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China November 2011 - From Shanghai to Beijing - Page 5

Day 13 - Sunday, 13 November 2011

Going to the great wall

This morning I researched how to get to the great wall. All the forums I could find strongly advise a private driver (frequent flyer forums) or an organised tour bus (cheap ass virtualtourist forums).
Neither of these sounded good to me, for every recommendation there were stories of drivers abandoning people in the middle of nowhere, busses that didnt even go to the great wall or went there for 10 minutes and then onto the jade factory etc.
Even taking the public transport bus seems difficult, as you end up lining up in a fake line that turns out to be for a private mini bus where they charge you a fortune to go to the silk market on the way.

I decided to go by train, you would think this would be well organised and easy, but no. First I go to Beijing North station, they dont even let you inside this place.
There are no signs explaining where the trains are going, what ticket to buy, schedules etc, the only info I had to go on was 'S2'.
So I lined up in the line for S2. For an hour. I could see a woman at the counter, manually stamping tickets. A crush of people formed when she came to the window. It seems the well organised buy in advance scenario does not apply for S trains, you line up, get a ticket, and then get on the train.
I had to make a decision, go now, or come back and do this again tomorrow, you cant buy a ticket in advance!
I got to the head of the line and asked what time the next train went, I was informed it left in an hour from now, I was also confused that the cost was less than $1!
I decided to buy a ticket and see what happens next.

Quickly I went to a nearby mall and had lunch, I also had to buy a jacket, I wasnt planning on going today so didnt bring mine, but since the great wall is on a mountain and today is already the coldest day since I arrived, I needed a jacket. Luckily I found a horrible thing to wear in the mall for $9, expensive by Chinese standards.

To get to Beijing north station, required changing subway 3 times. Out the window of this train is not posters, its a moving LED display that moves at the same time as the train carriage. It is pretty amazing.

This is my train ticket. It has no info about where it goes, what time, seat numbers etc. I later found out that you buy an S2 ticket and its valid for any S2 train to any destination on that line for that day only, the date is stamped on it.

Heres where I had my lunch, a lot of people talk about the poor food standards in China. I havent really experienced that, most places are like this one, where the chefs are on display preparing your food.

My lunch, some rice noodles with massive amounts of delicious MSG.

Back to the station after buying my jacket and some lunch, and some water and snacks as the incorrect internet warns about lack of water and food at the great wall!
I am now allowed in the station, to be greeted by a big line for S2. I had to wait another hour in line.

Once on the platform, people sprinted to the train, to get a seat, they neednt have bothered as there were actually spare seats after all that.

Heres what the seats look like, I sat down next to a window, and soon after a young girl in a very short skirt carrying a big handbag comes and asks me if the seat next to me is taken.
She spoke great English, and told me she was a student and was very surprised to find out that I was an Australian in China for a holiday, because surely if you live in Australia you would never want to leave.
Of course, she then starts with the 'where are you staying', 'do you want me to show you around?', 'do you need a place to spend the night?', 'do you want a girlfriend?' routine.

I knew it was coming, but she maintained her student routine for a good 30 minutes before she thought she had won me over. I told her I needed to go to the bathroom, which I did, and kept walking to the other end of the train.

Whilst being propositioned, the view out the window was great.

The train went past another section of what looked like restored great wall, but the train didnt stop here, I cant find it on a map either.
One interesting thing the train did, when getting near the end it was in deep ravines and went very slowly. Instead of a tight turn, at one point it went into a dead end, a switch was thrown, and the train then went backwards the rest of the way. A clever way of avoiding building a big curve.

Once off the train, theres quite a nice village. Yes it has a subway and a KFC and some convenience stores, but it wasnt over done, there was a lack of scammers lining the streets waving flyers.

The great wall

Now for the great wall itself. It costs $5 to go on it. You are immediately faced with a decision, turn left or right. To the right theres cable cars to haul your fat ass up there, a gentle slope and gift shops, I could see roughly 50,000 people. To the left theres warnings about how steep it is, how the steps are 3 feet high in places and how theres no facilities available, I couldnt see anyone! I turned left.
The wall was absolutely fantastic, it was indeed very steep, sections without steps were too steep to walk upright, you have to lean forward and put a hand down. Some sections with steps you need to use your free hand to half pull yourself up.
Every now and then theres a turret section and the views are obviously spectacular. The whole time I was surprised how few people there were on 'my side', maybe 10 people.
It takes about an hour to get to the end of where they let you go, the initial parts are very steep, but then it just becomes undulating. There were so few people I thought maybe I had wandered into an area I shouldnt be in, only an occasional water / fridge magnet seller, who never even bothered me, convinced me that I wasnt out of bounds.

