A Travellerspoint blog

Day 124 - Blogging, Hutong Exploration & Feasting

Hey all!

So the time has came for me to get up to date with my blog again. I've had a busy few days of sightseeing, walking about, eating and sleeping which has meant that blogging time has been non-existant, but if you continue reading I will bring you up to date with what I've been upto.

Today started with a trip to a nice bakery which is close to my hostel and which has a whole host of nice sandwiches and cakes for sale at around 40p each. Some of the combinations can be a bit strange, like sweet toppings with bacon and cheese but I've been trying a different couple of things each day and I am yet to pick something that I couldn't eat.

I then decided to get up to date with my blog as I hadn't posted in three days (deja vu!) and it took me about six hours as I had taken hundreds of photos which I had to go through and pick out the best ones from to upload, then put captions on them once they had uploaded. I do enjoy blogging however and it'll be great to have a record of my escapades one I return home (plus it's good to have a rest from walking around every once in a while) so it's all good.

Once I had finished blogging I went for a walk down the most well known hutong in Beijing which was teeming with people selling fruit, clothes, lots of different types of birds etc. Some of the hutongs are now protected from development as the Government realised it shouldn't have destroyed so many of them in order to make way for more modern housing in the years gone by and so they have granted listed status to the most famous of them, however the majority of them will still probably be demolished eventually. It's sad really as whole communities will be displaced and a lot of Beijing's history and character will be lost, all in the name of 'modernisation'.

Once I returned from my walk it was time for dinner so I went out with Jeff, Roy and her two friends. We went to a nice restaurant and ate heaps of beautifully tasty food until we were all full to bursting, (and which only cost £6 each with a beer!) then me & Jeff went back to the hutong I had visited earlier and had a couple of beers surrounded by other foreigners in a Western style bar. Afterwards I returned to my hostel and after a failed attempt at Skype-ing my parents I went to bed.

Bye for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 20:24 Comments (0)

Day 123 - Injections, Summer Palaces & Eeyore Pancakes

Why hello there!

I had a really good night’s sleep last night and awoke feeling good. As I had my injections a week ago, today it was sadly time for me to get my second Hepatitis B jab, so I spent a while searching on the net for clinics that had English speaking staff. I rang a couple and was quoted around 1600RMB for the one jab (over £170) but I then rang a smaller clinic and was told it would be 700RMB total so after checking with their pharmacist that it was the same brand vaccine as my first shot had been, I got put back through to reception and asked to book an appointment.

I’m unsure as to what had changed in the five minutes since I last spoke to someone on reception but I was then quoted prices of 1200 & 1700RMB and it took me ten minutes of bargaining with them until they would agree to honour the original price, albeit with an extra 108RMB administration fee added on which they had ‘forgotten’ to tell me about earlier. Chris had mentioned wanting to visit a shopping mall to get clothes for the next leg of his journey and the clinic was in a mall so we both decided to go there and then on to the Summer Palace afterwards.

The subway journey there was as smooth as my one the day before but the mall took some finding. I filled in some forms at the clinic (which was super modern and had other Westerners in so I wasn’t worried) then I went in a room and spoke with an American doctor for a minute or so before the nurse came in to “Stab me.” (as the doctor put it) I checked the vaccine before the nurse administered it and it looked legit and was in date, and everything was in sterile packaging so it was all good. I didn’t even feel it going in and twenty minutes later I was free to go. The nurse was a bit puzzled as to why I was having another shot a week after the first one and she still didn’t understand after I’d tried explaining the super accelerated schedule that I was doing but as she had already injected me with it, it was a little too late for questions.

Once I got out we left in search of the mall and after walking around in circles for about an hour we finally found it and Chris got his stuff then we headed off across town on the subway to the Summer Palace. Our destination was fourteen stops and two line changes away but it only took about half an hour which says something for Chinese efficiency! Once we arrived at the Summer Palace we went to a small restaurant for some lunch and chatted to a couple of German girls who were sat at the same table, then we paid and headed in to the palace grounds.

We spent a few hours walking around and the buildings were similar in their construction to the ones at the Forbidden City (which would make sense considering they’re roughly of the same age) but the views of Beijing city that we got across the water were amazing and in a whole other league! On one side you could see whole swathes of undeveloped land covered in trees, misty (well, smoggy) hilltops with towers on stretching off into the distance and in stark contrast on the other side, there was the great city of metal and glass skyscrapers that is Beijing.

We wandered around for a couple of hours and took lots of photos (go check them out!), met lots of people who wanted their daughters to have photos taken with us (with the shades I think we must have looked like film stars – Brad Pitt and Arnold Schwarzenegger possibly? haha), had a beer on the walk around (quick fact – in China there’s no minimum legal age for drinking or smoking, nor is it illegal to either drink or be drunk in public) and eventually made our way back to the front gate. We headed back to the hostel as Chris had a train to Xi’an later that evening, so I grabbed a beer and sat in the hostel with Jeff and Roy and relaxed for a while.

