It’s the final countdown!!

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, July 4, 2011

Even though it has been a few days now since we visited the Great Wall of China we are still struggling to process it all; after all those months of anticipation our time on the Wall has been and gone. Add to this the fact that we only have three more days left until we fly home and it is easy to see why we were both feeling so disorientated; we keep on saying things such as "In four days time I will be able to dry my hair with a hairdryer" and “In a week's time we will have been home for four days”. We are well and truly flummoxed at the moment but we are trying to stay focused because we still have a bit more sightseeing to do. It is funny though because we have now given up on even eating at cafes and prefer to buy food from the supermarket and relax at the hostel; sometimes we can’t stop talking to each other about everything we’ve done and our return home and sometimes we just sit in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts. These last few days have given us great cause to stop and contemplate.

After getting soaked on the Wall I woke up the next day feeling really rotten, so we decided to take it easy for the day. Having said that we also had plenty of stuff to do so we went to visit one of the main sites in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven Park. Used by Emperors for centuries to pray for good harvests for the coming year and to hold different religious and imperial ceremonies, the Temple of Heaven Park gets packed out by millions of visitors every year. Apart from the hordes of tourists the park is also used by countless Beijingers as a plce to do their exercises, have picnics and play chess in. By the time we arrived the sun was shining fiercely and I could feel my skin starting to go crispy. The park complex is huge and houses dozens of temples, but in all honesty I just wasn’t in the mood for it. Tom went for a look round while I sat down in the shade for a while. The next thing I knew Tom was tapping me on the head and telling me to wake up. I opened my eyes to quite a shock; a crowd of about 20 Chinese women had crowded around me while I was having a nap and were all staring at me. Apparently they don’t see many white girls sleeping in the middle of their park! But that wasn’t what surprised me, what surprised me was that a young girl about 7 years old was sitting about 6 inches away from my nose and staring intently at my face. She must have been having a real good look at me because when I woke up she nearly jumped out of her skin; I felt like some kind of museum exhibition… “And here we see a sleepy girl from Wales, snoring next to a temple in the middle of Beijing”. I also had a horrible feeling they had been taking photos of me while I was asleep, I only hope I wasn’t sleeping with my mouth wide open at the time. The park was beautiful as were the temples, but it wasn’t long before we headed off because we didn’t have the energy (or much enthusiasm) for it. That evening we visited a Peking Opera show and had an amazing time; the show was spectacular and we couldn’t believe how brilliant the acrobats were. Later that night we ended up chatting to a lovely girl from Italy who had been working in New Zealand and Australia for the last two years and was now making her way back home. She only had a month left in Mongolia before she was due to fly back to Italy and we found that we had a lot in common with her; she could appreciate and understand many of our emotions from the past few weeks.  

The following day we had the very last of our sight-seeing to do and we had certainly saved one of the biggest until last; today we were visiting the Forbidden City. Before we left home we watched a brilliant film called The Last Emperor and since then we have been dreaming about visiting the City. Smack bang in the middle of Beijing, the Forbidden City was built to house the Emperor, his family and officials and to act as the Chinese seat of government. Quite simply, it is the big-daddy of all palaces! There are courtyards within courtyards, temples within more temples and miles and miles of rabbit-warren lanes and alleys. There are 980 buildings within the city and 8707 rooms. Many of the paths and bridges were reserved solely for the Emperors use and there is even a whole hall dedicated to housing the Emperors favourite clocks. There are rooms for writing poetry in, hallways for walking along when it rains outside, special bedrooms for spending your wedding night in, banqueting halls by the dozen. It’s little wonder the whole City is over 7,800,000 sq ft.  The Emperors concubines (their mistresses) had their own living quarters, there were quite a lot of them so they did indeed need their own quarters (they actually used to hold annual auditions for the role of concubine where the Emperor would pick about 2000 girls aged between 14 and 16 to be his mistresses, many of them died in horrific conditions and riddled with STDs but if you were lucky you might survive and one day become the Empress and give birth to the heir of the throne, google it - it’s really interesting and a bit creepy)!

The penalty for a foreigner trying to enter the Forbidden City used to be instant execution, no questions asked, but luckily nowadays all you have to do is pay the 4 entrance charge. As we approached the entrance gate we had another one of those moments when you just think: “Wow I cannot believe I’m actually here”! The City was teeming with tourists and we had to push and shove our way to the front of the ticket queue. I also paid to hire an audio tour which had a little electronic map on the back; the tour was great, really interesting and full of quirky stories, however it would automatically turn itself on and off whenever it felt like it, so it meant that I was constantly jumping out of my skin when the woman’s voice came booming into my ear out of nowhere! One of the most interesting stories I learnt about was concerning a huge sacred stone carving. At the time it was carved the Emperor instructed that the carving could not be broken into smaller pieces for ease of transportation and then reconstructed at the palace, instead he demanded that the marble had to stay in one huge piece. Now this piece of marble is 17 meters long, 3 meters wide, 1.7 meters thick and weighs about 250 tons and considering it was made hundreds of years ago transporting it was going to be one hell of a headache. But the Chinese are nothing if not ingenious! So they came up with a plan to transport the marble carving on a bed of ice: they waited until winter and then dug wells every 300 meters along the road, pumped water from the wells over the road, waited for it to freeze and then slid the marble carving over the ice all the way to Beijing. They did this for over 43 miles! After all the hassle of getting it to the Palace I guess it’s kind of understandable that no one other than the Emperor was allowed to touch the marble; yet again, the punishment for touching it was instant execution.      

We had a wonderful time at the Forbidden City even though we had to put up with stupid tourists putting their grubby mitts all over the exhibitions. We already felt like we knew lots about the Forbidden City, but having the audio guide meant that we came away knowing even more. However, by the time we got to the end we were well and truly jiggered. We turned to each and just knew that we were finally at the end. Suddenly the weight of the last 11 months hit us and we couldn’t walk another step. Back at the hostel we enjoyed some ice-cream and a nice cold beer but before we knew it the day was over and we were facing our final day of the trip. Where has the time gone?
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rach on

ok stupid question time !!! is that a proper sun umberella ? or just a normal one?
bloody hell what a question to ask , when ive just been looking at teaineman sq !!!! (i no ive spelt it wrong !)

tomandhayley on

Haha no its just a normal umbrella that i used when the sun was too hot, got to protect my delicate pale skin you know... only joking ive got skin like a rhino now! :) Glad uv enjoyed the last 2 blogs xxxx

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