Looking towards the busy section of the wall from the start of the non busy section.

The wall stretches across the full horizon, its not all open to the public though.

Here I am at the top of the steep bit, looking across the canyon.

You cant really see it, but off in the distance is a big city, on a giant plain, then what looks like huge mountains behind it which you can just see on the horizon here.

The great wall village of Badaling below.

More view

Like I said, I have the wall to myself.

Generally its very peaceful and quiet, until some lazy tourists couldnt be bothered walking at all and rented a helicopter to annoy everyone with.

Staring directly into the heart of the sun.

I think I am at the end of the section they let you on here.

Close up of wall.

Its me in my snazzy new jacket. Its not nearly black enough.

I shouted a series of insults at the top of my lungs in fluent mandarin.

Photo number 300!
I have done my best here to illustrate how steep it is going down, showing this in photos never really works.

Returning from the great wall

The train station at Badaling is tiny, has no timetable in English, no facilities and is full of people.
I lined up for about 45 minutes and once they let you onto the platform, the crush to get out there was dangerous. At some point they stop letting people through and then you have to wait an hour for the next train, hence the general panic, screaming, pushing.
Once on the platform, a guy yells through a loudspeaker system that doesnt really work, I have no idea what he was yelling but he seemed very concerned.
Once on the train, its absolutely full, people crouch on the floor and in the aisles, the toilets were hilarious! A sea of urine sloshing about. The dining car was sold out of everything, including water.
Not to worry, I wandered the full length of the train until I found a door with no one in it and enjoyed the excellent view.
Rolling back into Beijing right on dusk, we went past some great looking areas of the city I plan to go back to tomorrow.

The useless and tiny station.

The crushing line, that french looking guy you can see there, he was following me like I had an idea where I was going.

The train stopped here in the middle of nowhere and some of the staff got off and seemed to get into an argument with each other. The passengers got pretty restless at this point.

Final photo for today, its been a couple of days since beef noodle soup, and I found this place claiming to be the national champion. It was pretty good!

mother on 2011-11-13 said:
Sounds like visiting the Wall is an endurance test before you get there! Was it worth it. looked pretty spectaclar and surprisingly new - brickwork etc. Was it like that the whole way you went?

bobule on 2011-11-13 said:
beef noodle soup looks excellent!! nice to see you have not been arrested for your anti communist hair..

Day 14 - Monday, 14 November 2011


Museums and other such places are closed on Mondays. So instead I headed east.
I walked for at least 3 hours to nowhere in particular. The contrast between crappy area and brand new luxury mall is large and often its just 1 street between them.
I was quite surprised at the railway tracks, unfenced and people walking along them in places, similarly the giant chimney close to the centre of the city was unexpected.

The pollution has returned today, perhaps factories shut down on weekends because the last 2 days were exceptionally clear, maybe its just because of less traffic.

On the subject of traffic, there are a large number of electric busses, probably the majority, they have telescopic wands that run along overhead powerlines like a tram, but this must charge batteries because I see them driving in areas without overhead power as well.

Todays amusing story, like many asian hotels theres a light system you can turn on to tell housekeeping to make up your room now. I generally turn this on when I go out as I assume it assists them in some way.
This morning I turned it on and walked out and the maid was standing by and tells me 'why you put light on? you wont be back for hours, I do your room when I ready!' OK I said, no problem, thank you, xie xie.
Today when I came back not only had she made the bed and changed the towels, but folded all my dirty clothes which I generally leave in a pile behind my suitcase until I leave, arranged my shampoo and hairbrush neatly, including removing all the stray hairs from my brush (I am fast going bald I think), and coiled up all my electrical and data cables for chargers and whatever I leave sprawled on the desk.
I have no idea why she did any of this.

Pollution has returned, I often think when formatting the photos that the white balance must be wrong or something, but its not.

The road is on fire! I think its steam coming from the subway, but venting this into oncoming traffic seems like a bad idea.

A very large grand building, I have no idea what it is.

Working train tracks in the middle of a city.

Giant mystery chimney at the benzine factory.

One street over from the chimney, commercial district with a luxury mall behind me (I didnt bother with more mall photos, those will probably come this evening!)

Really lost

Before I got really lost, I headed to the university district of Wudaokou in search of dinner.
This was an interesting place, lots of shops at street level with apartment buildings on top and a huge amount of people enjoying themselves.
Lots of places were hole in the wall food stalls with big lines, I lined up at one without knowing what the food was, see below for details.
In this area is the interesection where you are most likely to get run over in Beijing, its only 2 lanes and theres a train track and a huge amount of people who just ignore the traffic and walk across it all times. It was fairly ridiculous, I employed an extensive human shield when crossing.

