Twice Heros

Trip Start Apr 03, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

Flag of China  ,
Friday, April 19, 2013

Well that was interesting, we got new wheels!!! They took us into a workshop and treated us like a ping pong ball for a few hours then we got lifted and a new set of wheels were added!! We originally thought we were on the wrong train and in the wrong place but no we just needed some new wheels to fit the Chinese lifestyle.  So 4 hours later and we are off.   Took some time but was an experience.

So China here we come.   Bayurte to Mongolia it has been great and we hope to see you soon.

First thing we have to do is write a review on our train service, awkward, when there is only 4 in the carriage and we are starting it off and we didn't ask for anything….. All good then yeah????  Convinced they put us together so they only had to clean one bathroom as we had to share and we definitely knew it!! Awkward for them I would say…. So we wrote our comment and Steve went to pass on the book.  Knocking on their door and we could hear them trying to open it but not having much luck, so the communal bathroom came in handy then as that was the exit route until they worked out how to use the lock, quite entertaining as later they still couldn’t work it out!!

Ninhao to our new guide Pan, he looks really young but you just never know.  So we head to the hotel to 'wash our hairs’ and then head to the Hutong for a little tour and rickshaw ride. The word Hutong means small streets and that is exactly what they all are, a complete rabbit warren of streets where you can easily get lost.  If the street is more than 9 meters wide it no longer is a Hutong.  The homes in these Hutongs have rules, so if your door is open then it means more than one family live in there, also back in the old days they had pillar like things over the doors and you could only marry someone who had the same amount of pillars, this was from 1 to 4.  They also put stone carvings at their doors, so if you were a writer than you had a book at the door.  The doors lead into courtyards which have four houses off them, these are then given to family members by rank or importance of both the position and the person, so who is most important???  Why the parents of course so they get the North facing building, then the son gets the east, daughter the west and the south was normally for the guests.  All the Hutongs are now heritage listed so if you want to knock it down you need to build the exterior exactly the same and you can redecorate the interior to your liking.  So you need a loo right, well you better time it as it could be a 5 minute walk to the nearest public toilet, no one has bathrooms in their homes they all use the public ones, better bring some paper as well as it could be a little low on that.  So you can buy one for an extraordinary price and you get the luxury of the public toilets!!  Not for me I don’t think.

Off on our rickshaw ride now around the Hutong, our driver guy followed us around the Hutong walk so didn’t have to go far to get in and off we went.  Had to swap some money over with the guide so we could pay our Hutong chap.  He didn’t speak a word of English so we just sat back and enjoyed the ride.  The locals were playing a game that looked like hacky sack, they play it everywhere we then realised, in any nook and cranny possible.  Another odd thing they do it put boards up on their car tyres, this is to stop the dogs peeing on the cars???

So off to dinner now, had an awkward moment with young Pan.  He asked if we wanted alone time and eat by ourselves, Steve said no it’s fine we have just spent the last day by ourselves on the train.  So apparently that meant ok, you have dinner and I will eat with the driver, must be the language barrier.  So he ordered for us and took off.  We got 3 dishes which were sweet and sour pork, eggplant (aubergine) with sausage and dried and fried oyster mushrooms with salty stuff.  The eggplant was fab!!  Highly recommend it, don’t know what it was called but all the menus are pictures so you don’t need to know.  We also realised that china towns around the world are very authentic, the restaurants are not the cleanest and they all looked the same.

So pretty big day today so back to our hotel and the bathroom with a view.  Yep you read right, there is a blind in our bathroom which separates the shower and the bedroom, who needs privacy hey??

