Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Happy Dragon is tucked away in a small hutong (side street) of Beijing, just a five minute walk from the Dongsi subway station. We checked in to our latest room; simple with two sets of bunk beds, a fifth single bed and a very basic bathroom which seemed to possess a strange odour… but as Alex had already paid a visit by the time we noticed we didn't pay too much attention. Besides, there wasn’t much time to dwell on it since we had to get organized and get going (as usual), this time off to an acrobatic performance at Tiandi Theatre, home of the national troupe. A quick dinner in the hostel (menu uncannily similar to that of the Han Tang hostel in Xian) and we were on our way.

Having arrived at the theatre in unusually good time for us we patiently waited for the performance to begin, but were a little disappointed when they announced that absolutely no photographs or video were permitted. They also displayed large signs with the same message and it was quite clear that they actually meant it! The performance itself was fantastic with an array of feats and contortions to boggle the mind (and cross the legs). The full gambit of acrobatics was on display from contortionists to hoop tumbling, from juggling 9 balls to slack wire expertise and more. We were all completely enthralled from beginning to end, and although there were a few mistakes and the performance was not quite as polished as say Cirque de Soleil… but these errors seemed to make the performers more human and the audience seemed even more encouraged to will them to succeed.

The next day required a bright and early start with breakfast served at 7am before setting off in a mini-bus to see and walk the Great Wall of China. Our tour was booked through the hostel and unfortunately was not without hiccups, the first one occurring when we stopped to pick more tourists and the kids were required to share a seat…not a big deal per se, but the seat was broken and so we did put our collective foot down on that one! Most tourists and international dignitaries visit the Great Wall at a place called Badaling, which is the closest option to Beijing and where most of the typical pictures are taken from. Mutaniyu is a little further from Beijing but since far fewer visitors choose this option it usually yields a better experience and was our chosen destination. The expanse of the wall that has been restored and is open to visitors is about 4km long and has twenty watch towers located along its length. On arrival at the base of the wall, there is a choice of hiking up to it or taking a chairlift. Unusually for us, we opted for the lazy route as not only was our time rather limited, but the return ticket was a toboggan slide back to the base!

We set foot on the wall at watch tower number six and decided to start by making our way to watch tower number one. This was easier said than done and we were taken aback by just how hard it is to actually walk, or at times climb, along the wall….it’s no casual saunter to get from one tower to the next, since much of it is made up steps of varying heights many of which are pretty large and steep! At watch tower number one, the wall branches off in different directions, but these parts of the wall are un-restored and there are large signs forbidding access to visitors…. and so you can guess what happened next! Derek and Alex set off in one direction and Sarah ventured off in another, while Lauren stayed in the tower and kept an eye in all directions! It’s always fun to explore something a little different, but in both directions it’s wasn’t too far before the wall became impassable due to undergrowth and crumbling structure. We regrouped in the watchtower and set off in the other direction to see how many of the twenty watch towers we could make it to before our time was up. We managed to make it all the way to number fourteen, the highest point on that section of the wall before it was time to head back to the base for lunch. It was a quick descent via toboggan..…think plastic trays on wheels on a metal luge track! Not quite COP (for our Canadian friends), but fun all the same. At least the trays did have a braking mechanism so speed was a matter of choice and not surprisingly the boys chose more than the girls did!

Lunch was included with the tour, but again, our company was cutting corners and didn’t include any drinks. We were also with a rather dour group and lunch was largely a silent affair and we were quite happy to get back on the minibus and return to the hostel. All in all, the organized part of the tour wasn’t great (expensive for what we got), but the wall itself was absolutely fantastic and it’s clear to see why it is considered to be a wonder of the world.

Back at the hostel the smell in the bathroom was still pretty bad and we had also discovered a mould problem all around the single bed but, with a little "Moody" persuasion, the hostel agreed to a room change and all was good in our second room. With the day still relatively young, we decided that there was time to pay a quick visit to the main site of the Olympic games (2008) and negotiated our way across town to “Olympic Green”. The tourists were surprisingly numerous given that the games were held two years ago, but what was more surprising was the number of touts still pushing Olympic souvenirs! The birds nest is an impressive looking stadium, but the water cube is far more unusual and interesting, The saddest part is how tired and filthy the two structures look – it’s hard to keep anything looking good for long when the air is as dirty and polluted as it is in China.

Our final day in Beijing was a rather laid back affair, checking off the final “things to do” and indulging in a fantastic lunch. First stop the Post Office to send more trinkets and trash back home. This was the best postal experience yet in terms of efficiency, courtesy and service….fingers crossed that it actually makes it to Sherwood Park! Lunch time! Derek had done the research and found that the best Beijing Duck was to be had at “Da Dong” and had booked a table for lunch. We turned up in our usual travel garb to discover that “Da Dong” was a fairly high end restaurant, but we ventured in anyway (we’re used to getting stared at everywhere we go anyway, so what’s the difference?). Beijing Duck was the order of the day along with some supporting side dishes. The duck arrived with a pair of chefs at a small table next to ours where the chef proceeded to carve it very expertly. One of the attractions to Da Dong is that they serve a lean duck….first the skin is very thinly sliced off and put to one side, then most of the fat is trimmed off and discarded before they carve the meat into very fine slices beautifully arranged on plates before being served with the skin arranged on top. The skin is to be eaten on its own dipped in sugar….oh so good, but ooh so bad;-) The waitress was happy to demonstrate exactly how the duck should be prepared (making up the pancakes, etc) and eaten and then left us to indulge. Wow – what a great, if early, Mother’s Day lunch!

Feeling stuffed with the richness of lunch we made our way to an older part of town to a traditional toy store and found some intriguing Chinese toys that are (surprise, surprise) not mass produced, but hand made AND reasonably priced. The kids picked out a toy each and we made our way to the Temple of Heaven. Having missed out a few days ago, we were determined to actually make it inside this time and spent a pleasant afternoon walking off lunch in the gardens and just chilling out in the expansive grounds of the Temple of Heaven.

We couldn’t leave Beijing without one more foray into the Pearl Market and so left the Temple of Heaven and crossed the street into the market. We had more fun barguing and feel that might actually be getting the hang of the game…the vendors are much less smiley when we leave now! The Pearl Market turned out to be our favourite shopping in all of China and we ended up with 3 pairs of shoes, 160 Nintendo DS games, a tea set, 2 watches (Rolex of course), 2 pens, a belt, a cat robot, a waving kitty cat, tea and (for fans of the Generation Game) a cuddly toy! And our total spend was about $125! We know some of the stuff won’t last, but much of the fun was in the thrill of the hunt!

It was time to leave Beijing, but not before we made an amusing discovery….the Chinese will copy anything that is successful and we were quite tickled to find a store called Wu-Mart, complete with greeters! We had to check it out of course and discovered it to be surprisingly like a Wal-Mart but with more groceries and less of everything else (probably all shipped to Wal-Mart).

Prologue to this blog – As with any Hostelworld booking, we received a survey request to provide feedback on our stay. Well, what with the mould, smelly toilet, and badly organized tour we did provide some lower ratings than usual. But here’s the kicker – the hotel owner actually emailed us direct and essentially offered a bribe for us to remove our comments from the Hostelworld website. Needless to say we didn’t comply, but wonder if that might be why their rating score is so high?!?

So Bye-Bye Beijing it’s been a blast…Shanghai here we come again for our final few days in China….
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Mike T. on

Maybe you should add a comment about the bribe to the Hostelworld site, so others can look upon the remaining reviews appropriately.

delsar on

Ahead of you Mike.
They reprimanded the guy.

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