After my dinner, I thought I would walk along the subway track (which is elevated so not a subway at all here) to the next station. I recall seeing out the window of the train on the way that there were lots of restaurants and shops and bright lights etc.
I set off and thought it didnt look like I remembered, but persevered. It was about 30 minutes or so when I realised I had gone north instead of south. Not to worry, the next subway station in this direction must be nearby, I am still walking alongside the track and trains are going past, strange theres no cars on this wide new looking street though.
Another 30 minutes past, and the only cars going past were dump trucks. Pretty soon I got to the end of the road alltogether, in front of me was just a vast plain of emptyness with glowing lights off in the distance.

So now I had at least an hour walk to get back, or alternatively a 20 minute jog. I must have looked silly jogging in jeans, my new fluffy grey top, and clutching my camera, at least in the 0 degree weather I didnt get hot and sweaty.

As a result, not many photos tonight, its hard to take photos whilst jogging.

Dinner part 1. I lined up and was rewarded with this beef pie. It was fantastic. The pastry was cruncy on the outside but flaky in the middle. The meat was cumin flavoured, with lots of onion and chilli. I want to go back for another one tomorrow! Oh yeah, it was 50 cents.

The street level scene at Wudaokou, those big buildings are more like technology schools belonging to corporations, one of them was EMC. Most of the shops and restaurants are at ground level, apart from the plethora of KTV's which are operating on the upper floors.

Apparently theres a lot of foreign students in Beijing, so theres quite a few foreign style restaurants, this place had an authentic diner menu as best I could tell. Chilli dogs, all kinds of burgers, pancakes etc.

I skipped the diner when I found avocado tree mexican grill (with beef noodle soup also available). They had real tabasco sauce and a decent assortment of burritos on offer, also a big sign saying all beef is imported from the USA.

It was pretty good, I think they made the tortillas on site, and the corn chips from those tortillas. My burrito had black beans and good steak in it etc. A relatively expensive meal at about $5.

Day 15 - Tuesday, 15 November 2011

National museum

Chinas national museum borders Tiananmen square. It is actually free, however there seemed to be a huge line to get in with many tour groups, I spotted a side entry, 10 Yuan to see the special exhibit of european post modern romantic reformist art from the 2nd restoration. No line here so I paid my $1.20 to get straight into both the main museum and the special exhibit.
The building itself is very impressive and huge. Unfortunately at least half the exhibition halls are closed for refurbishment. I could see into them and refurbishment means spotless and completely empty. The internet tells me this was the case in 2009, 2010 etc. so I suspect half empty is now a permanent feature.
What was there was good, but lacking in English quite badly. I particularly enjoyed some modern paintings of Mao and various moments in history painted in glorious exaggeration.
There were a huge number of soldiers in here, in uniform, but they were off duty and messing around (piggy back rides in a museum for example!).
Most of the exhibitions were the same as Shanghai, currency, calligraphy, pottery. The european art thing was good because it had some scientific equipment from the 1700's as well, such as vaccuums, electrostatic experiments, telescopes etc.

The museum store was hilarious. I had great success at the Korean national museum last month buying good quality stuff for a decent price. Here in Beijing they wanted $10 for a fridge magnet, $50 for a fake silk scarfe and a big sign saying no bargaining. I did not see a single sale made. Around the corner you can buy real silk scarfes for $1.

Junk street. I did all my gift shopping here. I am a big spender.

This park is behind my hotel. It has no real entrance from the street, just a gateway behind a wall. I wasnt sure if I was supposed to be there or not but it was very nice.
The water was surprisingly clear, I could see the bottom of the streams.

Inside the museums entrance hall.

Inside the hall of glorious portraits of the dear leader.

Mainly buddah. Its dark in here hence the noise in the photo. I am considerate and do not use flash (theres signs saying not to). I am the only person following this rule.
More annoying is there seems to be a great feature of phones to get stuck on the count down timer mode that beeps loudly. Beep... Beep... Beep... Beep... Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEP.
Get 10 of these going at once and it makes for good times for everyone.

Ancient china was easily the best part of the museum, and easy to miss as its in the basement and not obvious to get to as the escalator is blocked off and you have to take the stairs.

I think these are real terracotta warriors.

These ones however are recreations.

This pagoda is probably fake, unless ancient Chinese people were smurf sized.

My lunch.
My first real failure of a meal. I got NOTHING that I asked for, and I pointed at the pictures on the menu when I ordered. The dumplings were ok, but were not pork which is what I ordered, I think maybe crab?
The soup however, is terrible, that big dumpling at the back is not a dumpling, its some kind of bandage with spices wrapped in it. I guess it goes into the soup, we do the same thing in western cooking with whole spices, but you dont usually serve it up.
Despite my bandaid full of not sure what, the soup has no flavour. The other stuff floating in it besides bok choy is bread. I know our malay friends put bread in laksa, but that has flavour to absorb.


