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We woke up this morning to blue skies. The smog isn’t anywhere near as bad today as it has been. I guess being a Saturday, there aren’t as many cars on the road.  Yesterday,  William was saying that there are a million people waiting on a list to be able to register a car in Beijing.  It only costs $100 for license plates but you have to go into a lottery to get them as they are trying to cut down on cars on the road. In Shanghai it costs over $12,000 to register a car but you can do it immediately.

We had to be on the bus by 8am today, which was made easier by last night’s mission to get milk for my cup of tea.  A quick cuppa and shower and we were on our way downstairs.  Had another high carb breakfast.  The fried pancakes are to die for. So scrummy.  Anyway, we scoffed our breakfast down, eager to get away from the woman who parked herself at our table and was slurping on soup for breakfast.. ewwww.   Soup is served so differently over here.  It is served with every meal and is served  AFTER the main meal at lunch and dinner time.  It’s probably got something to do with digestion and they probably do it the right way but it feels weird and I could not do it for breakfast.  

We hit the bus and were on our way a minute after 8am.  Pretty damn good we thought.  We started the day’s journey at the Bird’s Nest.   To finally stand and see the building that I saw so much of while watching the Beijing Olympics was pretty spectacular.  All in all the Olympic Park area is fantastic really.  It is so clean (as is most of Beijing).  Beijing is a real mix of old and new.  People drive around on motor scooters picking up rubbish from the streets, others sweep the ground with brooms that look like they are a branch from a tree so other than the smog it is clean.  Cars are all new but all dirty due to the smog.  It certainly has a charm all of its own.  You know those emails where some dude is carrying a house full of furniture on his pushbike?  Well that is everywhere.  In amongst all the modern cars are dudes on pushbikes carrying their families, couches and mattresses and recycled cardboard and anything else you can imagine.  It’s unbelievable that they can pedal them with how loaded they are.  Quite remarkable really.

While we were wandering around the Olympic centre, we happened to stumble on what looked like a market. When we got closer we saw that every stall was selling memorabilia for a pop group.  I think it may have been EXO but I’m not 100% sure on that.  All I know is that there were stalls everywhere selling anything about them.  It was madness. There were cardboard cut outs set up for people to take photos with.  Of course we had to have our photos taken with them too.   Anyway, after a while the police turned up in a little golf cart type thing and cleared them away.  Move on… Nothing to see here type stuff lol. The Bird’s Nest really is an amazing building and the whole area is beautiful.

The buildings here in Beijing are miracles of engineering.  If you thought the Bird’s Nest was an engineering feat.. seriously, it has nothing on other buildings.  Everything is built with curves (great Feng Shui) and huge television screens in the middle of the buildings. They just love huge television screens.. They turn up in the most weird places.  While apartment blocks are everywhere, they all have some character to them, not the commission high rises that we are used to.  The IBM building is incredible.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  The shape of so many of the newer buildings reminds me of the Jetson’s with lots of curves and bits jutting out.  The density of living is unbelievable but the city runs reasonably smoothly except for the traffic.  Because it is the weekend, the roads were packed.  It seems that through the week, you have days where you can’t drive depending on your number plate.  For instance, yesterday being Friday meant that if your number plate ended in a 6, you couldn’t drive.  Weekends however are open slather.  As I said,  thankfully the smog cleared today and we could see blue skies.

After the Bird’s Nest, we headed towards the Great Wall of China but stopped at the Jade factory first.  Some really gorgeous pieces there but completely out of my price range.  I couldn’t justify the price just to shove it in my crystal cabinet.  Cecile had a set of pearls on.  Or should I say, false pearls.. A really good set of glass beads with a golden pearl coating.  They are beautiful.  When one of the ladies at the Jade factory saw them, she followed us around all over the place.  She was convinced they were real gold pearls which are ridiculously expensive.  I’m sure she thought she was a rich woman from the west who was gonna buy big lol. The shop there sold Snickers bars so I was happy.   From there we went on to lunch at another Chinese restaurant which served pretty much the same sort of food as the day before.  It’s all banquets here.  Don’t think I’m complaining.. I’m not. The food is great.

The restaurant was upstairs and downstairs was a huge retail area selling every sort of thing you can possibly imagine.  On the way up we got a quick tour of how they make Cloisonne ware. Now that is a painstaking process and I have a whole new love of the stuff now, knowing what goes into making it. Very impressive.  I picked up a few presents from here.  We were all eager to get to the Great Wall though.  The group we’re travelling with are lovely. It’s taken up till today for people to really start to warm to each other but they are good fun.  We are from Australia, Canada, America and the Dominican Republic.  One of my new American friends is an absolute hoot.  Another lady from Canada is a dead spit of my friend Janti.  She’s originally from England so even sounds like her lol.  She’s really friendly too.  All in all, they are a really nice group to be travelling with.

