I've finally arrived at my last day in China and I've got to say I'm slightly relieved (and very excited) that this time tomorrow I'll be aboard the Trans-Siberian Express! China holds a fascinating culture that is a hot pot of the ancient and the new, it is a country that is striving forward probably faster than any other country in the world at present and yet it still holds on to tradition and perhaps some dated practises. The communist hold on the country is evident but the people seem content with what they have, maybe because they are happy, maybe because they don't know any different, given that the government has firm control over outside influences.
This has been the first non-English speaking country I have travelled too (or at least the first where I cannot easily find someone that speaks English) and the first country in the Eastern world that I have experienced.
I think I can safely say I dived in at the deep end. I've been here for almost a month but I still cannot abide the spitting and the shoving and unnecessary pushing. The Chinese never seem to be in a rush but boy will they fight to get where they are going! I find the traffic situation funny now and I have adapted to the crossing the road scenarios where you just have to hope and go, I've found that you need to be able to predict the movements of the vehicles around you so you know when to dodge and weeve (no matter what, the cars will not stop just because the green man says it's all fine and dandy to walk). I have picked up some basic Mandarin which is completely necessary for anyone considering coming to China as being white alone leads to the majority of people shutting down and ignoring you if you're in a tight spot.
If you make the effort to talk to them in Mandarin then you can reel a few of them back to help your cause.
In the last week I have had a mixture of movie days and doing days and I am more than impressed that I only went over my 100 RMB (£10) a day budget by 100 RMB! The day after I left my tour I met up with Jenna and Dan one last time to explore the Olympic Green. We only wandered around outside of the Birds Nest (stadium) and Water Cube (swimming pool) and went in the Exhibition Centre but I quite enjoyed it. It's just a shame that all these facilities now go to waste, much like the Millennium Dome did before it became the O2 Arena. When I left Jenna and Dan I decided to explore the Temple of Heaven on my own. I didn't realise the expanse of the grounds the temple lies in and had a fascinating (and cold) few hours wandering around.
The Bird's Nest
Citizens over 70 in Beijing
get a special card that lets them into attractions for free so it was brilliant to see lots of elderly people doing exercise in the parks or sitting and playing cards and dice games. There was also a choir rehearsing in one hidden corner so I stopped to listen for a while. As much as I despise some of the more disgusting Chinese traits; seeing a community like this made me realise that family and friends are incredibly important to these people although there is an ever declining sense of community across the western world.
The next day on which I did anything of interest was the day I took my trip to the Summer Palace. This is probably my most favourite attraction in Beijing (other than the Wall).
Temple of Heaven
It took quite a while to get there on the subway but it was worth it, I spent a good three hours wandering around and I still didn't see it all. The Palace is based on a huge plot of land, 75% of which is a lake shaped like a peach (for longevity I think). The whole lake was frozen and it was very odd seeing people walking out across the water without worrying if they were going to fall through. I can imagine that this place is stunning during the summer but it would also be swarming with tourists making it a slightly less peaceful and enjoyable experience.
On my last day of 'freedom' before I joined my next tour for the Vodkatrain trip I met up with a fellow TravBuddy'er to visit the Lama Temple and the Beijing Zoo. The Lama Temple was interesting as it was the first temple I'd been to where people were actually praying and burning incense as an offering to Buddha.
It's also home to the biggest standing Buddha in the world (supposedly) and all I kept thinking was I need my friend Laura here with me (a friend from home who loves anything Buddha - Happy Birthday Lory!). I didn't really plan on visiting the zoo at all but Ursula wanted to see the pandas so I was happy to accompany her. I had been told that the conditions at the zoo were poor so they were slightly better than I expected but still very bad. The poor monkeys were all huddled up like penguins because they were freezing cold. The pandas were all sleeping but they were still cute and at least I can say I saw a panda in China....even if I was happier seeing them in San Diego Zoo.
After saying goobye to Ursula I hauled my pack across town to my next hotel, just in time to meet up with my Vodkatrain tour.
There are nine of us this time so it's a slightly smaller group made up of Ozzies, Kiwis, Poms and ze German (my room mate Maddy). It seems to be another good group so we'll see how it goes! After our initial meeting we went out for dinner and then wandered the Wangfujing Night Markets and I managed to tick off a bucket list quest (without ever realising it was on my bucket list)....I ate a scorpion!! Maddy has some hilarious shots of my face whilst doing so but it's done and I'm glad I did it! I felt like I was a contestant on I'm a Celebrity!
It's going to be strange not seeing huge neon signs next to ancient temples anymore but I'm not sure if I'll miss China. I'm very happy that I've experienced this country and their culture but I think I would only come back here if it were to see Nicole (the girl I met in California at the beginning of my trip that I now see as a sister).
I may be eating my words at some point in the future but who knows what the future holds!
In the morning I can start to tick off another Bucket Lister...the Trans-Siberian!