Beijing was a good ending to China. It meant we didn’t leave on the huge negative hatred we had by the end of Xi’an. Or maybe we’d just got used to the spitting, squatting, staring and shoving by this point. Bad things in China begin with the letter ‘S’. There’s an episode of Sesame Street they never aired.
We started out, as I’m sure most tourists do, with Tiananmen Square. However, with two Metro lines to choose from (Tiananmen East and Tiananmen West) we were spoilt for choice.
“It must be a really big square if it needs TWO Metro stops,” I said to Ashley, quite excited.
“It’s the biggest in the world I think,” came the reply.
We arise from the ground to be greeted by a recognisable red building to the right of us with Mao framed nice and big in the middle…and a road to the left.
“Well, that doesn’t really count as the biggest square in the world. There’s a road going through it. I feel conned again,” I said, slightly disappointed.
After the mandatory photos of the big red Mao building, we headed back through the underpass to cross the road.
“Oh, ok. This is the square. I’ll let them off.”
We’d got out the wrong side of the road to appreciate the vastness of the square. Blocked by two rather large screens showing the beautiful sights of China on a loop, yes, but vast all the same.
Not quite sure how to get through to the Forbidden City without paying to visit a garden, we headed in the other direction and found ourselves in a modern looking, conveniently located tourist street. It didn’t take long to put the ‘2008’ date on the drains, artificial flowers and still fully stocked Olympic shop together and figure out that this street must have been built in time for the Olympics. It was like Disneyland. Until you notice a depressed sheep sat head in hands against a wall. Very odd.
By the time we left fakeville and reached the Forbidden City (through a garden we had to pay for) there was only an hour until closing time. And a homeless woman was having a breakdown. So we decided to do it another day. We did however, have time to go into a park behind the Forbidden City that gives the most amazing (but misty) view of the Forbidden City if you climb to a spot where an Emperor once hung himself. A bizarre sentence, yes, it may seem.
And so, as day two arrived in Beijing, it was time to hit the Wall. The Great Wall. One of the Seven Wonders of The World. A day to remember. It snowed a little. Doesn’t get much better!
And it was really cold. Really, really, really cold. But it was snowing! How could we not go to the Wall the day it snowed?! Imagine the beautiful photos! It’s higher up there, there’s got to be more snow! So we carried on regardless. There was no more snow.
The two main ways to see the Wall are tour or public bus. As the public bus cost a 10th of the price of the cheapest tour, we opted for public bus. We had a Metro station, and instructions to walk 500m east to the bus stop when we get there. However, east (or in fact north, south or west) is difficult to determine when you haven’t got a compass. Thankfully, a very nice man helped us out and pointed us in the right direction. Our new instruction was “second on the left”.
Before we reached “second on the left”, we found a sign pinned to a tree saying “919”, four Westerners and a man in uniform.
“Badaling? Badaling?” said the official man.
“Yes, yes. Badaling from here?”
“Yes, yes.” He spoke very little English. To make this easier, I’ve put the conversation in English.
“Ok. How much is it?”
“55 Yuan per person, per way.”
“55? I read 12!”
Hmm. Something didn’t add up. So us and the other 4 Westerners worked as a team and found another bus stop further down – this time, the “919” was a sticker on a tree! Is that better than pinned to a tree?…
The same thing happened, only this guy wasn’t so sneaky,
“Yes, 55 each way. But with one, two, three in car, taxi, 400 Yuan.”
“Ahh, no, it’s ok, we’ll take the bus.”
Eventually, we found it. A bus stop specifically for 919 buses, full of 919 buses. At least 6 of them. Go team!
Our team of taxi tout avoiders had somewhat dispersed in the crowd but somehow me, Ashley and an American, Matthew, had managed to stay together. Matthew was a lovely bloke. He was also black – a rarity in Asia – as was proved when we arrived at the Wall for him to be met by two in-awe Chinese asking for photos with him. Good job he’s a good sport.
We weren’t sure when to stop walking the Wall. I mean, we didn’t want to end up out in the sticks, but thankfully our worries were put to rest by a huge sign in a square block of the Wall that read “NO VISITOR”.
We did it. We went as far as we could – I guess you could say we walked the Wall?…
We left the Wall feeling pretty good, if not slightly cold, which is more than can be said for when we left Beijing Zoo the next day. At least 50% of the animals caged were more intelligent than at least 50% of the visitors. Banging on the glass – including the gorilla enclosure, letting kids shout really loudly through the wires and feeding crisps to the zebras. By the time we got to crisp/zebra girl, we’d had enough of “subtly” saying, “Oh, there’s a sign there – what dos it say? Oh, don’t bang? Oh ok then – I won’t bang the glass!”
Ashley approached crisp/zebra girl after we’d watched her for too long.
“Hey, hello, excuse me. Come here,” he ushered her towards the signboard. She looked stupidly and didn’t move. I joined Ashley, “Come, follow.” She still didn’t move.
“The sign says no feeding. Don’t feed them,” Ashley pointed to the crisps, “They’re wild animals. They can’t eat crisps.”
“Ahh, I know. I know.” Wow, she speaks.
We then proceeded to sit behind her for about 10 minutes. She knew we were there and didn’t feed them…until we eventually had to walk off.
Despite stressing out at the zoo and getting a tad cold, we had a pretty good time in Beijing. The Wall was more impressive than the Warriors and I think the Olympics must have worked wonders for upgrading the city here and there. That said, we were very much looking forward to getting out of China and into Japan.