My journey tonight took me quite close to where I went last night, it seems North Beijing is the happening place to be in the evenings, its much less ancient.
Unfortunately this is a good 20km North of the centre of town, so it takes a long time to get there and I have to change subways twice.
Zhongguancun is where all the electronics markets are, these like Shanghai are a dissapointment, I didnt even take a photo of the inside of the stores, refer to Shanghai for details. They are all tiny branded stores within stores selling the same stuff for substantially more than it costs in Australia.
The streets around it were quite interesting, as you can see below everything gets delivered in boxes on the side of the road in the middle of the night.

When you arrive here, its extremely confusing to get your bearings, the subway lets out in all directions into an enormous underground mall with signage which I am convinced leads you around in circles. Its not like a mall like we have in Australia where theres a big hallway with shops either side, when you build the whole thing underground you dont have to do that. Instead its more like a cricket ground sized grid of identical looking stores.

Once on the surface, I realised that most of what there is here is underground, including restaurants and cinemas. Strangely going to the cinema costs $20! More than Australia again. And its $20 to see your choice of robot fighting movie or the adventures of tin tin. Those are the only 2 English language movies. The Chinese movies dont have English subtitles, because they need to have Chinese subtitles because everyone speaks their own personal version of Chinese.

Once I made it to the surface, this handy diorama did nothing to explain how to find my way underground.

I didnt take a photo of the inside of an electronics super market, but heres the outside of one.

And heres all the computer stuff being delivered into the street.

There was an outdoor pedestrian shopping area, but as you can see its mostly abandoned. No restaurants to be found above ground for some reason....except for....(scroll down)

Before we get to my above ground dinner, Xiabo Xiabo is the most popular place in China, its Shabu Shabu as we would call it. I dont really understand the excitement to be found in boiling your own lettuce leaves.

I wandered far from the station and was starving (remember my lunch was a failure), so I had to settle for BIG PIZZA. The Chinese copy of the extremely popular Pizza Hut.
Pizza is only a small part of the menu, they have many rice dishes, snails, frogs, a huge dessert menu, steak etc. I chose a vegetarian pizza. I asked for the authentic style base (it was on the menu) but got pan fried anyway.
Whilst this looks just like a pizza hut pizza (which I hate anyway and havent eaten for many years), it is totally lacking in flavour of any kind. Like the cheese was air flavoured, so was the sauce.
So basically I ate about 1000 calories of air.

David Newton on 2011-11-15 said:
China has a single timezone despite its massive size. It is 2.5 hours behind Adelaide.

Beijing is better than Shanghai, theres more to see and do, but I fear they are fast trying to make it like Shanghai.

Hong Kong is dirtier and has a lot less culture than beijing or shanghai, yet it has a more diverse range of influences. It seems tiny in comparison though.

mother on 2011-11-15 said:
so what's the time difference between China and Australia? Does it vary from place to place over such a large area? It's snowing in Japan - how about Beijing? What do you prefer - HK, Shanghai, Beijing and why?

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Latest Update

Day 1 - Tuesday, 1 November 2011
  Qantas dramas
  Sydney airport
  Shanghai arrival
Day 2 - Wednesday, 2 November 2011
  Still raining
Day 3 - Thursday, 3 November 2011
  The bund
  Hongqiao transport hub
  Nanjing road west
Day 4 - Friday, 4 November 2011
  Going to Suzhou
  Walking forever
  Back from Suzhou
Day 5 - Saturday, 5 November 2011
  Pudong is awesome
Day 6 - Sunday, 6 November 2011
  Guitars and home made dinner
Day 7 - Monday, 7 November 2011
  Yuyuan Bazaar
Day 8 - Tuesday, 8 November 2011
  Science museum
  Last night in Shanghai
Day 9 - Wednesday, 9 November 2011
  Shanghai to Beijing
  Central Beijing
Day 10 - Thursday, 10 November 2011
  The forbidden city
  Tiananmen Square
  Random walk
Day 11 - Friday, 11 November 2011
  Temple of Heaven
Day 12 - Saturday, 12 November 2011
  Beihai park and military museum
Day 13 - Sunday, 13 November 2011
  Going to the great wall
  The great wall
  Returning from the great wall
Day 14 - Monday, 14 November 2011
  Really lost
Day 15 - Tuesday, 15 November 2011
  National museum
Day 16 - Wednesday, 16 November 2011
  Qianmen and the railway museum
  Last night in Beijing
Day 17 - Thursday, 17 November 2011
  Beijing capital airport
  Hong Kong airport