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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 5: To the Great Wall for a One Last Time

After a satisfactory fourth day in Beijing, I had seen most of what I wanted to see except for the Ancient Observatory and Bird's Nest. On the fifth day I was hoping to visit the former first thing in the morning and the latter in the evening with the hope that they would light up the thing. So I had a several hours of free time in between and a few choices as well. I could either go see 798 Art District which was supposedly very impressive, just walk the streets getting a taste of the lives of locals, stay at the hotel relaxing or go see The Great Wall again, hopefully a different place this time. Finally I decided on the last option for a) I was so inspired by it I didn't mind a second look, b) I wasn't really satisfied with the pictures I took there the first time I went and c) though I love art I was sure there was no Michelangelo stuff. Since I had visited Badaling already, this time I wanted to go to Mutianyu but was faced with the problem of how to get there. A quick inquiry from the front desk revealed that it would cost me around 700 RMB for a taxi to and from the Mutianyu Great Wall. It wasn't a huge amount per se, but a considerable amount nonetheless. So I turned to ever so faithful Google - though it was google.jp as they've blocked the .com site over there (yeah, makes sense) - that I visited for real. It told me that I could take a bus so to make sure I called Lynda and she e-mailed me the details on how to get there. I needed to take a bus to a town close to the Great Wall and then either take a taxi or hire a car. The bus fare - I'm not kidding - was 11 RMB and a taxi or a car would cost about another 25, so it's about 70 to and from there, one tenth of what a taxi would cost. I didn't need any convincing.

But first I grabbed a taxi and headed for the ever so elusive Ancient Observatory which I so wanted to see. No it wasn't avoiding me as such, but the circumstances prevented me from seeing it so far. The ride was only a few minutes and upon arriving there I got off the taxi to face, for the first time in Beijing, a deserted entrance to a tourist attraction. I was not sure even if it was open, but a quick inspection revealed that it was though nobody had bothered coming there. Maybe, no, surely, not everyone is an astronomy fanatic like I am. I bought a ticket and entered to find an amazing and unexpected sight. It was an oasis at the heart of Beijing, masked from all the noise and chaos. The place was very quiet and with a bunch of trees inside, very cool and beautiful. I could stay there for hours I didn't have other plans. There were so many ancient astronomy related instruments with lots of descriptions and I spent a good hour or so there chilling. And taking pictures of course.

Once I had seen all that was there to see I proceeded to the next step. Which is to find the central bus station where I was supposed to take a but to the hills. Another few minutes' taxi ride later I was there and quickly found the correct bus with the help of a information counter lady. However I had to fend off a couple of guys who offered 'cheap' rides up there, and believe me getting rid of these people is not easy. Finally I bought a ticket and was seated inside the bus which was pretty comfortable. Unfortunately an oldish looking couple sat next to me who wanted to talk to me despite them not speaking a word of English and me not speaking a word of Chinese. It must have been hilarious to see for others though I didn't exactly feel that way at the moment. Finally I just shrugged and turned away to listen to my iPod and they got the message so they left me alone for the rest of the trip which was a little more than an hour. Towards the end of the ride I saw there was a young foreign couple sitting a few seats away from me and we exchanged one of those "phew, glad to see another alien here" nods and proceeded to talk. Turned out that they were a French couple - Homar and Mili - who were living in Vietnam and travelling around in China for their summer vacation.

Upon arriving at our destination we got off the bus and were immediately approached by a couple of locals who again offered us 'cheap' rides to the wall. Cheap ride being 50 bucks each. But I as well as the French couple had done our homework and we knew it shouldn't cost any more than 25 so we said no thanks and headed away from them. Just as I expected one guy started following us, nagging us to go with them saying there were no taxis. And we quickly realized that unlike in the central Beijing it is indeed hard to find a taxi there. But we still feigned disinterest and got down to bargaining.

"Sir, no taxi here. I take you fifty, fifty, fifty", said the dude pointing at each of us.

"No, fifty's too much. Way too much."

"Okay, give me forty."


"Okay sir you tell me price"

"Fifteen" we said, though I felt a little bit of guilt even.

