Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Thursday 16th July - Day 2

I was woken up by a stewardess handing out our "swine flu cards" which asked for your seat number, hotel etc.. so you could be quarantined in case you grew trotters.

We were told that our flight was slightly early and that we were making our descent into Beijing. Outside was foggy and grey. Everyone thought we were in the clouds - until we landed and outside was still foggy and grey - welcome to Beijing!

We arrived about 09:00 local time and after departing the plane, we had to fill in more forms, and then even more forms until we cleared customs, got on a monorail and picked up our bags. Eventually everyone arrived and after after several head counts we were met by our Chinese guides Tony (Ming) and Serena (Chun Li).

Apart from the fact that the sky was grey, the first thing that hit you was the humidity. Luckily the coaches had air conditioning and after a 40 minute journey we were taken to a restaurant for lunch - which oddly enough was Chinese.

The format was one that would be repeated in most of the restaurants we visited in China, (except McDonalds which to be honest is pushing the term restaurant to its limit) a round table seating about 10 people with a "lazy Susan" (circular revolving glass tray) in the middle.

Dishes were brought out and placed on the "lazy Susan" which you then turned/stopped /wrestled with until you had managed to transfer the food from the plate to your bowl with chopsticks. Bottles of traditional "Sprite" and "Coca cola" were given to each table as well as beer and tea.

After filling our faces/fighting with chopsticks, we left the restaurant and travelled to the hotel which was called the Hua Yu hotel. The hotel was to the North East of the Forbidden City in a "hutong" district. Which is another way of saying that "the courtyards hide the secrets of hundreds of years of Imperial Chinese rule and the streets are old" - and are way too narrow to get a coach down, so you are carrying your bags!

As we lugged our kit to the hotel it was obvious that in Summer, Chinese life is lived outside, to the full and at the top of people's voices. The delicious smells of cooking food in the shops either side of the road was tempered by the ever present background stench of latrines which took me a while to get over.

We got to the hotel which was large and proceeded to dump 72 bags in the foyer, much to the joy of the management. As we were allocated rooms - Mr PJ had agreed reluctantly to share a room with me - Serena took back the room card I had been handed and gave me another one instead as I was "Mr Troll". It turned out that our room was bigger than all the rest - although the "jacuzzi rumour" was untrue.

After having a shower PJ, Dan, Richard and Myself decided to go for our own hutong tour. We walked around the back of the hotel and wandered through the hutongs - which are currently like building sites. This is because people thought they were going to be pulled down so didn't do any DIY. Now there has been a reprieve so everyone is getting all the jobs done -at the same time.

Those who know me know I have "a bit" of a gut. As I walked along a Chinese man of similar proportions to myself saw me, stopped, rolled up his t-shirt and proceeded to rub his belly while smiling broadly. I then responded in the same fashion and we went our separate ways - belly Esperanto!

After our expedition we made our way back to the hotel and met up with Dawn, Natalie Cook and a few others. Just as we were getting ready to go out there was a knock at the door. Two women stood there with a thermometer and a notebook to take our temperatures - we both passed and as we had no trotters they left us alone. We decided to wander around and find somewhere to eat. In the Summer all the old people are out in the parks doing line dancing/tai chi, which was fun to watch.

We found a brilliant restaurant and ate a meal which had about 10 courses. At this point I decided that Tofu was invented by the Chinese to punish vegetarians - foul stuff.

After that we wanted to find Tienanmen square. I was convinced it was in one direction and when a local said it was in the opposite direction, I was saying "I think she's mistaken!" Everyone just looked on in disbelief - " Troll she's a bloody local!" I conceded the point and we made our way back to our hotel, where we went back to our rooms and crashed out.

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