Now although Roy is a male name in England, the Roy we were sat with is actually a Chinese girl who adopted the name when she was young by picking random letters that she liked from the English alphabet. She and Jeff were off out for food so I joined them, confident in the fact that having a native Mandarin speaker with us we wouldn’t have a repeat of last night’s entrails episode.

We went to a restaurant that she knew of from her home town and after looking through the menu we chose a tuna fish and Roy chose what would be with it and all of the side dishes. (tomato with sugar, cucumber with salt and a fried egg and onions combo – all very nice!) The tuna was a 1.5Kg fish which was brought out to us alive and flipping in a big net. We gave the ok to the waitress and fifteen minutes later the fish was brought back to us in a big pan with a lid, nicely arranged on a bed of vegetables with a sauce in and we chatted for a while as it cooked away in front of us on the stove in the middle of the table. After a while the waitress came back and stirred it all around, added lots of a thick sauce and some tofu, gave it another stir then left it to cook some more. A while later it was ready and we all got stuck in.

Eating with chopsticks was quite a novel experience once I got the hang of it and the food was so tasty and tender. The fish was lovely and there were vegetables in the pan that I had never seen before but which tasted very nice, and by the time we had finished everything me and Jeff were full but Roy was still hungry. We paid and went for a walk down a few hutongs which were very busy with people, bikes and cars all going down them, people getting their hair cut in barbers shops, people drinking, gambling and eating barbequed food in small smoky restaurants and shop owners sat in tiny shops waiting for people to come in.

Roy said that we had to try the food from one restaurant and from the outside it was little more than two tables with plastic sheeting over the door and there was no-one inside so I wouldn’t have chose to eat here personally but Roy treated us to the food and came out five minutes later with two plastic bags containing a bright red meat with chilies and onions wrapped in a pancake. On asking Roy what the mystery meat was she took great pride in saying that it was donkey and that it tastes very good. I decided to give it a go and whilst it was mainly cold with luke warm bits in, it actually tasted quite good so I polished it off and we grabbed a beer to drink whilst walking back to the hostel. On the way back I popped in a shop and picked up a bottle of rice wine (although I didn’t know that’s what it was as the bottle label was in Chinese symbols) which is 46% ABV and which cost 3RMB (33p) for a 10Cl bottle.

By the time we got back I was very tired and full of donkey meat and beer so I tried to make a start on my blog but after trying a capful of the rice wine (which tastes like a cross between white wine and vodka –nice but only in very small doses) I gave up and went to bed.

Wow, that was one long blog posting episode! If you're still awake then well done and off you go to look at the 2-300 photos that I've taken over the past couple of days :)

Au revoir!

Posted by UKtoCA 01:07 Comments (0)

Day 122 - Forbidden Cities, Sky Temples & Panoramic Views

Hey all!

After a pretty good night’s sleep I awoke for my first full day in China feeling good and so I decided to head out to the Forbidden City. I set off to the subway station which only took about five minutes and on my way I stopped and explored the hutong in which the hostel is located. Hutongs are whole communities that exist in connected sets of alleyways. There are shops, restaurants, houses, toilets, police stations, etc in the hutongs and it’s really interesting walking down them at night as that’s when they really come alive.

I reached the subway station and the first thing that struck me after walking down the hutong is how modern the subway system is. The system in Beijing is vast but inexpensive (2 yuan for any single journey – 25p) and it’s clean, fast and efficient. Before getting on you have any bags x-rayed, then make your way down to board the train. I just missed the first train but another one arrived no more than five minutes later and after squeezing myself into the carriage (if you’re going to use public transport in China then you need to forget any ideas that you may have of ‘personal space’ as it simply doesn’t exist) we were off! A short while later it was announced in impeccable BBC style English that we were arriving at the stop that I wanted so off I got and I made my way over to the Forbidden City entrance.

Now considering it was a weekday and not a Chinese holiday I was surprised at the sheer number of Chinese people that were there but the crowds didn’t detract from the overall experience and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. I went up onto the wall of the front gate and got a good view of Tiananmen Square, then I slowly made my way North through pretty much the whole of the Forbidden City which is a huge place!
I saw walls that were twenty to thirty feet thick, seven hundred year old trees, ancient willows, ornate temples painted with gold, lions, dragons and elephants (statues that is), peaceful gardens, people practicing tai chi, huge open courtyards lined with trees, vibrantly coloured buildings in red, orange, green and gold and a whole host of other delights. (I can’t describe it as well as my pictures can so go look!)

Once I had made my way around (pretty much) all of the Forbidden City, I exited at the North exit and made my way up a huge hill in Jingshan Park to a temple at the top which afforded me with beautiful panoramic views of Beijing. (again, my photos can do a better job of showing you the view that I could ever do with words) On my way back down I went and visited the spot where the last Emperor of China hung himself, then I set off on a very long walk back to the subway station.

