Nanjing

Nanjing
Nanjing, China

Nanjing, China


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Wild Goose chase and peaceful mosque

Wild Goose chase and peaceful mosque
Xi'an, China

Xi’an, China


We had a day in Xi’an before heading to Nanjing. Xi’an is a large modern city of 6.75m people but it feel like the provinial capital it is. The old city walls are vast and help define both the boundaries but also the character. Xi’an isn’t beautiful but is large by almost any European standards. Traffic flows pretty smoothly and it is booming like the rest of China with road construction everywhere. The city walls would be best seen at night when the red lanterns are lit along its 13km length. But on a hot, sweaty day in May they weren’t bad either. Then onto the Wild Goose Pagoda, the bigger one I believe. Lacking in architercural or more importantly spititual feeling. I’d skip this if you are presed for time or have been to any other Buddhist temple in Asia. Instead head for the Mosque in the Muslim quarter by the bell tower, it ouses peace, calm and tranqulity. The little lanes off the Mosque are full of people selling a wide range of tourist tat and some rip-off antiques. But the prices are so breath-takingly low and the vendors so friendly you don’t mind haggling for a few minutes over a 2 Yuan (20cent)fake sandlewood bookmark. Good news for pee-pee boy fans, they can be found here together with Mao caps, 6 week old medieval coins and the Little Red Book in a range of Europeam languahes.


Dyed green chicks and teracotta

Dyed green chicks and teracotta
Xi'an, China

Xi’an, China


Spent May 6th gettimg from Beijing to Xi’an on China Eastern. Definately worth considering if making the flight to Xi’an. New Airbus, very smiley staff. Luggage arrived in reasonable shape we lost a handle and a couple of the others lost padlocks but not a bad result. Our guide gave me the best quote of the holiday, “What do you think the terracotta army if made of?” That had me stumped, herrings? Lego? old Asda carrier bags? what about terracotta or would that be too simple? On Monday 7th we headed off for a the Terracotta Army via a museum that makes replicas. In a hedge we spotted a green chick, Elly was convinnced it was a rare, fat and fluffy budgie, I was sure some unscrupulous locals had spray painted it for the tourists. The Terracotta Army complex is vast and excellently laid out by any international standards. The tourist authorities in India should get over here to see what preservation is really all about. Were the warriors as I expected, yes but none the less very impressive. The farmer Mr Yung, who found them in 1974, was there (I’m sure they’re lots of Mr Yungs who work in shifts but everyone seemed very excited. It was a bit like seeing Lord Canarvon at Tutankhamun’s tomb. The irony was he was trying to prevent photos being taken. His sense of intellectual property rights isn’t shared by DVD copying compatriots. Getting back to the transport meant walkthing the gauntlet of figurine sellers, kite sellers and pashmina sellers. Sadly the pee-pee boys were absent, I know I should have bought one of the Wall. After the warriors off to some godforsaken neolithic village at Banpo. Elly and I opted out and sat in the sun while the others went to stare into a hole. As the Insight Guide says “Not worth a visit unless you are a very keen archaeologist”. As Elly and I aren’t this seemed like the right decision. Then back for a well earned shower. We were staying at the Shangri-La Golden Flower hotel. High recommended with huge rooms and efficient faultless service. The breakfast is particularly good and the Margarita’s at 60 Yuan ($6) hit the spot after a a day in 34/92 degree temperatures.


Ming tombs, sacred walks and the Wall

Ming tombs, sacred walks and the Wall
Beijing, China

Beijing, China


Off for an hour’s drive North East to the Ming Tombs. A great deal less crowded. Maybe the rest of Beijing decided to go to the Summer Palace again as it was a sunny day. Hooray, personal space! The tombs are one of the few exhibits we’ve seen so far that you can actually go inside. Elly fell in love with a jacket called the coat of 1000 children. We sat under Cypress trees watching the birds build nests in the eaves of a pagoda having a cool water. Then onto the Sacred Way a kilometre long avenue lined with Ming statues. We were the only ones here – bliss, solitude. The group was happy and very relaxed at this point. Bright sunshine and not even a single hawker offering you Olympic hats 2 for 10 Yuan ($1)or a pop art Mao T-shirt. We got to Bandaling at about 3.30. You have two choices at the Wall, to turn North and aim for a plaque commemorating Chairman Mao’s exaltation that “you weren’t a true hero of China until you had climbed the Great Wall” or go South. Have a guess which way we all went. 70,000 Chinese patriots heading North and 20 Europeans going South. The Wall is simply extraordinary. It feels like perpetual motion; you struggle up to a watch tower convinced you’ve reached a high point only to see the thing snake away up to another peak. It’s slightly addictive as you pant up another insanely steep incline and swear this is your last watch tower only to look at each other and say “OK the next is definately the last” They sell some wierd souveniers on the wall. I can understand the ‘I’ve climbed the Wall’ T-shirts but not the need in 35 degree temperatures to buy a Pashmina shawl or a pee-pee boy. (A Chinese version of the famous Belgian fountain ststue). I remember saying to Elly half way up that what I really fancied wasn’t a cold beer but a plastic figurine of a Chinese boy having a pee – luckily they had hundreds. Staggered down the wall and then the best beer in decades. Rounded the day off with dinner at the hotel with free and unlimited Sushi (amongst the stir fry).


