I've just been to the Toilet in Beijing West station. I met a bloke who said 'Ni Hao' ( 你 好 ), which incidentally is also the first Mandarin phrase i've learnt, meaning Hello. Except this guy was taking a dump. With the cubicle door open. On a squat toilet. I was a little taken back.
Blue Sky in Tianamen Square. Watched by a Security Camera.
So I've arrived in China and met with the Sarah who has just arrived from Russia and Mongolia on the trans-siberian train. With India being the focus of my attention for the past few months, I've not really thought much about what to expect of China other than lots of difficulties with the English-Mandarin language barrier and lots of pollution. I was thinking a mix of third and first world.
First stop is Beijing and I have landed in what I think is probally the cleanest city in the world. Spotless. No graffiti, no litter, no chewing gum spots, no raw sewage, no dodgy smells, no crumbling buildings, no fly-tipping and no dirt. And surprisingly not much in the way of pollution that the city is famed for. I guess its a good week. It's all a rather sterile environment, especially compared to India. And its not because the Chinese are any less prone to littering like much of asia and the west. Here they have a small army of workers in tidy blue or orange overalls with straw hats dilligently cleaning the cities streets 24/7. And as for graffiti, I suspect that the Public Security Bureau provides ample incentive to avoid making a small part of Beijing yours. I also suspect that much of the effort also comes as a result of the spill over from the Olympics. Its clearly an event that Beijing and the Chinese are very proud of. You still see plenty of adverts proclaminig official sponsorship of the Olympics, one year on.
We've had a few language problems. Mainly Taxi drivers shrugging thier shoulders in a "Go away, your not worth the hasstle" kind of way. Then there is food. Understandably, all restaurants have menu's in Mandarin, as you would expect in China. But many are restricted to just Mandarin, meaning its a bit tricky, leaving you wondering if your ordering a starter, main or dessert. Nevermind if its Fish, Chicken or Beef. Or even Duck head, Pigs intestines, Chicken feet, tripe or any dish that seems a common delicacy here. Thankfully many places have pictures on the menu leaving you only half guessing if its Pork or Beef, never-mind if its the brain, intestines or some other part of the carcass. Are you vegetarian and want to stay that way ? Good luck !
Forbidden City. With a cleaner following us.In an effort to help us get around, I've tried to learn a couple of basic phrases and resorted to dictating from the guide book to get somewhere. Its quite hard. Pronunciation is not important, I'm told, its all about the tone of the chinsese characters you are trying to say. And if you don't get that right, you end up asking for the guys shirt when really you want to go to a museum. or something like that. So we have ended up pointing to Chinese characters in the Rough Guide. Without this, Sarah and I would be totally stuffed. I mean right now, we'd still be outside the Forbidden City trying to get to our hostel.
Which reminds me. I've seen many book shops & hostels selling Lonely planets/Rough Guides. You can buy pretty much any country in the world. You name it; France, Mexico, Burma, Guatemala, even the Cook islands. Except ? ... errrrr ... China. Better not loose our Rough Guide then. Without pointing to characters, the only place I can honestly say correctly is ... Běijīng. Which would be a long and expensive taxi journey from the South of China. Thankfully I am only a text message away from help .... kindly provided by a work colleague in Beijing, Eric, who has bailed me out a couple of times !
Its also an efficient place to get around. Exceptionally so. The metro runs to time, is frequent and make me groan at the thought of a regular commute on the London underground. Taxi drivers take you from A to B. Ok, I know is obvious, but I now consider it a luxury compared the Indian Subcontinent.
And this place is the home of Gadgets. And gadget rip offs. Lots of them. Even the beggars come armed with gadgets. The blind beggars walking the carriages of the metro come with a huge battery powered amp system, back mounted, just in case you cant hear them, some four carriages down. My pick of the bunch is the calculators that speak as you type. And then they play little tunes when you get the total. Its a little like speak and spell. Just in Mandarin.
Sarah and I took the time to visit the Great Wall of China and walked a 10 km section from Jinshanling to Simatai. I cannot express just how utterly impressive this is. Then to sit back and think that this is such a small section of the wall. And to think of the amount of effort which must have gone into building the wall is simply staggering. This truly is worthy of its status as one of the seven wonders of the world. Well worth the visit.
Walking the Great wall of China.
Following Beijing we are heading south and are off to PingYao. A little lucky to actually be off as we missed the train, underestimating the traffic of Beijing during rush hour. We got jammy though, the train was late too.