So, we finally head out to the mountains to climb the Great Wall.  Wow.. Wow.. and Wow!  The mountains are much bigger and more of them than I expected.  They seem to be made of shoal and are huge.  It’s such a different landscape.  Even though I live in the Blue Mountains, these were completely different to anything I’ve seen before.  When we got there, I finally felt like this is what I was here for.  It reminded me of every movie I’d seen of China growing up.  The temples and the mountains and the wall itself were mind blowing.  Let me tell you though, the wall is steep.  I’m not talking a little bit steep… I’m talking, HOLY COW,  YOU WANT ME TO CLIMB WHAT???? steep!  

We started off all enthusiastically and within the first few steps I thought, Uh oh.. am I going to be able to do this.  It’s not about the number of steps, though there are thousands.  It’s about the steepness and uneveness of them.  OMG.  You step up one that is probably around a foot high then the next is maybe 3 inches.  They are worn and uneven and quite slippery in parts.  My poor ankle which is still recovering from a break 8 weeks ago, is really started to feel it.  But I carried on.    I looked up and thought, okay.. we’re nearly there. Maybe only a hundred or so steps to go.  We reached the top, puffing and panting but so proud of ourselves.. then some others pointed out the rest of the way.. Gulp!!  That was only the first part of the climb.  What really annoyed me was when a Chinese woman of about 65 sprinted past me with a baby in a papoose on her back.  Sigh..  I admitted defeat by that time as did most of the people around our age (except that lady).  I knew I was fit enough to do it but my ankle and knee would have been stuffed for the rest of the trip so I left it there.  I climbed up a tiny narrow stair case to reach the turret at the top and took pics from there.  Some of the young and fit members of our tour did the whole thing and they were completely stuffed afterwards so I knew I made the right decision.  It was a huge feat from both of us.  As it happens, the actual Wall is 5000 miles long so unless you have a year or so to spend, most people only ever walk part of it so I’m impressed with what I did.  It was an amazing experience.

The views from up there are spectacular.  I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.  This structure is so old and steeped in such history and here I was climbing it.  Me!  I was actually on the Great Wall of China. I felt humbled and emotional at the thought that I was there.  I felt so proud to be standing there and also weepy at the thought of how I got there.  I know my angel in heaven, Aimee was with me all the way.  From the smog the day before, the weather for the climb was perfect. Not too hot but beautiful blue skies and sunshine.  Yes, this is a moment I will never forget.  It’s one of the major things on my bucket list and I’ve done it.  If you ever get the chance to come here, do it.  The climb is not for the faint hearted but it is special.  The crowds of people there were pretty much all in the same mood as me I think.  There was camaraderie and smiles all around.

I’ve found most Chinese people to be very friendly and polite.  They try to speak to you in English even if it’s just to say hello or thank you.  We’ve learned how to say Ni Hao which is Chinese for hello.. We have learned a few other useful words too.  The older people I’ve come across have been so humble and polite. The younger generation seem to be a lot more pushy and selfish.  i don’t mean it as a youth bashing thing but I think it has a lot to do with the single child policy.  They have been indulged as the parent’s have always known that they were the only kids they’d have. What really surprises me is how happy and comfortable they are with the policy here.  I’ve always seen it as completely barbaric to say that someone can only have one child but when it’s explained through their eyes, it makes sense.  It’s also not as stringent as we have been led to believe.  They think it was the wise thing to do and in all reality it probably was.  Interestingly, it has changed the social standing of women  here.  Where women were once seen as the inferior gender and treated poorly, she now holds pride of place as there are so many more men than women, so women are a precious commodity.  Men know they have to work hard to keep their women happy as they may not have another chance with women being so scarce.  All jokes aside (as much as I want to make them), it’s such a huge turnaround in society and a massive step for women.

Once again, ordering food was a nightmare lol.  As we reached the bottom of the climb, we went into a shop so Cecile could have a coffee.  I ordered (or thought so anyway) a double header strawberry and pineapple icecream, my favorite.  What I GOT was 2 tubs of icecream…. one strawberry with canned whipped cream on top.. the other was vanilla icecream with chunky pineapple sauce and whipped cream.  They must have thought.. mmm no wonder she’s fat lol.. Anyway, I offloaded the pineapple one to one of our young Canadian friends and happily ate my strawberry one.  I picked up my framed certificate that says I climbed the Great Wall and         headed back to the bus.  By now, we were ready for a snooze but our day wasn’t anywhere near finished.