Tai Chi, Summer Palace and the opera

Tai Chi, Summer Palace and the opera
Beijing, China

Beijing, China


Started the day at the Temple of Heaven about a mile south of Tianamen Square. It’s worth a visit as in the morning you’ll see a host of locals doing their own thing; Tai Chi, group singing, ballroom dancing or walking their caged birds or playing checkers. Elly and I skipped the temple and hung out with the folks in the park. Elly tried her hand at Tai Chi Ball which is a bit like trying to keep a ball stationary on a tennis racquet as you perform a number of Tai Chi moves. Harder than it looks but she did pretty well. The ballroom dancing classes were fabulous with young and old waltzing to some very distorted classical Chinese music. We had lunch on the way to the Summer Palce at a Szechuan resturant favoured by Deng Xiaoping. Even Ted Heath had a meal with the old reformer here. Note respectful entry concerning former Chinese leader and fathers of modernisation. The Summer Palace was dreadful. I’m sure it would be gorgious on a spring morning when 300,000 people didn’t have a similar idea. In short it could be beautiful but as all Elly and I saw was the backs of young Chinese holidays makers so I have no idea. For dinner we went to the Beijing Opera. What can I say? The singing was hilarious (high pitched, screeching, incomprehensible) but then Wagner isn’t so different. Quite fun as Elly and I were in juvanile hysterics at the subtitles. The English was eccletic. So first impressions of Beijing? Very modern, buzzing with the count down to the Olympics, clean, affluent and confident. I’d love to come back and spend some time looking beneith the surface. This vast, massively populated city has a real buzz.


Workers of the world unite, it’s your day off

Workers of the world unite, it's your day off
Beijing, China

Beijing, China


Off at 8.30 for Tianamen Square. Fractionally less people but as a tip never visit China in the first week of May. Everyone is on holiday and they all want to visit the Forbidden City The Forbidden City was stunning except for the heat and the crowds. Yesterday they had 435,000 visitors, today more. Also much of it was being refurbished for the Olympics which wasn’t too good. After a quick lunch off to do a tour of the Hutongs – a bit sanitised but worth the detour as they say in the Michelin guide. Then for some reason onto Madame Sun Yat Sen’s garden. Don’t bother unless you have a very low bordom threshold. Very dull. Then with aching limbs off to the bell tower and a cup of jasmine tea. The tea being far more interesting than the tower. These organised tours tend to favour quantity over quality and I would have been happier spending the afternoon wandering the back streets with a camera. But I can not stress enough do NOT visit Beijing between 1st-7th May as the number of domestic tourists is simply staggering.


First impressions of Beijing

First impressions of Beijing
Beijing, China

Beijing, China


Heathrow was pretty painless but BA seem to be on another of their mad cost cutting regimes. Their latest is measuring carry on bags. I was carrying a backpack but was some how exluded. A good 10 hour flight to Beijing and then we met up with our fellow tour members. Not a bad bunch but it’s early days. Staying at the Nikko New Century Hotel. Not a bad 4* hotel in the business district. It’s the May Day holiday here so traffic is blissfully quiet. Well relatively blissfully quiet. While Elly had a nap I decided to head off to Tianamen Square. It was heaving. Hard to estimate numbers but must be over 100,000 and all photographing their families in front of the Great Hall of the People or the Mao painting at the Forbidden City. Then headed back to buy some cheap water from the local Carrefour. An insane experience but wonderful. It was a supermarket but not like we know it Jim. Cheap but an amazing range of products. Colgate or pork intestine, wood mushrooms or live eels. Then back for a well overdue sleep.