Bejing and the Great Wall
We flew from Xian to Beijing with an Airbus jumbo - not the most environment conscious way of commuting (only 1.5 hour, half of seats empty).
It was all grey again in Beijing - I wonder why I bothered with color film at all in this country, we have not seen blue sky at all. In addition to the pollution, people are chain-smokers. In this internet cafe, where I sit now, all young boys play aggressive war games and smoke so much that I can hardly see my screen while typing. I have no clue how this country was approved to hold Olympic games - human rights and Tibet aside, no athlete can run any long distance. All who will attempt the marathon will suffer long lasting adverse health effects.
Anyway. On our first afternoon we visited the Temple of Heaven, followed by a Beijing duck dinner. Next morning we went to Tiananmen square - what a place. Soviet type sculptures, kids with little Chinese flags proudly posing for mum and dad for photo, long colorful kites in the air, small version of Potala Palace, huge versions of the five mascots for the Olympic games and policemen, policemen, policemen. With and without horses, in pairs and in crowds, with and without cars and loudspeakers - you name it. And some "incognito" - young boys in jeans and T-shirt, standing exactly at same distance from each other, their heads moving side by side perfectly synchronized and what a coincidence - they each have a walkie-talkie.
We then visited the Forbidden City, which was forbidden for about 500 years until 1925 but now filled with tourists - one room even hosts a Starbucks cafe. The place is so immense, that it took me half a day to walk around - and some of you know how efficient and fast I walk and photograph.
In the afternoon I took subway and local bus to the Summer Palace, way out of town, but a lovely place. My fellow travel-mates from the "adventure tour" company looked at me later with shock in their eyes why I did not take a cab there (for 70 yuan, as opposed to the local bus, costing 1.5 yuan). In the evening I want to the Beijing Opera show and saw exactly those two pieces that few years ago in Budapest during our Spring Festival. Oh, well.
The last day we climbed the Great Wall. Well, most of the group actually took the cable car - although I have not seen T-shirts saying "I took the cable car to the Great Wall" and these people are great shoppers. But I did climb up, which was fun.
We had free afternoon and I was a bit restless as there was one more place I wanted to see, the Ming tombs, a UNESCO sight out of town. The local guide (Bobbie, but he was so feminine, we just called him Barbie) was completely useless - told me that the public transport takes forever and I never get myself understood, but he could have arranged a car for me only for 600 yuan (nearly 80 USD) to take me there. After climbing down the wall, I wondered around the parking lot and was asking private taxis for the trip, but not only they charged a lot, they did not look reliable and would only take me to the tombs and not to Beijing afterwards. But then, my Travel Angel stepped in and out of nowhere, a real official cab driver arrived, in white gloves (!), from Beijing. He took two Spaniards to the wall, who wanted later to see the same tombs and return to Beijing afterwards. We quickly agreed on 200 yuan for me to join. The local agent, who was not happy to let a sheep from his flock away, asked me to sign a sheet of paper that I leave the group on my own decision and for my own risk. I signed. We had a great trip and the cab driver - being a proud local from Beijing - also showed us the new stadium for the Olympic games and drove us a bit around a “hutong” (old traditional area of Beijing with low houses and narrow streets). It also turned out he was an opera singer himself and entertained us with a few songs. What a great ending for the trip.
It makes me easier to leave home that I am completely fed up with the group. The most intelligent and nice person, the tour-leader left, and I ended up with some group members for dinner (by mistake - I walked into a nearby restaurant and they were there). One group member proudly explained that after long debates she could get two silver chains with pearls for 65 yuan (less than 10 USD) and it took ages to go down from 70 to 65 but she won. She went on and one that she was more happy about the victory than the pearls and how much she enjoyed the pain on the face of the seller. This was the point when I just could not stand it any more and simply told her that I would not be proud of this as one should only bargain until both parties can smile when the deal is finished. I paid and left.
I have been on many Explore tours and what I always loved, how flexible, easy and nice people are on these tours. But not this lot. They were complaining about the lack of flexibility from the local agent (wake up, for God's sake, we are in a communist country, what did you expect) - but they did not realized how inflexible THEY were. When we had to have a dinner one hour earlier than usual, we nearly had a revolution on the bus. They expected everything to be the same as at home. Not to have local food for breakfast, air-con in room and bus, not to mix with locals on the train and dinner promptly at 7 p.m.. I did not have any proper conversation with anyone for 4 weeks - I just hope I never see them again. But at least our tour-guide, Geoff was cool.
Only a few weeks to go, and I am about to escape the winter by visiting Myanmar (Burma)!:-))