We were now headed back to the Olympic centre for a foot massage.  We had an army of masseurs come in with 37 buckets of warm water with a bag of herbs in each one for us to soak our feet while we got the hard sell from Julie who was explaining in very broken but understandalbe English about reflexology and eastern medicine.  I guess it’s a great time to start the hard sell when your whole audience is captive with their feet stuck in a bucket of herbal tea lol.  It felt good all the same…  After about 15 minutes, the masseurs came back in again and proceeded to massage our feet.  We could have a pedicure too for 100 yuan which is  under $20 so we both chose to have one.  Oh the skin he shaved off my feet was so embarrassing but it felt so good to have it all off.  My feet are always sore because of the    dry skin  and most remedies don’t work.. Shaving it off did. Bliss.  The foot massage was like water to a man lost in the desert for 2 weeks.. It was just pure bliss.  The lady who did our feet was a wonder woman.  Then they had a natural medicine specialist come round to read our palms to diagnose us.  He was telling me that I need to detox my liver and wanted to sell me medicine that would only cost me 3800 Yuan which is  about $650..   Umm I don’t think so when water will do the same thing when done with enough consistency.  This part I really didn’t like.  I’m getting used to the hard sell but these people were REALLY persistent.

The hard sell is everywhere here.  From the beggars and vendors in the street to the places they take us to “educate” us on the main exports of China.  Everyone wants a slice of the  western dollar.  This  tour has been incredible so far and so cheap.  There is no way you could do this on your own for anywhere near this price but they take you to places that  I think pay a kick back for bringing the $$$$$ to them.  Still, it’s been pretty fantastic so far and without that sort of sponsorship I’m sure they couldn’t offer the same package so I can handle the hard sell.  We have had much more value than what we paid so I’m thrilled with it.  Things aren’t as cheap as I expected to be honest but we’ve been taken to places that have been expecting the western dollar so they are probably highly jacked up just for us.  I’m looking forward to the knock off markets tomorrow.
Dinner was at a restaurant specialising in Peking Duck.  It was another really nice place but people were smoking at the tables.. they can smoke in the hotel too.  The majority of men in China smoke and it’s like stepping back in time to see it everywhere.. I think they said 90% of the country smokes so they are catering for the majority.  I really struggled with it.  After dinner we all came home, exhausted and straight to our rooms.  I washed a few clothes out and was in awe again of how mum used to do hand washing and be able to wring clothes out till they were almost as dry as a spin dryer..Then fall into bed.  I’m so exhausted…

We awake to another early start.  The clothes I washed the night before are still soaking wet so I’m glad I didn’t need them. We raced downstairs to try to fit some breakfast in before boarding the bus at 8am. Not the day to have to rush as they finally had crispy bacon.  I’m not complaining about the food mind you.  It’s amazing. But the bacon every other day has been that horrible processed shaped bacon and they seem to steam it rather than frying it.  Anyway, we still rushed to get our breakfast down  before we headed out to the bus.  I’m so tired but that is probably because I’m sitting up watching CNN and the news broadcasts of the bush fires.  We’re both worried sick about them.  what a time to be away.

Anyway, onto the bus we got and headed towards the Temple of Heaven.  It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is obviously a meeting place for many Beijing people.  As we walked through, the locals were playing games of hackie sack, human coits, ping pong (minus the table) and lots of other kinds of games as well as doing Tai Chi.  It’s incredible to see people who look like they’re in their 80’s flinging their legs up into the air to kick the hackie sack.   The colorful feathers of the hackie sacks were everywhere.  This is real skill.  I tried to prove how fit i was by copying one of the moves minus the actual hackie sack and ended up wincing in pain.  My legs are so sore after the day before’s climb up the Great Wall.  We wandered around the temple for a while and I took some photos.  Sad part of the day is, it seems my camera is playing up, so not only are the photos not as good as they should be but the mirror keeps locking up so looks like I may have to start saving for a new camera sooner rather than later, if I want to finish Diploma.

After we’d wandered around for a while we fought our way through another sea of street vendors all determined to get their hands on our Western money and headed to another part of the gardens to do some Tai Chi of our own. We were learning from the Masters who did the demonstrations at the Beijing Olympics.  We had three lovely ladies all dressed in Pink, so of course I was going to love them lol.  That was until they started showing us the moves.  The first part was relatively easy.  Breathing with repetitive motions that were easy to pick up.  My feet were killing me though.  My right thigh at the front feels like it has a burning poker stuck in it.  A lot of others have the same thing with just one leg so I’m assuming its the leg we led with on the stairs at the Great Wall.  I managed to grin and bear it while we did the first part of Tai Chi. The music ended, the ladies bowed to us and we applauded.  Yayy we made it through.  Then William tells us that it was just the warm up and we have the second part to do now.

Trying to keep up with these women was a nightmare.  It’s not that it’s fast paced, far from it, but trying to coordinate both hands, both feet, knees and the bending of the body.  Well I can multi task but that was ridiculous.  All around us, Chinese people were taking photos of the uncoordinated Westerners and laughing, all in a friendly way though.   After we’d finished, we realised that the street vendors had followed us, waiting for us to finish so they could harangue us again lol.  We fought our way through valiantly and headed towards the bus.