"Noooooo sir no fifteen. I give you thirty. Best price."

A little more bargaining later we managed to get it down to 20 each, and if we persisted a little more we could probably have taken it down even more but decided it wasn't worth the hassle. A few minutes later we jumped in his van and was on our way to Mutianyu which was about fifteen minutes away. At the entrance I bought a return ticket for the cable cars while they bought only one way saying they wanted to come back on foot. Upon arriving at the wall we said our goodbyes knowing that we will probably never meet again in our lifetimes. Wasn't to be so, but that's for later. Then I turned my attention to the sight that was there, and I shall not waste your time again trying to describe the scene there like I did the few posts ago. I could use the words like spectacular, amazing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring and many more but they will all fail me, I'm sure. It is worth saying though that this Mutianyu wall is much less crowded than the Badaling wall but probably more scenic. If you ever intend to go there, I suggest you go to Mutianyu if you have time to visit only one. This time around I spent time there to my heart's content (or more like till I got exhausted) and took a bunch of nice picture. I also met a few tourists including a bunch of Americans who walked with me for some time, a family of Indians who were very keen to inform me that they lived in America though I didn't ask and finally an elderly South African couple who got very hesitant about walking the rest of it seeing me in my exhausted state. We chatted for a while and found out that the gentleman was as big a sports fan as I am so we got to talk about Tri-Nations and the Bocks' pathetic display this year until the old lady interrupted asking us to stop with the 'stupid rugby talk'. We parted after a while and I took a cable car back ending my second and probably the last Great Wall visit.

Next and final post will bring you the story of how I met the French couple that I thought I would never meet again, and also the details about my thank-god-I-did-it moment that night.

Part Six

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 4: A Heavenly Temple and My Celebrity Status

As I was saying in my previous post I was in search for the perfect bar around though with the every passing minute I was getting less and less confident about it. After the sex shops, dodgy bars and the like I arrived at a range of street-eat stalls where everything from fried scorpions to to crocodile heads (okay that was an exaggeration, but not that much) could be found. But I was so hungry I could eat a croc in whole (I said 'croc' you bastards!), not just a head, so I let it pass too and walked a little more. Then I spotted a white dude, followed by another one and then a hot chick, also white. Looking around I spotted a bar, named The Den which to be honest wasn't much to look at. But it's not for nothing they have said that don't measure a book from it's cover; don't let the looks fool you folks. I entered it to find just what I was looking for, scratch that, to find things exceeding my expectations. It had all the awesome foreign beer you could hope for, not to mention the strong stuff like Whiskey, pretty reasonably prized yet very tasty food and, wait for this, huge ass TVs showing nothing but sports. There was the Tri-Nations match between All Blacks and the Wallabies which I missed, a Manchester United (I think) match, an NFL game and some tennis match. I was in heaven, people.

Fast forward to next day.

By now I had decided that I can find my way around by myself which was the original plan anyway. My plan for the fourth day was to first visit the Temple of Heaven followed by The Summer Palace and if possible, in the evening, either Ancient Observatory or The Bird's Nest. I had read the Lonely Planet as well as Wikitravels like a good traveler should, so as they had instructed I asked the hotel staff to write down the names of those places as well as the directions back to the hotel in Chinese so you could show it to largely non-English-speaking taxi drivers. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had taken care of that already; the hotel had this card where on one side they have the names of some of the major tourist attractions in Beijing (including those places I mentioned above) written down in both English and Chinese, and on the back of it they had a small map of the area around the hotel and instructions on how to get there, also written down in both languages. Very convenient I must say. So with a couple of those cards in hand I walked out, asked the dude at the door to find me a taxi and was on my way to the Temple of Heaven within a couple of minutes.

