Trip Start May 02, 2012
64Trip End Jul 31, 2014
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On leaving Hanoi, and in order to get to the required platform, we had to cross all twelve main railway lines at the station – pulling our luggage along. The taxi driver had dropped us at the wrong entrance to the station! Thank goodness for the information that Andy gets from www.seat 61.com site as this site describes in detail how to negotiate and use major train stations around the world.
We departed from Hanoi for China at 5:30pm in a single-carriage train with only a Mongolian couple as co-passengers
We were then hurried along to a different train - Chinese this time but still only the four of us! This train was much better, on a wider gauge so much smoother, and better organized, and we were very happy to again have a four-berth compartment to ourselves! As we got into our carriage a guard handed us a printed card, in English, to tell us that in two hours we would be stopping at Nanning where we would have to leave the train again and wait for an hour. (It turned out to be three hours!). Chinese immigration took place on the train – an official barged into our compartment, switched on the lights, looked us up and down without a smile or a word, took our passports away and returned them some four hours later duly stamped – what he did with the four passports for four hours I do not know
At Nanning we left our luggage on the train and were ushered to a special area in a huge waiting room containing thousands of daily commuters. We watched in amazement as they were organized to get to their respective platforms on time. Officials used loudhailers to chivvy them on and at least twelve automatic gates were in operation …. And it just went like clockwork…..! Wave after wave of commuters…
Back on the train more carriages were attached and we even got a dining car. This didn't help us much as the menu was in Chinese but, using a translating package on Andy’s cellphone, we did order a delicious chicken stir-fry. (The food is just soooo different here, and I am rather scared to try some of the things on offer!).
So we arrived in Beijing and checked into our hotel in one of the busy hútòngs in the Dōngchéng area of the city. Hutongs are the old part of the city - narrow alleyways crossing east to west through the city for feng shui purposes (everything is feng shui mode here!). Our hutong is always busy, with not much room for cars, but pedestrians, electric motorbikes and bikes continually weave through
And so we spent a few days exploring Beijing.
The city has a population of twenty one million persons but is only the third largest in China! It is a beautiful city – so huge, but beautifully maintained. The gardens along the main roads are immaculately kept up, with plantings of annuals, and even roses. The roads are wide and although congested, pretty manageable.
We have had a really good guide – Joe – for four days and have visited all the major tourist venues: The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, Lama Temple, Temple of Heaven, the 2008 Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube (where the swimming events were held in the 2008 Olympics), The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square (the 25th anniversary of the revolt by the students is this year) and went to an acrobatic show. Yesterday we went into the countryside about two hours outside Beijing to see an old, traditional village called Cuāndīxīà.
It is rather intense doing the tourist thing in a place like Beijing - there is just so much to see and learn about and there are vast areas to cover
Tiananmen Square (the focal point for the history of communist China and the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe) is also vast, the biggest city square in the world. A picture of Chairman Mao still dominates the Square and the entrance to the Forbidden City, and his mausoleum is situated here. Every sunrise and sunset the troop of soldiers march – at precisely 108 paces per minute, 75cm per pace! The Chinese are very "disciplined"!
The Lama Temple is the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple in China (outside of Tibet itself) and we were lucky enough to be there on the one day of the month when the monks hold a ceremony. (Our guide who regularly does this venue said that he had only seen it twice before!) There was much scurrying around by the monks setting out things on the altars, water on the floors, and then chanting with Mohican-style hats on and off! Our guide requested a prayer by writing his wish on a piece of paper with a particular colour, and the different coloured papers representing the different prayer wishes of participants were ceremonially burnt – giving off coloured smoke
I loved the Summer Palace, which was used by the emperors of the Qing Dynasty during the hot summer months. The Palace is in a park containing the large man-made Kunming Lake (now part of the water supply for Beijing) with dragon boats and a long covered walkway linking the usual temples. The park and Palace was once reserved for only the Emperor but now is well used by the citizens of Beijing and we saw many locals enjoying the park surroundings. The Empress Dowager Cixi was responsible for rebuilding the palace after it was ransacked and destroyed by the British and French during the Opium Wars in the 1860’s. (There is a fascinating book about Cixi written by the Wild Swans author, Jung Chang – well worth a read).
The Temple of Heaven which the Emperor used to ceremoniously “make everything in China perfect” was most interesting as it is now a venue used by the public (especially the elderly) to go about their daily fitness and social activities
We visited the Mùtiányù section of the Great Wall, about 90kms out of Beijing. It has always been one of my dreams to see the The Great Wall of China, and it was well worth the journey. To think that this huge wall (6000 km long) was built with the sweat of the local farmers and soldiers to keep out raiding nomads – mainly the fierce Mongolian people. Fortunately there is a cable car at Mùtiányù to get up and down to the Wall on top of the mountain but we still did a lot of walking on the Wall itself – and it gets very steep in places!
We have been amazed at the activity in China
While it has been really interesting to get a measure of the history and way of life in China we are so aware that we have not even scratched the surface of this huge and complex society. Other than being blocked from using Google, Facebook or YouTube, we have not experienced, nor even been able to get an understanding of, living in a society with a communist political system. (It has been quite a thing for me not to be able to follow what is going on through Facebook!!!!) And after seeing how people have to live in Beijing I do appreciate so much more being able to live in my house with it’s garden, with the mountain and sea close by.
So, today we are ambling around at our own pace before setting out by train early tomorrow for Mongolia.