From the Temple of Heaven, we were heading to the silk factory.  I was really excited about this one and so was eager to get there. There was a lot of beautiful things in there and it was educational but once again, quite highly priced.  This tour has been unbelievable value for money however the trade off is to take us to places that are highly priced. I’m pretty sure that the tour company is sponsored by these businesses and that’s how the prices are so cheap.  But in all reality, you don’t have to buy anything so it’s all good.  I would have loved to have bought a silk doona as they were so soft and lightweight but fitting it into my luggage now would be too hard so I refrained.  As beautiful as it all was, I walked out with nothing.  Buying Chinese silk in Australia is cheaper than it was to buy it there.

After leaving the silk factory, we headed to the Hutong.  Hutong means village or neighbourhood.  It is the older part of Beijing and has narrow alleyways where locals meander along doing their everyday chores, older men sit around in the street playing Mah-jong, washing hangs out the front on makeshift clothes lines and modern cars vie for supremacy against pushbikes and rickshaws.  It seems so out of kilter to see these brand new cars (albeit dirty as all cars are here) parked outside what looks to us to be not much better than a squat. We were to have lunch at one of these places.  I think we were all wondering what it would be like.  About 30 of us wandered in to this tiny little place which looked so small.  It consisted of a bedroom, a living room, a tiny washroom and an enclosed courtyard.  No toilet, bathroom or kitchen.  This was going to be interesting.  There were 2  tables in the enclosed courtyard and 1 in the living room.  We all squeezed in and our meal was served.  It was another 8 to 9 course meal which was just beautiful.  The guy Mr Wong, who cooked it, was fantastic. His tiny place, if sold would make him a US millionaire.. wow!

We wandered out again into the Hutong where once again we got pounced on by street vendors.  This time I bought some “genuine” Rolex watches for about $3.00 each.  I’m sure he was telling me the truth when he said they were genuine lol. . Anyway, we then got on a rickshaw ride and the poor little Chinese man was happy to choose usfor his passengers as I think he was fascinated by our red hair (Cecile is a redhead too).  As we sat on there and he waited for everyone else to load up, a car came around the corner of the narrow alley way and hit into us.  OMG. I had a head on in a  rickshaw.  Thankfully he wasn’t going fast and the rickshaw driver grabbed us to avoid us falling off.  We finally took off around the narrow streets of the Hutong, about 15 rickshaws in a line.. when we suddenly had to stop and we got rear ended by another rickshaw.. Mmmm really not our day  lol.   I tipped the driver more than the 20 yuan recommended as he really earned his money as far as I was concerned lol.

After the rickshaw ride, we finally left the Hutong and headed to the first knock off market.. Until you have been to China and wrestled with the street vendors and the market sellers, you have no concept of what “invading my personal space” actually means.  They are horrendous.  Everywhere I went they grabbed me, trying to drag me into their stall.  I went to buy a purse to fit in to my smaller handbag that I’ve been using and I was then a “rich westerner” so they wouldn’t leave me alone.  The sad thing is, I would have bought more if they hadn’t been so intent on haggling with me or demanding that I buy.  I heard “hello lady, you buy bag” more times than I’ve had hot dinners.  I hate haggling.. Just set a price and stick to it please.  We were told that if we were offered  something for 100 Yuan , take 4/5ths off and offer them 10, then come up to 20 as that’s the correct price.. Seriously??  I just despise this game.  I don’t want to insult someone by ripping them off as they aren’t a rich people,  but I don’t’ want to be ripped off either.  At one stage I had to pry the clinging fingers of one woman away from my arm.  I left without as much as I would have liked as I started to avoid eye contact and was too afraid to walk into their stalls for fear of being manhandled again.

We went to a second market that was a little more restrained but still the “hello lady”   persisted.  However this time, the call was “hello Canada lady”. They thought I was Canadian as the tag we wear has the Canadian, US & Aussie flag on it but the Canadian one is more prominent.  It worked out well really as we just kept ignoring them, making the Canadians seem rude, not the Aussies lol.   I really hated having to ignore them as there was stuff I wanted but I was so put off by the haggling that i gave up.  We had KFC for dinner at the market.  That in itself was an ordeal. Try ordering KFC off a Chinese menu.. Not the easiest thing in the world but with a lot of finger pointing and number actions, we managed to order something we wanted.

We raced home to the hotel, packed all our stuff ready for an early start, watched a bit of TV, all the time feeling sick due to the fires at home and finally dozed off for a fitful, nightmare filled night.  I’m loving it over here but feel sick to the stomach that Lachlan is facing this alone.  I hate it.  I am still visualising rain falling over the area and angels wrapping their wings around it.  I know it’ll start to improve. The angels never let us down.

More ramblings tomorrow..

Till then.. Happy Haggling… Livvy 🙂