April 2007 - China

A spare seat next to me and 10 hours later we flew into Shanghai airport for another 4 hour wait until our next flight. 3am Sydney time we made it to our Hotel in the centre of the Chinese universe, Beijing. Uneventful and long so I will skip all details and start with the new day.

The breakfast buffet was a huge affair with all Western, Chinese and Japanese food available. You name the hot food and it was probably on the buffet: made on the spot waffles and pancakes; dumplings; caved ham sitting in mango. Shame I’m not a big breakfast person.

No sooner than we walked outside there was a sense of being somewhere completely different to anywhere we had been before. The architecture grabs you first, then the feel of the streets and finally the people. Mum says it’s that great feeling you get when you first walk outside to explore a city, the excitement and the sense of discovery.

The Hotel is extremely central and after a 10 minute walk we found ourselves looking at the gigantic portrait of Mao. For those that don’t know I was at the entrance to the Forbidden City, at Tiananmen Square, home of Emperor’s from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. 960m by 745m the Forbidden City is NOT done on a small scale.

Although we were offered many a English tour guide (“150RMB, best price today”) we turned to the safer option, the audio tour. Activated by GPS you are able to take things at your own pace. So onto the Gate of Supreme Harmony (closed for renovations, scaffolding blocking any view of the gate), Hall of Supreme Harmony (closed for renovations, all the marble steps blocked). That was a little disappointing… The largest, most awe inspiring hall and all I could see was the tileless roof. I thought to myself, ‘this better not be a trend’. Thankfully all the other major sections were opened so we did end up experiencing MOST of what the Forbidden City had to offer.

The grandeur surrounded and entranced us, the Chinese tour groups surrounded and squashed us. In China the flags are not enough to keep tour groups together, each wear different coloured hats. Orange, red, fake pink Dolce and Gabana Visors (I wish I had have taken a picture of that). They were everywhere and it got busier closer to lunchtime where fighting for a picture of the Emperor’s Seat in the Hall of Preserving Harmony was not only a battle for position, it was a battle to take your picture before someone pushed you out of the way.

Near the back of the Forbidden City was the Imperial Garden, with trees between 300 and 400 years old. The only reason why I mention this is because walking into the ladies restroom activated the GPS on the audio guide and we learnt all about the Pavilion of Crimson Snow which was in fact, next door. Well played GPS.

Mum would like it noted that she was not the first person to fall over on this trip. It was... me. I stepped on an extremely slippery piece of marble, lost my footing, on the ground. Dad tried to save me and stepped on the slippery piece of marble, thankfully he managed to save himself… just.

On the way out we walked around Tiananmen Square, kites and people out and about. It is 480 days until the Beijing Olympics (8th August 2008).

The afternoon was spent in the shopping centre attached to the Hotel and finally I can move onto dinner (I feel my blogging skills are very rusty, especially speed).

I was able to escape the parents as I was to have dinner with Neri and Rob (friends that used to work at Four Seasons). Whilst my parents played it safe at the Italian Restaurant in the Hotel, I went for something far more traditional and Chinese… Peking Duck. Now I will admit I have only tasted Peking Duck a couple of times before and was never thrilled, but when in Beijing there are some things you NEED to do. The verdict? Delicious pancakes fill with Duck and other condiments, I am now looking forward to the second round of Peking Duck on Tuesday night even more than before.

After dinner we walked down to the night markets. These are the markets you see on all the travel shows, where the theory goes anything live can be skewered, bbqed and eaten. So you have your beef, lamb, eel, snake and then the more eccentric taste of grasshopper, centipede, starfish and scorpion (to name a few). Thankfully I was so full that there was no chance of eating anything else (not that there was any desire to).