Upon arriving at the entrance I was faced with the daunting task of buying myself a ticket. Even though I've lived twenty something years in Sri Lanka, a land where chaos is no stranger, still the orderly smooth fine ways of Japan have spoilt me a little. In Japan, buying a ticket is a pretty straightforward task - you join the line at the end and buy the ticket when your turn comes. It doesn't get simpler than that. Neat, fair and efficient. But it's a whole different ball game in China which I did not have to worry about up until now because of my tour guides who took care of it for me. To begin with, there was no line to join at the end. Instead there is a bunch of men women and kids flocked around the ticket counter and finding your way through to it is a task that can be matched to breaching an All Blacks defence when they are not playing in the World Cup. When you do finally make it to the counter they also need you to have change since they can't change a 100 RMB note at a place where a gazillion tourists visit each day. However finally I managed to get through all those hurdles and emerged victorious with a ticket plus a map of the place in hand and headed towards the temple.

The garden around the temple was pretty cool, green and relaxing but it was no match for the temple itself. I will not try to describe you the place for I'm pretty sure that the words will fail me so instead you can check out a few pics I've taken here, here and here. But I'm not sure even if those pictures can do the justice for I'm only an amateur photographer, so maybe you should Google for better pics. To put it simply the place was serene and awe inspiring. No wonder they called it The Temple of Heaven. After being amazed at this marvellous piece of work for about half an hour, I set to work. I set up the tripod in a place where I thought would give me a good composition, mounted the camera, took out the lens cap and looked through the camera. Big mistake. I had forgotten to take into account the population of China. There was absolutely no way I was going to get a decent picture without a gazillion heads in it. I realized it was a damn wise decision to travel there by myself without joining a tour program though they were pretty cheap compared to what I spent for the whole trip. The main reason for me to go alone was that this could very well be the only time I'd ever visit China and I did not want to just glance the places. So since I had ample time in hand I found a little less crowded place, placed the tripod and camera in front of me, leaned on a fence, put my sun glasses on and started people watching which is sort of a hobby of mine.

Then a funny thing happened. Though the place was less crowded by no means it was empty so there were a few people near by, among them an oldish looking guy and a young girl. Probably father and daughter. With the advantage of sun glasses I could see that they were sort of staring at me though they probably didn't know I saw it. A moment later she came to me with a point-and-shoot camera in hand and asked, in broken English, "take photo?" while pointing at the cam. I thought she wanted me to take a picture of the two of them so I said "yeah" but before I finished saying the word even she handed the camera to the father, put her arms around me and posed for a picture! The dude took a picture and before I knew it they were walking away while uttering a hearty "thank you". There were a couple of young girls nearby watching all this drama and they decided they too wanted a picture, and this time they posed on either side of me even without asking really. I didn't have any other option but to comply, and comply I did. This followed by another chick nearby posing for a picture and I was starting to be worried by now. What the hell was going on, thought I. There weren't anymore girls left and luckily the few guys around did not want a picture, so I was left alone to be confused about my new found celebrity status.

After a while the area got a little more less crowded (see what I did there?) so I finally decided it's time. From then on I spent about an hour or probably even more photographing it. However the place was still very much crowded and I had to put some great effort to take the shots I desired, working the angles. I wished very much that I had an accomplice so I could have asked him or her to chase away the people nearby while I took the photos without any people in them. Trey Ratcliff is a photographer - who was introduced to me (not in person) by a good friend - that I like very much and he had put up this awesome picture of the place sometime ago on his G+ profile. He was lucky enough to get the authorities to clear the place for him so obviously he had a very decent shot at it. I tried to reproduce it but it was much much more difficult with hundreds of people in, so I couldn't even get a picture that's close to it. Probably about a hundred or more pictures later I decided that was enough, packed all the equipment and headed for the exit.

A snack and a bit of a rest later I got into another taxi instructing the driver to take me to The Summer Palace. He took me there alright, but the bugger dropped me a little way off the main entrance so amidst thousands of people I was left wondering how the hell am I going to go in. Few minutes later I met an American couple who were faced with exactly the same problem so we set about looking for it together and luckily found the entrance quickly. The first thing I can say about The Summer Palace is that it's vast. It's not just one palace in one place, but a whole lot more spread across a vast area which included a huge ass lake and a steep hill. I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to explore it all with the little time I had (it was past 4 in the evening when I got there) so headed for the top of the hill hoping to get an aerial sort of view of it all and a few decent pictures with it. I was not disappointed with my decision; the view from the top of the hill was spectacular. I took a different route downhill exploring the area a little more before finally deciding to call it a day.

