, and what's more we're still talking......

Thursday, 9 August 2012

We did it!!!!

Yep we did – we found something made in the UK. Look at this – a London black cab. OK so it's a left hand drive and the logo is wrong but its def a Hackney carriage....and we don't think it's made in China.......

Went to Peking University today, right on the outskirts of the city. My great uncle taught her back in the 1920s – he was a professor of English. The place was pulled apart following the Cultural Revolution in 1949, but what was left of his stuff and didn't make it back to the UK is still there. Books and papers etc. We didn't see any of that of course but we did have a look around the campus and found another excellent sign in the Library foyer. Of particular interest are points four and seven.

The campus was quite nice, with a big lake in the middle, and old pagoda and some lions. Now can you see what I mean about the Olympic 7 star hotel building being modelled on a dragon's head? 

We came back to the hotel in the late afternoon because I felt rubbish and needed to sleep. We've both had headachy colds and sore throats this week and its finally caught up with us. I recovered by about 1900 hrs so we went out again for a wander.  Spied more funny things while wandering the this woman's great sightseeing shoes, the Chinese road digger, and the monks parading their threads outside McDonalds, as well as some open air welding in the middle of the street. Odd things most definitely goes on in London too but it's a case of not noticing the familiar.

But then Nadine started to feel feverish and unwell , and started radiating heat. So I had to do the nurse thing, make her go to bed, and then sort her out with wet towels and paracetamol; revenge on behalf of all those patients she has tortured over the years with ice packs etc. But it seems to have worked and she is now asleep and snoring very loudly on her side of the room; this is when it's good to be in a hotel and not camping...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

We did absolutely nothing today...

Nothing at all. It was great. Just caught up with sleep, did some jobs and watched the Olympics. And drank gin. No horrible humid heat to deal with, no spitting pedestrians, no tourists. Back to normal tomorrow though as our clothes are now dry. Yahoo.

And we'll be on a mission - to find something that is made in the UK rather than China, just to see if it works the other way round.

Great Wall and then some...

We booked a tour for today because we'd had enough of amusing ourselves and decided that somebody else should work out an itinerary for us. And what a good move that proved to be. For a tenner ( quid) our whole day was sorted , and what a great day it was. And we got lunch.

First up were the Ming Tombs en route to the Great Wall. A collection of 13 tombs of moderate interest but at least they are now ticked off the list. Then a jade factory where the craftspeople were doing their thing and turning out some pretty cool carving. The balls inside balls were especially good, all being carved from one solid block of jade and apparently representing family unity and strength. Or something.

 Then the Great Wall which was just stunning, albeit very touristy. We've all seen the pictures, and heard the rumours about it being visible from space ( it's not) but to see it for real, just  there amongst some hills was pretty incredible. Pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming incredible. It just looms up at you; amazingly steep, with uneven steps that you have to scramble up, more like hauling yourself up a ships' ladder than actually walking up stairs on a large structure. As usual, it was also very hot  with a  scorching fug hanging over the valley, enveloping bits of the Wall and holding in the heat so that even just a few steps raised a drenching sweat  Everybody without exception was soaked and heaving for breath. And not just because they were old and fat.

Visibility from the Wall was poor because of both the fug and the hills, which are actually very close and must have been an ace in the builders' favour when the Wall idea was hatched. It was actually a collection of various attempts in several places over a huge time span. It looks almost impossible to top the ridge upon which its built, yet on every tower, there are downward pointing arrow holes just in case anybody tried. Yet both the Mongols and the Manchus succeeded  The Wall runs for several thousand kilometres but only some bits are restored; much of it is a line of crumbling old rocks and rubble.

Descending the steps was even worse than going up, particularly as people kept just sitting down whenever they got tired. Right in the middle of the path. Not good. But once again, the many tourist orientated signs did not disappoint! Endless amusement at the translators' expense.

WTF Sign - read bottom line!!

Had a good lunch – included in the ticket price, followed by a dash around a silk factory where they insisted on telling us how silk was made. Sometimes the organised tourist thing is welcome, and this was actually quite interesting, and we now know that for every 1kg of silk, 80,000 double cocoons ( double containing a male and a female lava) are needed. Might win some Trivial Pursuit games now. And they make tea out of silk worm poop; strange but true, and no, we didn't try it.

We were starting to flag a bit by now, so it was just as well then that we got taken to an International Cooperation Centre – a Chinese Government run institute for encouraging relations with Tibet, although I'm not quite sure just how much say Tibet got in the cooperation bit. Anyway, this place was a medical centre where we got a foot massage which was superb, and diagnosis by  a Tibetan doctor who was amazing. He did something to Nadine's damaged knee with his open palm – no touching but some weirdo voodoo stuff that made her knee spark and crackle. Both of us were looking around for tricks but there weren't any – just him doing his thing and she said it immediately felt better. Then the foot massage bloke put his hand on my neck – the bit that has been causing me major problems for 18 months and which the NHS has failed to fix despite lots of medicines and bumblesome timewasting. I didn't ask him to, nor did I tell him anything about it, but he went straight to the correct spot, told me what the problem was and then treated it. And like Nadine's knee, it felt better immediately.  Maybe it was physiological, maybe it was a load of old crap, but  something happened and if it helps fix it and stops the pain, then I'll happily believe anything they tell me, especially as the western stuff has most definitely NOT worked.

Stopped by the Olympic Park again on the way back and wandered through assembled Chinese sleeping on park benches, chatting, flying kites and chastising children, just as people do the world over after work. Also discovered that the tall Olympic building that we spotted the other day is now the best hotel in Beijing – 7 stars no less – and is modelled on a dragons head. It took a while but I can see that now – look at the top in profile and then compare it to the stone models that are everywhere, and you'll get it. Possibly.

We washed all of our clothes when we got back – all of them - and then realised we had nothing to go out in. So we had to order room service and stay put. Oh well – we were tired anyway.