When I got back to the station near the hostel I exited at the wrong place (there are four exits to most stations) and spent the next half an hour wandering around lost, unable to get my bearings and bursting for the loo. I eventually found the hostel and sat down for a bit to relax. I then got chatting to two guys in the same dorm room as me; Jeff and Chris who were both from the States but travelling separately. They were off for some food and asked me if I wanted to join them, so I went along and we picked a restaurant which was busy (always a good sign) then sat down to order.

The waitresses brought us a Mandarin menu and an English one but only the Mandarin one had pictures in so after a bit of deliberation we just picked three dishes that looked ok and we sat back with a beer and waited for the food to come. When it arrived we had four dishes not three and thought nothing of it but when Jeff & Chris tried the fourth dish it turned out to be spicy entrails (it wasn’t clear which animal they were from however) so we called the waitress over and explained that we hadn’t ordered it and that we didn’t want it. She said that we had to pay for it so we said that was fine (it was so cheap that it wasn’t a problem) but we weren’t going to eat it so she took it away and we polished off the other three dishes which were all lovely. (it’s a shame you can’t smell or taste it from the pictures as it was good!)

After eating we returned to the hostel and had a beer but after rising at 6am and walking around all day I was totally knackered so I headed to bed pretty early, ready for another day of fun!

Bye for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 01:05 Comments (0)

Days 120 & 121 - Goodbye Canada, Hello China!

Ni hao!

This blog post is coming to you from behind the great firewall of China; the same firewall that blocks FB and most other social networking and blogging sites. (lets hope they don't block TP too!)

After a busy and fun past couple of days, it's just beginning to sink in that I'm actually in China rather than Canada. (and a change of blog title is required I think) So far I have seen some of the famous sights, explored the maze like hutong communities, eaten some weird and wonderful things (more on that later), met some cool people and taken hundreds of photos. (in fact my phone memory's pretty much full so my mission for this afternoon is to find a USB stick to post them home on)

Without further ado I shall recall for you the highlights of the past four days (two boring days spent on the move then two exciting days in Beijing!):

Days 120 & 121 -

So today was the day that I came to leave Canada. I still had lots to do before leaving however so I had a very long and busy day of buying things, posting things home, trying to learn some basic Mandarin phrases, packing and finally, saying goodbye to everyone at the hostel. I tried to get a couple of hours of shuteye before heading to the airport but it wasn't happening so I watched TV for a while instead. 2.30am came and I made my way to the bus stop, dodging the drunks on the street and then once on the bus I was dodging people throwing up on the bus - nice!

I reached the airport and it was absolutely empty. Like, I was the only person in the whole terminal. I found which check in desk to wait at and when 5am eventually rolled around I checked in and went through the long security and US customs/immigration procedure. I had to take my shoes off and go through the xray scanner (it was that or a strip search and there was a bit of a nip in the air in the airport so two seconds worth of radiation was a better choice), then I actually cleared US customs whilst still in the airport in Canada which was a novel experience. (although the signs clearly stated that it was US property - similar to an embassy I imagine)

Then came a long wait in line before I was actually allowed to go to the gate and I got asked more questions by different security people which went along the lines of:

Them - "What have you been upto in Canada?"
Me - "Just travelling around"
Them - "Why?"
Me - "What do you mean why? Why have I came travelling?"
Them - "Yeah, why?"
Me - "Why not?"
Them - "Right, go and speak with the other officer over there"

Then I got asked even more questions about where I'd visited in Canada, how much currency I had on me etc. I had fun recalling past exerpts from my time in the country and eventually they either got bored of listening to me or they were satisfied that I wasn't a drug dealer/money launderer/mob boss and they let me go. (which just goes to show I can fool anyone ;] heh )

I made my way to the gate as my flight was due to leave in about twenty minutes, passing by Tim Hortons to grab a final doughnut and muffin in Canada. (and to use up my coinage as it's not much use in the States or China) I scoffed them both down and boarded the teeny tiny plane that was to take me to Detroit. When I looked out of the window and didn't see any engines I have to say I was a bit worried as gliding from Ottawa to Detroit would be quite a mean feat to achieve. My fears were alieved though when I saw another small plane next to us with engines either side of the tail - phew! I fell asleep before we took off and woke up just before we landed in Detroit as I was so knackered. (I wish I could do that on long haul flights!)

When we landed in Detroit, I checked that my luggage would go all the way through to Beijing and then spent the next fourteen hours trying to sleep, watching films on my laptop, eating and taking it easy. I managed to book a hostel for my first four nights in Beijing and rather than have the hassle of getting the subway on my first night I just booked a pickup from the airport to take me to the hostel. 11pm finally came around and I boarded the Boeing 777, settled into my seat and got ready for a long flight.