Rest of the day comprised of heading for the perfect bar which I told you about at the beginning of the post, having a delicious Chinese noodle with a few beers and heading back to the hotel to find out that the bunch of wonderful 'friends' I have had spread all sorts of false rumors about me trying to defame my name on G+, though of course not at all to my surprise. The surprise would be if they didn't.

Await my account on probably the best day I spent in China on next post.

Part Five

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 3: Not So Awesome Forbidden City and Some More

Let me tell you, as I promised, about what happened on that second night then.

A hot water shower and a cup of tea later I was contemplating whether I should stay in my room to get a well deserved rest or just go out and see around. Then a moment later I realized that I had forgotten my dear old pair of Bata back home (kind of strange that now I've come to call my apartment here in Japan 'home' but to be honest that is how I feel) so that left me with no option but to go out and get a pair of slippers. I was not going to stay there for five days wearing shoes all day long. I put on my jeans back, went down to the lobby and found out that there was a supermarket close by where I could get a pair of slippers and other stuff that I needed.

It was only ten or so minutes walk from the hotel so I decided to walk because I really wanted to see the real life over there; immediately I realized it was no Japan. People were less polite, bad driving, way too much noise and a mild form of chaos just about everywhere. Kind of reminded me of Colombo; you can certainly draw comparisons with the notable exception of pedestrian crossing. When I say that I bet you assumed that for some strange reason pedestrian crossing must be better over there. I'm right, am I not? And who can blame you for it is really hard to believe that there could be any place in the world that's worse in that department than Colombo. But that's until you go to Beijing.

Let me paint you a picture of pedestrian crossing in China. It could be the biggest city in China but it has traffic lights only for vehicles, not for pedestrians. Luckily drivers seem to follow them mostly but pedestrians, now that's a different story. They just cross the roads at will - I've lived long enough in Colombo to know that it's shit there but trust me this was much worse - without a care in the world. Imagine a pretty big road with four or six lanes. The usual method of crossing it is you just step onto the road unless there is a vehicle within 5 meters on the left side of you. Then walk as farther as possible towards the middle of the road until another vehicle approach you at which point you would just pause for a moment to let it pass and then resume the walk. You will be able to get to the middle of the road this way hopefully without getting a couple of limbs severed. Then you change the attention to the right side of the road and resume the walk again barring in mind the 5 meter rule. Now repeat the steps you followed to get to the middle of the road until you reach the other end of the road. Of course this is much easier said than done and I was VERY confused for a few minutes. It was life and death business. But it is in our Sri Lankan blood to handle any type of chaos so I quickly formulated a method to cross the road; whenever I wanted to cross the road I would just wait behind a Chinese who's about to cross the road and follow in his footsteps - literally, not figuratively - when he (or preferably she) crosses the road. They are so good at it never did I have to worry about getting killed on the road since then.

Anyhow, after some more such dramatic road crossings I finally arrived at the said supermarket and quickly did my shopping; a pair of Bata-like slippers, some kind of fancy sweet and a few local beers that I thought I should try and lined up at the counter. Now, several times friends of mine have told me that Chinese people have absolutely no sense of personal space but this is when I really got to see it. This is no exaggeration, but when I was lined up at the counter, there were no less than five people in the space between the entrance to the counter and the other end of it, which must not have been more than a four or five feet. Yes, there were FIVE people, and when I looked back over my shoulder, the next guy was right behind me. What the fuck, really? So I waited till everyone in front of me cleared, then paid the money and got the hell out of it. To shorten the rest of it; I headed back to hotel, grabbed my camera and wandered around a bit more and photographed some night views before heading to the hotel to have the beers I bought. They were crappy.

Damn, I'm through four paragraphs and I'm still not into day 3 proceedings though this is supposed to be about day 3. Okay let us move on then.