Today we are off to Tiananmen Square. Well when we arrived I think the rest of china had the same idea!!!! Where do all these people come from??? Even though it is massive (7 football fields) they just seem to be everywhere! It is also our first experience of having to go through security checks to get into everything and all areas cornered off. So after our whistle stop tour we headed to the Forbidden City. It is huge, we had been walking for about 15 mins and still not at the entrance. All the doors have brass knobs on them, each door has 9*9 knobs so this will bring good luck as per Buddhist beliefs. All of the buildings also have little animals on the corners of the roofs. The number of animals are important, the more you have the more important the building is.  We walked in via the emperors’ bridge, back in the day the central bridge was reserve for the emperor, so of course nothing but the best for us so over we went. The emperor was a very paranoid man. He had the floor laid in 15 layers of bricks in different directions so assassins could not dig up through the ground. There are also no trees, so that spy’s and assassins could not hide behind them. Unfortunately the first room "hall of supreme harmony" was under construction so we were not able to see the throne room. We stopped to have a look at the large copper vats which were used to hold water so they could put out fires. During one of the invasions in china the vats were stolen as they used to be covered in gold plating and it was thought they were solid gold, however, once they began to cut them and it was discovered that it was just plating they decided to just scratch the gold off instead. Next off to the “hall of middle harmony”. This was where the emperor would meet dignitaries’ prior main meetings if necessary or he could just do some prep work. The last main hall was the “hall of preserving harmony”, this was the banquet hall. For all these halls you could not go inside but they had doors open and balustrades so you could peer in, as the Chinese don’t appear to do anything in orderly fashion they push and shove and do anything possible to get to the front so they can see, however, they don’t let you out easier either. Had a slight altercation with one lady who pushed me and then I feel into someone else who fell over so I lost my temper a little and gave her a nice shove back, she then had the hide to tut me!!!! I was in no mood to be tuted at but Steve shoved me along. Think this is going to be a very long 2weeks! Next stop were the living quarters. We went to the “hall of mental cultivation”, this was where the emperors of the Qing dynasty lived. The emperor never stayed in the same room so that he could not be assassinated or anything like that. Then off to see where the concubines lived. The emperor had 72 concubines the greedy fella! Plus his wife.  One of the areas was called “palace of eternal spring”. This housed 2 of the concubines, bedrooms at either end and then a lounge room in the middle. Gold was the colour for the royal family and they didn’t have anything short of it, silks, roof’s and even the curtains. Little overkill I think.  Legend has it that if you wore gold you would be killed.  Last stop was the “earthly tranquillity palace” which is a massive garden with man-made rock features and mosaic patterns in the paths.

On our way back to the car we picked up a Hawthorne snack.  This is like some mini crab apples on a stick that are covered in toffee and taste horrible.  It is meant to be sweet and sour but I was not a fan.  Steve didn’t mind it so it was all his.

Now off to the silk factory.  We learnt how the silk is made from getting the silk worms cocoon to spinning the silk to making a dooner.  It was quite cool and the double cocoons are all done by hand, then they pull the silk out one layer at a time and make the dooner.  Steve loved the idea so we bought one and now have to carry the thing around all the time.  They vac pack it a bit for you but as we also bought a cover and pillow case covers the thing weighs about 5kg (11lbs).  Oh well Steve wanted it he can carry it. 

Stopped for a little lunch after spending our fortune and it provided a little humour for us both.  We had Beijing noodles, chilli chicken and veges which turned out to have this jelly coating stuff on it, not sure if that is what MSG looks like???  The noodles are like a little do it yourself kit thing.  They bring all the bits out and you have to mix it all together.  So when they arrive they put them in front of me and off we go.  I start to mix it all but having a few difficulties with my chopsticks.  So after I mix it all up and then begin to eat a few things I work out the problem, upside down, upside down.  Very embarrassing!!

Now we are off to the Summer Palace.  All the statues they have everywhere in china have a meaning, most you see are the lions.  The male lion is always on the right when looking at them as this is the most powerful position.  You can tell the male as he will have a ball under his foot and the female will have a cub.  In the summer palace things are a little different as one of the emperors’ aunt’s Suchi, was the one with most of the power and she would dictate to the emperor what he should say and do.  So she had statues made of both a phoenix and a dragon, the phoenix is to represent the empress and is on the right.  There is also a statue of a mythical creature in the front garden called a Qilin, it has a head of a dragon, antlers if a deer, hooves of an ox and a tail of a lion.  This sits outside the reception hall.  We then ventured around to find out why the grounds are so big, well that would be because there is a huge lake in the middle where you can hire a paddle boat!!!  Not for us though, we had to move on to the living quarters.  The main living quarter was also the same place where the emperor was imprisoned.  This was due to a failed revolution against Suchi as he didn’t want to be told what to do anymore and she was weak and giving in to things easily.  So as he failed I guess he also was quite weak.  They then put him in these living quarters, closed off all the entrances and windows and he was there for 10 years.  His wife was in another area behind him but he didn’t mind as she was ugly and it is said he didn’t like her, apparently she was also the ugliest empress ever.  Over to Suchi’s living quarters and she had a crane and deer put at her front door which symbolise both happiness and longevity, they obviously worked for her so maybe we should try that one out??  There is also this massive stone in the courtyard which is called ‘blue iris’ due to the stone being blue and looking like an eye, I got the eye bit but not sure if I would call it blue??  It is also known as the bankruptcy stone as everyone who has tried to bring it to another place has gone bankrupt, this began with a business man and then followed by the emperor who had the stone moved to the summer palace for his mum his empire collapsed.  We had a look at the first electric light in China and then moved onto the long corridor.  This corridor is outdoors and hand painted.  It is over 700 meters long and beautiful, but full of people!!

