“There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that can't sit still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will. They range the field and rove the flood, And they climb the mountain's crest; Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don't know how to rest.”
- Robert Service

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Beijing (by Michael)

From January 12.

We woke up in Delhi this morning, after 2 days in Beijing. China was fabulous. We found it extremely friendly, and modern and well organized. And we lucked out and had 2 beautiful blue sky days with very little of the smog that Beijing is famous for.

My expectations were based on Vietnam, so I expected to have to be wary of shady taxi drivers, being constantly harassed by hawkers and scammers. None of that was true here. Everywhere the people we met were professional and helpful. Our first night, we found ourselves a little lost in a hutong (a narrow alleyway winding between residential compounds) trying to find our hostel. A local noticed us looking around like lost tourists and without a saying word, pointed out the way for us. The language barrier wasn't that noticeable though. All business and street signs are subtitled in English. We were told the government has been promoting English as an international language at least since the Olympics. The few times when there was a language barrier, people were patient with our gesturing. In McDonalds, where we tried red bean pies, they pulled out a card to point at. They've seen a few tourists here before.

Even so, Sarah and I were occasionally minor celebrities. A few times in the Forbidden City and again at the Summer Palace we were approached by people who wanted to take photos with foreigners. At this time of year at least, these sites are full of mostly domestic tourists, so I imagine some of them haven't seen too many foreigners.

A colourful structure at the entrance to Tiananmen square
I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that we were in China. It seemed so easy. Contrast this to our first day in India today, where there is no doubt we're in a different country. I loved everything about Beijing, from the massive ceiling in the airport as we arrived to the walkable downtown, the colours of the Forbidden City, and of course, the Great Wall. The section of the Wall we visited, Mutianyu, runs along a mountain ridge. We took a chair lift up, walked to the end of the rebuilt section (and a little passed that into the ruins) and then rode a metal luge track back down the mountainside. I wondered if it was like Disneyland where you can go full throttle and still not be anywhere near the limits of the ride. It wasn't. I had to use the brakes a few times. It was awesome.

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