I had asked the tour guide company for a guide for the next day as well, and this time it wasn't Yan but a Lynda! I got to know that her real name was Linlan, but she insisted that I stick to Lynda so, well, who am I to argue then. Since I wanted to go by train and also taxis I hadn't asked for a car that day, we both headed to the subway station nearby to go to this Ancient Observatory that I had heard about. However it seemed like it wasn't really a tourist hot spot as even my tour guide didn't know about it and hadn't been there before. Unfortunately, upon arrival we got to know that it was closed on Mondays so we proceeded to our next place, Tiananmen Square. Lonely Planet and other travel guides might say it's a must visit, but to be honest you wouldn't miss much if you skipped it. I took a couple of pics and then we went to see the much adored and world famous Forbidden City. I had heard so much about it, I was sure it was going to be freaking awesome. But again I was in for more disappointment. It was huge, it was impressive but it was also boring. Forbidden City in a nutshell is copies of one building in different sizes. So we spent some more time there, then had a brief fast food lunch before heading to see a silk factory. It was, however, not a disappointment but I don't want to go into details of silk making. Just take my word for it. After buying a supposedly awesome quilt that can be used in both summer as well as winter alike (since then I have come to realize that it is indeed awesome) we left the place and headed for the Old Summer Palace. Let me just say that it was okay there, nothing spectacular except for one thing there that I enjoyed very much and also has a funny history. It was a maze. A real life-size maze made of stone where you can navigate through to the center at which there was a small structure. The funny history being this was built by an emperor (more like built for) back in the day and apparently he had held 'competitions' among his many wives - letting them start from outside the maze and find their way into the center - and the winner would get a prize. Wonder what the prize was. I too found my way into the center - wasn't as easy as I thought it would be - but nobody gave me a prize. Maybe because I wasn't a queen.

On our way back, I asked Lynda whether there are any cool places to hangout like bars or clubs nearby my hotel and found out that there was a 'bar street' nearby. So again that evening, after a shower I went out at night intending to check out the so called bar street. It was a nice place, and there were more than just bars, like shopping malls and the like, also there were more foreigners there than anywhere else in Beijing I visited and was in general kind of a 'posh' area. After window shopping in a few designer stores I got bored so headed towards the bars wondering where to go. While I was browsing the streets I saw a line of dodgy Chinese bars where people really stare at you, some more way too posh restaurants and, I kid you not, a sex shop named BJ HOT. I passed them all and walked some more distance till I found the perfect bar one would ever find in Beijing.

More about that later...

Part Four

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 2: The really great Great Wall of China

Now I'm pretty sure you were waiting to know what I did with the pack of condoms I found in the minibar inside my room, but sorry to disappoint you dirty minded people; I just left it there. And went to sleep at around midnight. Luckily I had told earlier my tour guide to come pick me up from the hotel at 10 in the morning so I would have enough time to get a proper sleep.

The next morning I headed for the dining hall since I was to get free breakfast with my hotel package and it truly was an awesome breakfast. I'm all for trying out authentic local food and all, but I would always like a good old English breakfast if I am anywhere but Sri Lanka. Thank god they had just that; scrambled eggs (and if you prefer all other sorts too) with mashed potatoes, sausages, salad, toast and of course tea. But it didn't stop there. There was such a huge variety of food, and I was SO hungry after a poor meal in the plane last night, I ended up eating not just that but also wheat bread with peanut butter (crazy, I know) and Chinese noodles with, well I don't remember with what.

Anyhow, full to the brim I was back in my room getting ready to go when I got a call from the reception saying that my guide had arrived. Few minutes later I was in the lobby looking around everywhere wondering how the hell am I going to spot my guide what with three fourth of the people in the lobby being Chinese and they all looking pretty much the same. But I guess that a Sri Lankan with a big ass camera and a tripod in hand in a hotel lobby in China must be kind of a rare sight, so a moment later I saw a cute girl heading my way.

"Hello sir, are you Sach?"
"Yeah, and you must be my guide?"
"Yes sir, I'm Winnie, nice to meet you!"
"Hello nice... what? Winnie? You said your name's Winnie?"
"Yes, like in Winnie the Pooh!"
"Erm... okay, hi Winnie, nice to meet you too!"

