We woke up to the beeping of the horn on the sleeper bus, after 18 hours it smelt rancid and even though it was pitch dark at 4am and we had nowhere to go, I couldn’t wait to get off this nightmare of a bus. As soon as I got off I wished we could stay on. It was Baltic cold and I just wanted to be warm.
We heaved our bags onto our shoulders when we were approached by an ugly man with protruding teeth, saying he’d bring us to Beijing for $10. “I thought we were in Beijing?!”, I said like a mad woman; after lying on the death bus for 18 hours, I was fit to box the head of whoever put us on it.
It turned out we were in Beijing, but a taxi ride from our hostel, so we had to chose which taxi. They were all harassing us to climb into their taxi, coming up, trying to grab our bags so we’d follow them to their mode of transport. I was scared. There were just loads of men and us three lassies, shivering and looking very naïve. We didn’t know if we were about to be brought away and sold as slaves or worse, we were being scammed and going to pay $10 for a $1 taxi ride.
One man, who looked like he’d been sent to get us specifically, stormed over to us in a way that seemed like he had three minutes to bring us to our destination or he’d never see his family again. He offered to bring us for $2 and didn’t even wait for an answer as he led the way with my bag. Being on the ball, my friend took a picture of the light-thing on the roof of the taxi. We had proof we were in it, not if we’d been murdered or anything, because then he’d have the camera/evidence, but we felt like we’d be fine because we’d been thinking and were those kind of travellers that were prepared for every eventuality (kind of: we went with no insurance and no malaria tablets).
It was only when he dropped us at our hostel and drove down the small, winding street that we noticed it only said taxi in luminous yellow, devoid of a license, just like the other 2 million taxis in the city, but we were safe and we were in Beijing.
We knocked on the hostel door but here was no room at the inn, but they had a few rooms in their sister hostel down the road, which we were relegated to. We had a freezing cold room with no latches on the window that banged like crazy each night, a shower that took 40 minutes to warm up, and only two single beds for three single girls.
We had previously been put into a room with three single beds but no shower and when we saw the spectacle they called a shower, I was confused – it looked like a basement used for storage with loads of boxes and broken chairs. It was a communal shower, which maybe I could have become accustomed to, but it was unisex. And all the geriatric Chinese and Japanese tourists we’d seen in the corridor would have died of shock if they’d seen three naked western girls with boobs and stuff, as we would have seeing their wrinkly old skin and stuff! Plus, it was a long trek down and it was like a freezer, shockingly cold! I was losing my patience with this country, and frankly, couldn’t wait to get the hell out of it and see the city.The next day was incredible! Beijing is one of the craziest cities I have ever been to. There are people just everywhere. They are walking, cycling, in cars and one thing I will never forget… they are always spitting! Even the frail, old women walking along the street hurl a big gob in the back of their throat and lob it anywhere they like, even indoors! It’s so rancid that it truly made me start to take a great distaste to the people.
Dirty disciples! I empathise a little in the fact that there a millions of cars and therefore the pollution is rife and it can be hard to breathe but there is no excuse for the constant ejection of saliva. It’s unnecessary and more than anything else it’s just bad manners!But I wasn’t here to see the phlegm of the Chinese, I was there to see their architecture, landscape and their food, so on with the show! The first day we headed to Tian’anmen Square, and I swear it’s the size of a small county. It’s just colossal. I couldn’t get my camera to fit in the whole area no matter how far I stood back. The square was brimming with tour groups.
They all manage to have these red or yellow plain baseball caps and a tour guide flying around like a headless chicken waving a stick in the air. The forty hectare area is protected by Chinese guards – and there are an awful lot of these guards, the reason why there are so many, I concluded, is because it’s such a mammoth country that the people have to work doing something, even if that means standing in a huge yard! It is very impressive though, just the sheer size of it.
After Tian’anmen we followed a Japanese tour group with bright yellow caps to The Forbidden City (it’s easier to cross the 6 lane roads in a big group). Another titanic building from the Chinese past. In this article I’m trying to mix up the word “big” because everything in China is huge, and the Forbidden City is no exception.
There are 800 buildings and 9000 rooms. That’s BIG! It took us two and a half hours to walk through the Forbidden City (so called because the common folk of the day weren’t allowed in it). The amount of temples is staggering and mind-blowing, it’s so hard to comprehend, even when you’re there, that this place is manmade, it seems like too big a feat, that it must be natural!
We did hire commentary tapes (very disappointed when we found out it wasn’t Rodger Moore guiding us, but a Chinese woman with poor pronunciation skills) and though it wasn’t that memorable I do recall her saying that an Emperor’s wife’s dinner used to be so gigantic that it could have fed thousands of the starving peasants on the outside of the city – each night! How’s that for excess?
China was getting interesting, and a visit to Mao in his freezer was just what we needed to continue this historical tour of Beijing, but we kept missing him because they close the freezer door every Monday morning, so we’d have to forget about Mao. So back to the bars for some beers!