Tonight we treated ourselves to a Kung Fu show, Steve was not that wrapped in the show but I thought it was ok.  It told you a story about a boy joining the monks and then becoming the master and the challenges he faces along the way.  Steve was expecting more fighting and so forth.  The only bit that I was annoyed with is that I got the song ‘everybody is kung Fu fighting, ha, who, ha, this guys are fast as lightening…’ stuck in my head and they didn’t play it, instead they had a tune that got stuck in your head for days afterwards and was really annoying!!

So heading off to dinner now, not that hungry so just a couple of dishes.  One was a cauliflower and the other beef.  We asked for the cauliflower to come mild, good thing as it was still really hot, Steve worked up a right sweat!!  However, all the locals were ordering what looked to be like lamb shanks in a bowl, they were then given straws and a glove.  They would eat the meat like medieval times and put the glove on and go for it, then they would suck the marrow out with the straw and it sounded horrible!!!  Glad we didn’t get that one!!

So a new day and a new adventure!!!  Today we are off to climb the great wall!!  There is still a slight issue with the language barrier as we were asked about 3 times why we picked a particular section of the wall and each time we said, we didn’t.  Finally got through so we went to a less touristy area, however, this should have come with a warning as it was ridiculously steep!!!  At some points it was like you were crawling up the wall not climbing!!  We had 1 hour 30 mins to conquer the adventure.  It took a little longer than expected as we soon found out we thought we were there to see the tourist attraction of the wall, little did we realise everyone else had a different idea and we were the tourist attraction!!  So too many photos later and one girl nearly having a heart attack as it was like she had just seen her idol we made it to the end.  A lot harder then we both had expected but it was great!!

As a reward we went to a jade factory, not sure you can call this a reward as the Chinese government make you visit a local skill factory.  So we learnt how they make a ‘happiness ball’ but using only one piece of jade and then carving many balls/rings inside so each one moves independently.  Apparently the more layers the more happiness, so Steve got one of those.  We saw the red, white and purple jade and how you tell a fake.  The real stuff when you hold it to the light will look like there are snowflakes inside, the fake will just be plain.  All jewellery is made out of jadeite and this will change colour after a period of time when you wear it.

Next stop was the Olympic site, I found this to be very boring but Steve was in his element.  We looked at the cauldron, the birds nest, the water cube.  They did have a wall of fame which listed everyone who had won a medal in both the Olympics and Paralympic games.

We made a quick stop to a little tea house.  Pan couldn’t believe that Steve and I didn’t drink tea and he was determined that we try tea as Chinese tea is not normal tea he tells us.  So off we went, some of it was horrible but some was quite nice, so we bought some but mainly so we could get the little peeing boy!!  You pour hot water over him and if he pees then the water is good for tea, it was the best part of the tasting really.

Tonight we leave our hotel and head to a new hotel to meet out new family for the next week.  We had to get a taxi ourselves which was interesting as we had to be at the theatre by 5:15pm to see our next show, however, the taxi driver didn’t speak any English and we had no idea where we were or how long to get there.  So we were ok, we had 5 mins to spare.  Tonight we saw the acrobatics show, it was quite incredible what they can do.  One couple were doing point, the girl was doing point on the guys shoulders and arms!!! 

Dinner tonight was very westernised, we had Peking duck and normal western dishes you would expect from the local Chinese.

