Strolling through Beijing

Since Babsi had a strong wifi I used my Wednesday morning to update the blog again. With a VPN connection it was possible to work a bit on it. I had decided to walk that the day through the Hutong, shop for some presents (Babsi offered to take them to Vienna at the end of May) and then slowly make my way to the park across the Forbidden City to climb up that tower that I had missed the day before.

As usual with these planned things it didn’t work out. I sat down for a little Kimchi soup for lunch, and then walked slowly through the shopping street where I tried some Taiwanese frozen yoghurt. It poured on some frost sheet and top with mango and then cut into smaller pieces while it instant freezes. Makes sense? It looked better than it tasted though and it was difficult to eat.IMG_2807 IMG_2813

Walking through the Hutong gave me time to savor the Chinese everyday life. It’s crazy btw and colorful and crowded and just great to watch.IMG_2808 IMG_2810 IMG_2811 IMG_2814 IMG_2815

This furry part in the last picture is the back of a cat that was sleeping in this shop. I really liked these figures but they were astronomically expensive. I had to take a picture though, they were really beautiful.

When I ended up with 4 bags and the metro was nearby I decided to go home and drop the bags, then go back for the tower. Yeah, did not happen. I spent 30 minutes at home, taking pictures of the kittens and relaxed.
IMG_2801IMG_2803 Then I took the metro to meet Babsi. Tonight we were going with her friend Jennifer to a reading from Timothy Garton Ash.

We met her at a tapas bar around the corner from The Bookworm where we shared a pitcher of some Tequila/grapefruit/soda mix (very good, light and refreshing) and some tacos.IMG_2821 IMG_2822 IMG_2823

 

From there it was only one more minute and we were right on time for the talk of ‘From Berlin to Beijing: reflections of a political writer’. I really enjoyed it, such a completely different program from everything else I have done so far on this trip. And while I will miss one book club meeting while traveling this makes up for it I think.IMG_2824 IMG_2825

But right after the event we left and searched for a taxi. I wanted to be home ‘early’ to finish packing and get some sleep. The next morning I was leaving for Shanghai. Yours, Pollybert

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Walking around the Hutong in Beijing

I slept forever on this Saturday. It was so nice to not get up and go somewhere. Babsi and I hadn’t really planned anything for the day except to walk around in her Hutong.

We started with a late breakfast around her place and then moved on to see the Lama temple. It looked different from the ones in Tibet. No butter lamps first of all and people prayed while kneeling on little benches (more like a foot rest in catholic churches but upholstered). Also a lot less Buddhas inside the temple and only a few protectors, a very civilized form of Buddhism.IMG_2446IMG_2448 IMG_2452IMG_2451 IMG_2456From there we walked to the Confucius temple, a bit more of the same with the difference that it was right on the other side of her compound. She also showed me the roof on which her cat Momo liked to live when he got out of the house (this knowledge came in very handy two days later).IMG_2458

IMG_2459IMG_2461IMG_2465IMG_2466IMG_2467These stone carvings were always in the middle of the stairs and the Emperor would be carried over it while his carriers had to use the stairs left and right.

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Doesn’t this ceiling look colorful and amazing. Probably all redone though. That’s the problem with the Chinese historic sites. You never know if they are real. Even if stuff burned down 20 years ago and they rebuilt it, it’s still historic for them and not new.

Here we also stopped for yoghurt, you buy it in a jar and suck it with a straw. Very refreshing and only slightly sweetened.

Within the Confucius temple complex was also the Imperial College. Here the Emperor would give a ‘lecture’ once a year. The way the attendee list and the seating arrangement were described, the low level civil servants never saw or heard anything. Still it was an honor just to be in the presence of the Emperor.IMG_2470

IMG_2471IMG_2472IMG_2473IMG_2475IMG_2476 IMG_2477While walking around in various temples or sites I came across a lot of supported trees. Rarely though ones that were apparently dead. But since a dead looking one had burst back into life all of them get a second chance.

Then it was time for a small lunch at  Mr. Shi’s dumplings. Just some salad and a couple of dumplings to share.IMG_2483 IMG_2484

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From here we walked around some more to look at shops and also to track down a coffee place called Café Zarah.IMG_2489

Eventually we found it and had a coffee (quite good actually). I was fascinated by their introduction to their menu

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and that they provided power outlets in the floor for their guests! The level of customer service here in China really astonished me. In all ways because sometimes it was just so bad!

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On the other hand when I went into the bathroom and had locked the door behind me, I saw a sign on which it said that they have problems with the lock and if you can’t open the door you should call the management. Haha, that was really the best!

By then it was time to return home, freshen up and then get ready for dinner with some of Babsi’s friends. We were quite an international crowd from Ireland, Germany, Argentina and Latvia. And the restaurant we went to had food from the Hunan province, a place I will not visit on this trip.

The girls ordered the food and we shared some kind of alcoholic drink which was served in a bamboo vase.IMG_2500 IMG_2503 IMG_2504

The place was super busy and had a mix of local and international guests. I am sorry but the pictures of the food didn’t come out so well. We set outside and it was just too dark and with the flash it’s just not the same.

From there we moved on (sounds as if it’s around the corner which it was not. More like a 20 minutes walk) to Migas Rooftop Bar, a very different crowd. Almost only international people and the few Chinese were mostly the girlfriends of some old guys or on the lookout for one. At least that’s the way it looked to me. Anyway there was a nice view.

