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Getting sunburnt in the Forbidden City and climbing the Great Wall

Beijing, China


Well, it was only a matter of time wasn't it? On my first morning in Beijing I foolishly decided against using my top of the range suntan lotion (only one application lasts all day...), and set out for Tianamen Square in shorts and t-shirt. The Chinese seem to be early risers; as despite the fact that I was there by about 8:30, the place was already heaving. And baking hot, with not a cloud in the sky. It seemed at least half the people were wandering around with parasols, and those that weren't were taking shelter underneath anything that gave off the remotest bit of shade - including, pointlessly, lamposts.

The Square itself is massive, but it wasn't quite as imposing as I expected it to be. Perhaps this is because it's actually surrounded by a fairly busy 6 lane road, and the enduring image (certainly for me) is of it as one big block with a few chaps and some tanks in it. Luckily for me, it was tank free, but the road I think makes it seem more like any other Square. Anyway in the middle is the Chinese version of Lenin's mausoleum, but with Mao as the starring centrepiece. The queue for this was massive, and seeing as Mao is on every single piece of paper currency in this country, I didn't need to see him again.

At one end of Tianamen is the Gate to the Forbidden City, with the iconic portrait of Mao in the middle. Unfortunately, some of the buildings in the City itself were surrounded by scaffolding (I guess to make sure everything is perfect for the Olympics), but it was still pretty sweet. I rented out an audio guide, which was absolutely hilarious. It automatically spoke about different areas as you went around (that's not the funny part), but the woman's accent was priceless. On top of this, she'd pause in the middle of sentences and raise and lower her pitch in all the wrong places. (I'll point out now of course that her English is a million times better than my Chinese. But anyway...) The best example:

"In front OF...you, you wiw SEE the ah-Hole of ah-Supweme ah-Harmony." [Hall of Supreme Harmony]
I glance up. There it is. Under scaffolding, but it's there. I move on.
"PWEASE C*NT...."
I pause mid step. Did she just say what i think she said?
"....the ah-number of ST-WAAANGE beasts on the woof. It has more beasts than...any other ah-HOLE, indicating it's importance..."

Anyway, after spending the day wandering around here and the gardens, I had managed a good shade of red. On the way home at dusk, I managed to catch a load of pensioners ballroom dancing to some really loud music in the middle of the street - just outside the Workers' Stadium, and some more a bit further on doing Tie-Chi. Great entertainment.

Ok, so other things I've managed to do in Beijing since I've been here:
- Went around the Hutongs (really small old alleyways around the centre, where they sell weird antiques and strange food)
- Saw the Temple of Heaven in a park a couple of miles South of Beijing (hopefully i'll be able to put the photos from all this on here soon)
- Visited a really famous night market, where food from around China is cooked and sold from small stalls (including everything imaginable on kebab sticks - from insects to baby sharks to Starfish and Seahorses.)
- Had an authentic Beijing Duck (which is carved at the table with the meat presented on little plates. The grand finale is the poor chap's roasted head, split in half, which is stuck on a plate of it's own. I managed to hide this behind some other dishes so I didn't have to see him eyeballing me.)
- Failed in my attempt to get a train ticket to Xian, so booked a flight to Chengdu instead for tomorrow morning. (This is where the Pandas are, and mountains and giant buddhas)



And today - I hiked along the Great Wall of China!! Was amazing even being on it, but the scenery was just as good - rolling mountains as far as you could see. We got dropped off at one point and picked up at another 5 hours later. The walk was actually a lot tougher than I expected - so many stairs! and we all sweated bucketloads in the heat. The worst bit was that after about 1/2 hour of hiking we were accosted and joined by an old Chinese woman, who took a liking to me straight away.
"You are vewy young, vewy young. Beautifuw."
"Err...thanks," and i try to walk a bit faster to get away from her. She keeps pace no problem though. I slow down, she slows down. After 2 hours she asks me if I want to buy a t-shirt.
"Not really, thanks"
"Ok, so you buy later"
"erm. No. No, I don't want a t-shirt "
"maybe later?"
"no thankyou. no t-shirt"
"maybe later," she says and stuffs it back in her bag.
1 hour later she tells me she is now going home and that I should buy her t-shirt.
"But I don't want your t-shirt. I never asked you to come with us"
"Only 50 Yuan"
"No, no thankyou. I don't want a t-shirt." I start walking away, and she bursts into hysterical tears, clawing at my t-shirt.
"Ok, ok. Look I don't want your t-shirt, but i'll give you some money for walking with us."
"you buy t-shirt?!"
"No. But here, have 10 and go home."
She looks stunned. Then very very angry.
"Only 10!! More!! Give more!!"
"No! That's all I can afford right now"
"You small man!! Small man!!"
And with that she sprints off. Not home, but off after the rest of the group who had made some ground on us since our discussion began. For the rest of the journey she ignores me, apart from the occasional glance around combined with "Small man! Smaaaallll man!"

At the end of the walk, we had the opportunity to take a zip-slide across a river down to the youth hostel where we were being collected, which I went down. It was pretty cool.

Right, had best go. Written far too much as usual. Apologies for that. Ollie

permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 18, 2006 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: A man from Cockshutt.
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Hello Ollie!

We read your blog by chance the other day and found it very amusing, and my brother has just informed me that you are his friend. Glad to see anothher blogabond convert. Hope you have a great trip and I will keep track of where you are.

Lots of love Helen Murphy x (Murph of the Smug Adventures)www.blogabond.com/murph

permalink written by  Helen Murphy on August 18, 2006


I'm going to add a comment here too, since in my infinite idiocy i posted the last comment against the wrong date. FOOL.


permalink written by  Keeleway on August 21, 2006


Hi ollie,

Just a quick note to say hi - i'm really enjoying the blog... it nice to see what you are up to. I'm guessing that there must be some creative editing going on as i have not read anything about you getting hopelessly lost yet ;-)

News from home, of no interest to anyone apart from yourself and the rest of the Johnson clan, is that my collar bone is not healing. As a result i am going under the knife on the 7th September to have a steel plate put in - A bit like a very low budget version of the billion dollar man.

Take care mate and keep the posts coming. Ben


permalink written by  Ben Johnson on August 23, 2006


I'm personally a big fan of blogabond blog. Thanks for sharing this post.


permalink written by  Clipping Path on October 29, 2018

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