Tuesday morning (3rd) we arrived in Beijing at around 7:30. First impressions just off the train and trying to get out of the station was chaos rules. It was a bit of a culture shock, in Japan things are so ordered even though there are so many people, in Beijing (more so than Shanghai) it is just chaos. Messy, crowded, pushing and shoving, both of us felt that perhaps we would not be so fond of China.
Wrapping the duck in a crepe... done with chopsticks
After a very long and disordered cab line we finally got to our hostel around 10:00ish and were able to check-in, which was very handy. After a quick bag drop we headed out and decided to first hit the Forbidden City. Along the way we were approached separately by two very nice young Chinese guys who were chatting to us in English, but eventually let out that they were 'art students' and would like us to see their gallery. We had already read that it was a common scam to get foreigners to pay very inflated prices for mass produced art work so had no intention of buying but went along with the charade for one of them (as his 'exhibition' was right near the Forbidden City) and turned him down. After escaping the scammers we made it to the Forbidden City, and unfortunately the best way to describe it was underwhelming. Perhaps more accurately it was the crowds that were overwhelming and was similar to our experience at the station: busy, pushy and chaotic - which makes sense of course as we were visiting in peak time. With so many people it is hard to see let alone imagine the magic of the surrounds. By this time both of us were thinking, what have we got ourselves in for?!
All was not lost however, as we did however have a highlight for the day - our first authentic Peking Duck for dinner. Delicious!
Mr Lee's - Chinese fast food where we had breakfast, it was right near out hostel
Inside the forbidden city, OK so we could still manage a smile, it wasn't that bad
Stunning little spots like this are all over the forbidden city, if only there wasn't 3000 people in the same spot.
Wednesday morning (4th) was pouring, but the timing was actually pretty good as we had arranged to go to see our fantastically helpful tour agent who had arranged our Trans-Mongolian/Siberian train tickets and accommodation to finalise everything. Afterwards we decided to visit the close by Yashow markets, which is a multi level clothing (and other miscellaneous goods) markets in true Chinese style (a.k.a ripoffs). Although we didn't think we needed to get much we had a great time bartering with the store ladies and ended up coming back with a small bounty. The purchase of the day went to Joss who got a Ralph Lauren branded jumper for 50yuan (approx $8), down from the 380 starting price! It helped that she didn't want the jumper that much to begin with. We had so much fun we vowed to return to get any final supplies.
After returning to Bejiing from a Great Wall tour at 7pm (separate blog),
we got ourselves ready and met up with Ben, a friend who we had earlier met in Hakuba in Japan. He also happened to be in Beijing at the same time! We explored the lake Houhai area, which was great with loads of karaoke and music bars lining the shores of the lake - a bit cheesy but fun none the less.
At lake Houhai
Friday (6th) was our final day, and after getting a few things organised we headed again to Yashow markets for some more bargaining and fun (PM: I think I appropriated some stolen Bose headphones for a very reasonable price). Afterwards we went to Tian'men square to watch the sun set and flag lowering ceremony. The flag is lowered to coincide with the time that the sun sets over the city gates at Tian'men and a crack squad of PLA troops goose walk out in a very theatrical performance. There were loads of people there and it was actually a really exciting experience, especially waiting with a Chinese family of 4 children for over an hour squashed at the font waiting for the big moment. After the flag ceremony we went for our final meal - more Peking Duck!
After a shaky start (culture shock) to Beijing the rest of time was fantastic, we can't wait to return and are already coming up with potential holidays we could fit around it.
Waiting for the proceedings, the little girl in the picture was staring at Joss the whole time. We think they must have been a country family, 1 because of their looks, and 2 because there were 4 children!
The regular troops getting in position to guard the proceedings
The flag reaching the bottom of it's descension.
The chef in the background preparing our half duck, and Paul looking goofy.
Joss' last Peking duck