I have to say, I was impressed with the service on the flight. There were pillows and blankets, as much free beer/wine/soft drinks as I wanted, three meals (which were ok but come on, it is plane food afterall not 5* haute cuisine), a huge library of films, tv and music to watch/listen to (Hangover 2 is hilarious!) and comfy(ish) seats. I managed to sleep for a few hours here and there, helped along by the free Tsing Tao beer and food.

After a long but trouble free flight we touched down in Beijing at about 11pm local time having lost twelve hours with the time difference. I thought that immigration would ask me questions as I hadn't specified an exit date or method on my landing/departure cards but the officer didn't say anything to me apart from hello and goodbye. My pack came out on the luggage belt pretty quickly and my airport pickup driver was waiting for me in arrivals and before I knew it, I had arrived at my hostel. I was very tired and smelly by this point (the smell of a person after they've been in transit for 48 hours is very distinct!) but I found myself chatting to a Danish bloke who was here visiting students he had taught six years ago at universities across China. After talking for a while, tiredness got the best of my and I went to bed.

That's all for the past two days folks. I would have put all four days in one post but I wouldn't want you to fall asleep whilst reading it so I will continue with my tale on a new page :)

Laters!

Posted by UKtoCA 22:12 Comments (0)

Days 117, 118 & 119 - Vaccinations, Visas & Flight Fun

Hey all!

Due to a slight mishap with my laptop mouse (i.e. clicking on the wrong thing) I have managed to book a flight for super early tomorrow morning from Ottawa to Beijing. This means that I have a super busy day today so I'm just going to do a very quick blog entry for the past three days. Here we go:

Day 117 -

The highlight (or not) of today was going to get my vaccinations and anti-malarial medication for my Asian adventure. Two hours, four injections, one nurse, one doctor, two buses, two long(ish) walks and hundreds of dollars later I was ready to go! I actually reacted to the jabs which is a first for me so the rest of my day was spent in bed sleeping and feeling sorry for myself. Well, I say all day but I actually mean until the evening when a good group of us sat on the front porch chatting for a couple of hours. I think when (read: if) I ever buy a house I'd like a big front porch to sit out on. This obviously wouldn't apply if I was to live in the UK though as there isn't enough sun to really enjoy it.

Day 118 -

The activity which took up most of my day today was picking up my Chinese visa. Now this should be an easy process; walk to the embassy, pay, get passport back, check all is ok, done! This wasn't the case though and I had numerous walks in the rain, firstly to the embassy then back to the hostel to get my debit card ("No credit, only debit!" - fine) and back to the embassy, only to be told "No Visa, only debit!" to which I tried protesting and I showed the lady my card which clearly says "Debit Card" but was simply met with "No Visa, no Visa!" then she promptly put my passport back in a file and turned away from me. I then had a walk to a post office and paid for a money order with which to pay for my visa. After a couple of hours of walking back and forth and getting a tad frustrated, third time was the charm and I managed to pick up my visa without any further problems (woooo!) I also got to speak to my Grandmas tonight too which was nice :) (until the internet decided to break that is)

Day 119 -

Today I went and picked up my Mandarin phrasebook (how much do you reckon I can learn in 48 hours? - I'm guessing a smidgen) then spoke with my Sis on Skype for a while which was great and she gave me some helpful info about China and couch surfing. I then booked my flight from Ottawa to Beijing and I had found the flight that I wanted but I then clicked on another site and went back to the original one, clicked on the link that I thought was for the flight that I wanted, entered all of my details and confirmed payment. When I got my email receipt I looked at it and thought something was amiss as the flight times were vastly different to the ones I thought I had booked. It turns out I am officially stupid and as such cannot be trusted to book the correct flight. Want to go to Australia? Well if you let me book your flight you'll probably end up in Namibia.

I fired the travel company off an email and asked if there was any way they could change it over to the other flight as they were the same price. Now it was 10pm UK time when I emailed them so I didn't expect a reply until the next morning. Straight after I had emailed them I headed out with Flo, Danielle, Katherine & Freeman to the Ottawa Senators hockey game (which was awesome even though the Sens suck and they lost 7-1) and when we returned at about 23:30 I checked my phone to find a reply from the travel company! There would have been no problem with them changing my flight over, had I responded to their email within thirty minutes of them having sent it to me. This was six hours ago.

Needless to say I was slightly annoyed however these things happen and hey, if I'm not too tired I may head out into Detroit for the day during my fifteen hour stopover so it may turn out to be a positive thing. My next blog will be from China so if you check back in a couple of days you can find out how my trip went :)

Oh, and I thought it would be cold in Beijing now but not so. It's cold and rainy here but it's 23c and sunny for the next week in China, woo!

Bye for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 06:06 Comments (0)

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