Now you shouldn't assume that this conversation went as smooth as you read it. Firstly, the accent of Chinese when they speak English is damn hard to follow especially if they are not really good at English. Add to that the fact that while I was talking I was also thinking how the hell did a Chinese got a name like Winnie. Strange, just like if you named a Sri Lankan guy Angelo Matthews. Anyway after this initial surprise we got into the car she had brought with her and proceeded to teach each other how to say "good morning" in our respective languages. For your information, or FYI as they say in this age of the Internet, it's zao shang hao. Stop trying to pronounce it now and read the rest of this post. As I was saying, we exchanged this information but I was still bemused at "Winnie" so I asked if it is her real name or just a pet name. Looks like most of the Chinese, or at least people who deal with foreigners, have an English name too which I thought was pretty stupid. I can't for the life of me imagine Japs changing their name so it would be convenient for the foreigners to speak it. Eventually I got to know her real name is Yan which I thought pretty cool and also easy to say so we stuck to that. Of course I asked her to do away with "sir" and stick to just Sach.

My plans for the day were first to go see Ming Tombs, then to the Badaling Great Wall and later if time permits, somewhere else too. The first place I visited, Ming Tombs, disappointed me since there wasn't really much to see. Then Yan suggested that we go see this Jade factory and store, which to be honest I didn't think would be very interesting either. How very wrong I was. It was fascinating to see the all the brilliant sculptures, jewelry and all sorts of other things that were made of Jade. Before this Jade stones meant green color beautiful stones to me. But it was much more than that; there were all sorts of colors like blue, purple, orange, brown, gold - you name it they have it. They also took me around the factory to see how actual stones are cut, polished and made into beautiful artwork which was pretty awesome. It was tedious work which sometimes take months apparently and you need to be skilled at the art. After spending more than an hour there and taking many many photos I finally spent a few bucks on a Jade bracelet before leaving the place.

Next was the lunch. Yes even after such a huge meal I still was hungry so we proceeded to find a restaurant and ended up in a place which I can best compare with a Saivar Kadey in Colombo. I ordered Chinese Fried Rice and a pork curry and I was in for not one, but two surprises. Firstly, being used to get so little whatever you order in Japan, I couldn't believe the size of the pork curry for one person. Easily three people could eat it. And secondly, I think the Sri Lankans can give a good lesson to Chinese on how to make Chinese Fried Rice. This rice was SO bland. I finished only one third of what was on the table though I must tell that the pork curry was really good.

Now all that behind, finally, I was ready to go see my dream destination. We hopped in the car and headed for the Badaling Great Wall, but I had picked the worst day of the week, Sunday, to go there. The traffic was awful and it took much longer than I had hoped so it was close to 4 in the evening when we finally arrived there. From there tourists must take cable cars to go up to the Great Wall, but I felt really hopeless seeing the very long line that was there. But that's when Yan stepped in; not only she was able to get me tickets pretty quick, she also found another cable car place where I could use the same ticket but was MUCH less crowded. Thank god I had decided to go with a guide that day. However, since Yan could not use her tour guide pass to travel by the cable car the plan was for me to walk on the wall for about one and a half hours before coming back to the same location where she would wait for me. Since the cable cars stop their service at 5 p.m., she was continually reminding me to get back on time. Minutes later, finally, there I was on The Great Wall of China, and what can I say but it truly was a great feeling being there taking in the absolutely spectacular sight which was literally all around me. Whichever way you look the Great Wall ran on almost all the mountains until you could not see it anymore. Ever since I was a kid I always was fascinated by this place, I often wondered how cool it would be to actually see this place but never really thought I would be there someday. It was truly a dream come true though not for the first time; I felt the same standing in front of the altar in Sistine Chapel and looking at the painting Last Judgement, a wonderful work by that genius Michelangelo.