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We didn’t stay overly long because the next morning I had to get up very early. Yours, Pollybert

The Three Visitors Cave

The next morning dawned bright and sunny again, just not in my room. With no window to see I still got up at 8:30, packed my things and after a cup of tea (furnished from the nice Danish gentleman at the South train station in Xi’an) I was on my way.IMG_2370

 

I had looked up the online information on the cave since I was almost sure there would be no English guide available.IMG_2369

 

I already knew the way to the bus station and on the walk there I bought an apple from a vendor. This would suffice as breakfast. Once at the station bus number 10 took a while to come. What turned out to be really irritating was that on the information sheet it said 18 stops instead of final stop. I was counting each stop and was throughly irritated when the bus stopped at no clear indicated station. Should I count that one or not? Finally I asked the guy next to me who made a gesture as if to tell me when to get off. He didn’t but it was not necessary after all.

I had arrived at the right place as all the other local tourists indicated. The village had a lot more to offer than just the cave. There was also a bungee jump place, boat rides and some kind of cable chair with which you could cross the gorge (I am sure there is better word but since I don’t even know the word for it in German…, sorry).

I went for the all-in one ticket which was a bit of rip-off in the end because although it had sights from A-F on it (with the cave being B) nobody could tell me what the rest was except that F was a 5 minute boat ride which was prolonged by another 5 minutes because we had to dock three times to take other passengers on board.

The cave then was a spectacular walk with lots of scenic spots on the Yangtze and a few historic sites of Chinese defense against the Japanese in WWII.IMG_2375 IMG_2376 IMG_2380 IMG_2381 IMG_2384 IMG_2391 IMG_2393 IMG_2394 IMG_2397 IMG_2405 IMG_2407 IMG_2409 IMG_2410When I came out of the cave ‘park’ it was time for some lunch. Since the choices were limited I walked into the next one which had a very lovely view on a tributary of the Yangtze. Alas, not for me. Single diners are always banned to the darkest corner. In this case not a corner since I was just banned into the cave.IMG_2421 IMG_2416

On the other hand who knows how well built the terrace structure was. After the earthquake one cannot be too careful. The restaurant had a few specialties, one of them being an olm (or something similar)! The picture on my table number was definitely not inviting.IMG_2415

 

To stay on the safe side I ordered vegetables instead, noodles and fried rice. Portions again were large enough to feed a family of four, but I love to have a choice.IMG_2417 IMG_2418 IMG_2419

Sylvia would have loved the vegetables covered in bacon.

After the meal I was ready for the other sights, but as already said there were non (at least for non Chinese speaking people) except the boat ride. So I made my way down the gorge, already worried about walking all these steps up again.

The boat ride then was nice but short, nothing special except for seeing the cave from a different perspective.IMG_2422 IMG_2424 IMG_2425 IMG_2426 IMG_2427 IMG_2431

After the ride I slowly walked up again, ready to go back to the hostel. The bus ride into town was a lot less exciting than out of it since I could read and it was enough to look up ever couple of minutes to see were I was. Since I came back in good time I stopped at the cafe from yesterday and had a coffee. I had a long day still ahead.IMG_2440

 

The coffee was rich, creamy and sweet and had almost nothing to do with coffee. But it gave me a little downtime and a boost to tackle the airport issue.

With my backpack and my front pack in place I decided I would take a taxi to the airport shuttle station. It seemed rather heavy all of a sudden. I tried first on the street in front of my hostel to no avail. After 10 minutes I thought it prudent to walk to the bus station to have this option at least in case of taxi hailing failure.

It wasn’t that there were no taxis, just that no one wanted to take me on. And I had the destination in written Chinese. I was at the end of my rope here.

At the bus station I realized that it was rush hour and that it would be next to impossible to get on the bus what with all the Chinese pushing and shoving to get on first. So back again to lining up for a taxi.

While waiting I asked a young woman next to me if I was at least waiting on the right street side to go to the shuttle. As it turned out she spoke English, explained to me that the taxi drivers were changing shifts and therefore didn’t take anyone on and that bus no. 8 as written on the hostel information was not going to the shuttle. She knew because she worked near the hotel from where the shuttle left.

In the end she managed to hail a taxi, took me with her and payed for the it. I was overwhelmed especially since she walked with me to the correct hotel. Really, the Chinese are a lot better than their reputation!

At the hotel I found out that the shuttle would be leaving at 6pm, but by that time it was shortly before 5pm. The bus was already there but wouldn’t leave for an hour? I was flummoxed.

Anyway, I settled down in the lobby, reading my book and prepared to wait. I still had ample of time since my flight left only at 8:30pm. When the bus finally started after 6pm I was already less relaxed. I like to be at the airport early. Rather have a coffee there after check-in than being nervous about making the flight.

When the bus made its second stop we were only at the train station, a huge hub that I had seen already the day before. By then it was 7pm and I was on tenterhooks. Babsi (my friend in Beijing had ordered a driver due to my late arrival).

I tried the Tibetan mantra of ‘on ma ne be ne hum’ (I am sure it goes totally different but this is the way it sounded in German to me) and to be indifferent about it. After all it was only a flight.

In the end I was at the airport at 7:30, could check-in right away and had time for a water. Turned out that the airport was super small and all flights except mine were delayed.

Delayed for hours, like six or seven. Just imagine you have to wait that long. Apparently this was nothing unusual. I later heard that the air force is taking precedence over all flights and if they are having maneuvers then the air is theirs. Maybe this is exaggerate, I couldn’t verify it.

Long matters short, I left on time and a bit over two hours later I arrived in Beijing where Mr. Shi awaited me. He had a sign with my name but when I saw it first they seemed like Chinese characters. Since he kept looking at me I tried to decipher the sign again and then recognized my name. I think I need a new prescription for my contacts.

In no time at all we arrived at the Hutong where Babsi lived and then it was really time to relax. Yours, Pollybert