So the new family seem really great, a nice mix of people and all ages.  Should be a good week!!

So we have just hit Groundhog Day!!! Steve did his research really well and told me we would not double up on anything, hmmmm, next time I better check that for myself.  So back to the wall for us, but good thing Pan took us to another section so we got to see two different areas.  This part of the wall had steep hills and declines which we didn’t get yesterday.  This was also a lot more touristy as they had a chairlift, roller coaster ride thing and a mini zoo!!!  On our way to discovering the zoo we were walking along these really steep declines and it was quite slippery, so of course I fall and to stop myself I grab the railing and hope for the best, all was ok but Steve and another guy on our tour, Brent, just stood there laughing at me L  I obviously missed the funny side!!!  However, we made it to the end and now we can call ourselves double heroes!! So as the wall has been conquered we decided to go check out the animals we could see.  They had bears in mini habitats and camels you could have your photo with and a peacock, a yak and a horse!!  You could feed the bears for 3 Yuan and they knew how to beg for it as well.

Next stop was our new government adventure which was a cloisonné workshop.  This is a vase made from copper and then they paint in between the patterns with many layers until they come to the top of the copper outline.  They then finish it off with varnish a coat of gold over copper outline and some more varnish so it looks like porcelain china.  All this and they are ridiculously expensive.  Lunch at the factory today and it came with a shot of Chinese wine or fire water, which is their version of Sake.  56% alcohol and horrible!!

Another tea house for today and more tea.  She did show us one extra one which was a flower and it opens up in the water which looked very cool.  She also did explain how to prepare the teas a little better as well.  The cups she served the first tea in was cool, you have it in a long small cup and a little bowl like cup over the top, you then quickly flip it over and smell the long cup which had the tea in it.

Tonight was our first experience of having to get food ourselves in China.  Luckily for us we picked a restaurant which had a picture menu, like all of them do.  First course were pikelet things with beef so that turned out ok.  The waitress had also mimed that it had chilli it in so how hot did we want it, we chose mild and it was perfect.  Next we had some ball things in sauce which were also quite nice.  Last but not least the main event, we had a flaming stand with the dish over the top.  There were loads of little bones in the dish which makes us think it was either a small bird or a frog.  No idea but it tasted good.  What I do know is that there were whole chillies in there and I found one!!!  My face was red within seconds and my eyes watering.  It nearly blew my head off, again Steve thought this was funny!!  As we couldn’t work out how to order drinks we didn’t have any so I just had to make do with some plain boiled rice to try and calm my mouth down.  Steve also had some troubles with the chopsticks tonight and ended in stabbing the balls to eat them.  We got our £1 beer on the way back to the hotel and had a well-earned soak in tub!!  Two days and two great walls it was really needed!!

Got to have a nice sleep in this morning before we headed into the silk market where we get to try out or bartering skills.  Found out quite quickly that Steve is rubbish.  We bought a tea set and it cost a fortune because I left it to him.  After that he had to stand back and let the pro get to work.  So as expected the tea set was the most expensive item of the day.  We were also told to go away in a few stores as our prices were too low and they didn’t want to bother.  It is really intense and everyone yelling at you ‘come in lady, new bag?’  Two hours was definitely more than enough with these crazy people.

We then headed to the summer place again so we just took a walk around the grounds.  We came across people dressing up as the empress and also a man doing some kind of warning off the spirits.  One thing we did learn was that there is a marble boat, and the boat represents the government and the water the people.  It is said that is the government does wrong then the people will create waves and up turn the boat, however, the marble boat has never floated??

Off to our sleeper train now.  We made good time to the station so had a quick buffet dinner where we found out last night’s dinner was bullfrog!!  In the train Steve and I are mixing with the locals.  One lady is very nice, she speaks English and has been in Beijing looking after her 5 year old grandson.  The other chap is a little odd and when he comes in, takes off his shoes and then goes to sleep.  However, his feet stink!!!  So we head to find the rest of the group and have a drink with them.  Back to bed now and hope the cabin has aired out and the random Croatians have stopped fighting and are in bed.

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Sissy on

Hi, still loving your never ending travel story. You'll soon have to stop thinking/converting into £. Keep safe. Love, sissy x

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