After about ten minutes of being amazed I realized I also need to take photos so set up my tripod and camera and set to work. Several minutes later I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder and I turned to see Yan there behind me. Apparently she was worried that I might miss the final cable car downwards - actually I would have - so she had talked up with the guys operating them to take her up there. And a good thing she did too; I took SO much time photographing eventually it was close to six in the evening when I finished. She was very patient with all that, and then we walked on the Great Wall towards an exit where we can go downwards on foot to where she had asked the driver to bring the car to. From there onwards I mostly slept in the car on our way back to hotel where I said my goodbyes to Yan, a really wonderful girl whom I would love to meet again someday.

You can see a few pictures in by Photoblog and a lot more in my Flickr stream.

Await for more which happened on that night as well as the following day, on my next post.

Part Three

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 1: Getting There

As you might have already guessed I was in Beijing last week, spending my much earned break of summer vacation seeing the things I so desired to see ever since I could remember. However, it was much more of a sudden decision to go there so let me track back a bit and tell you how and why I ended up there. My initial plans for this summer was to go to New Zealand to – no it wasn't to see the country, it would be foolish to go there for sightseeing in winter – see a Tri Nations game between the All Blacks and Wallabies. However, as often happens with the best laid plans, last minute changes at work meant that I could not take time off to see the match I so wanted to. I love rugby and I love this Blacks team, and I was SO looking forward to going there and seeing the match in addition to meet up with some of the friends over there. But then I was left with a week’s worth of holidays and no plans, so then I decided maybe I should make a trip to China, to see The Great Wall of China in particular which is one of my childhood dreams.

Then I got to work; first spending hours on the net reading Lonely Planet and Wikitravels and the like deciding where to go and what to see. Finally I decided upon Beijing for it’s quite close to Japan and also most of the tourist locations are so close to each other I would have to spend less time travelling and more time seeing them. Booked a plane ticket as well as a hotel also with the help of the above said sites, which are must reads if you intend to travel anywhere in the world. After that did some more reading and got to know what to expect over there and arranging my travel plans too. It goes without saying my first and most important destination was The Great Wall, and I decided on going to Badaling Great Wall first and if possible to Mutianyu Great Wall too. The first is the most famous and the second, apparently, less crowded. I also decided upon Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and finally a much less popular a tourist destination but one that I was sure would fascinate me; an ancient observatory. Then I arranged for airport pickup and a guide with a car for the following day to go to The Great Wall. My plans were to see how it goes and then if possible travel by myself for the rest of the trip.

So then everything in place, there I was at the Narita Airport in Japan on 6th of August waiting for my JAL flight. Sweating a lot too though not because of fear of flying but because as a means of saving power the Japs have cut down air-conditioning at the airport. After about a half an hour’s delay I finally boarded the plane and sat next to a grumpy old German couple who kept talking nonstop. I quickly put on my headphones and started watching a documentary about Dinosaurs followed by Rio, an awesome movie. Well actually only half of it as that’s all the time I had.

After a smooth landing and a few minutes later I was inside the Terminal 3 of Beijing Airport and people, take it from me, that airport terminal is big. Not just big, really really big. After walking on and on for what felt like hours (okay it didn't feel like hours but it give a nice edge to the sentence) finally I arrived at the immigration counters and the Chinese lady was nice to let a tired me in very quickly. After waiting so long to pick up my baggage (why is it my baggage ALWAYS the last to arrive at the belt?) I headed outwards and found the driver dude holding a name board. He could speak only few words of English, but that and the sign language was enough for us to get by. The hotel was about a half an hour drive from the airport, and the dude laughed and put on his seat belt when I inquired him about the seat belt rules in China.

So finally after a long day I arrived at my hotel at around 11 p.m. that day. The hotel staff was nice and they checked me in very quickly not letting me wait there for long. After a nice hot shower I plugged in my laptop and sat down to do the most important thing before going to bed; to update G+ and FB status only to find out that they both are blocked in China. Oh well. Then I caught up with someone on Skype, someone as jobless as me, to have a little chat while enjoying a bar of chocolate I found in the mini-bar inside my room which contained, among other things, a packet of condoms.

To be continued…

Part Two