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July 2007  
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Ni Hao

Plate spinning acrobats. Yes, they dropped them once and the plates are made of plastic

Cycling is popular in China. Not always as many as this on the bikes though

A cloudy (polluted) day at the Jinshanglin section of the Wall..

The wall-walking family Løge.

Up and up and up.

Countdown clock to the olympics. 389 days to go

Public toilet at Tiananman square.

Tanks have left now and all quiet now on Tiananman square

Forbidden City hall.

Gold plated bronze vats used to hold water for fire extinguishing

Lost in translation

View from 7th story in Silk Alley mall. Beijing is a modern metropolitan city.

  Updated 30th July 2007

We had to use up frequent flyer miles before they expired, so why not Beijing. Fully aware that mid July is NOT the time to visit Beijing, hot and crowded with local tourists; we decided to make the trip anyway.


We arrived on Saturday afternoon and after a quick hotel check-in we went straight to the Chaoyang Theatre for an acrobat show.  Fantastic skills were displayed by the performers; a definite must for any visitor to Beijing.


We walked, or tried to walk, to a restaurant that was, according to the Fodor Guide, in the area.  Beijing has progressed so quickly into such a booming metropolis that the locals are still lagging behind with all the progress, construction, new roads, ending roads…  We thought that having an address would suffice to getting to any place with ease; it literally was just around the corner.  Asking 3 people directions, a short taxi ride and then finally going into a nearby hotel to get the concierge to call for EXACT directions, we arrived 50 minutes later to The Bookworm!  It is a writers / journalist hangout with wifi internet and library. We enjoyed it so much, and knew EXACTLY where it was that we went a total of 3 times during our visit to Beijing. Not being much in favour of jelly-fish, sea-cucumber or chicken-feet we stuck to western style food except the night when we went to Family Liu restaurant for the famous Beijing roast duck wrapped in thin pancakes. It was quite nice actually, set in a hutong. (Courtyard house within a twisting alley neighbourhood) 


Sunday morning we were up early and headed out at 0630h to walk the Great Wall starting at Jinshanling. We started walking at 0930h after taking the cable-car from the parking lot up to the Wall. Then we followed a 9 km hike on the wall itself. This section is the least restored of the Great Wall sections around Beijing and is in a varied state of degradation. Some places are nothing more than a pile of rubble while others restored completely. At the start we were about 350 meters elevation above sea level and went up to the top tower at 605m and then back down to 300metres at Simetai. There are 27 towers on the section we walked and every one has an up-hill leading to it and a steep downhill leading away from it, so there was plenty of undulating terrain! Guidebooks state the “normal” walking time is 4-5 hours. We hiked it in 2-1/2 hours and according to Lynne’s heart-monitor she burned 970 kcal on the trip or about twice what an hour run on flat ground burns. If anyone is planning to do that section of the Great Wall we recommend definitely starting at Jinshanling; slightly less up-hill and you have the benefit of the “flying fox” decent at Simetai. We were back at the apartment (Lee Garden) at about 1530h.


Following day we went to Tiananmen Square and meant to go to Forbidden City, but the queue for tickets was too long at the time, so we gave up and headed north of the Forbidden City to “Coal Hill” in Jingshan Park overlooking the Forbidden City, then for a rick-shaw ride around the Hutongs in Houhai.


Unfortunately the visibility the first 3 days was less than 3 kilometres due to pollution and fog. This limited the view of the Great Wall as we walked and also the quality of the pictures. The PSI (pollution standard index) was up to 170 when we were there. In Singapore when the fields in Indonesia are burned the PSI gets up to about 160; sports and outdoor activity are suspended and people are recommended to stay indoors. Anything over 150 is considered  hazardous to the health. A normal day in Beijing is 150+ and it has been known to top out the PSI scale at 400! Clean air will be a real challenge for the organisers of the 2008 Olympics, but apparently there are plans to shut down coal-burning power-plants and limit cars on the road. Very little can be done about the dust blowing in from the Gobi desert; cloud-seeding is one option. We wish them luck, and have faith that they will pull it off. There still is a lot of ongoing construction in Beijing in preparation for the Olympics. Very impressive and for sure the city will be in tip-top condition in time for the opening ceremony at 08:08:08 on the 08/08/2008 (yes, 8 is a “lucky” number in Chinese culture). Compared to other cities in Asia I would rate Beijing equal or even slightly more “civilized” than KL. Certainly it is more civilized than Mumbai/Bangkok/Jakarta, but not quite Singapore or Australian standard. Beijing is miles ahead of Bombay or Chennai as far as development and beauty goes.


On Tuesday we headed out to Mutianyu for yet another Great Wall walk (note I say WALK and not HIKE) on the wall. Mutianyu is closer, only about 90 minutes drive from Beijing. It was an easy low-impact walk with cable car up, nice convenient stroll of about 1.5 km, mostly downhill and then a toboggan ride down the hill of about 1500m; good fun! From there we went to the Summer Palace on the outskirts of Beijing. This was where the Emperors and Empresses spent their summers. The most famous Empress Cixi had a great influence on the current state of the palace.  She had a marble boat built with money that was meant for the navy, a lot of siphoned money was put to build the area.  She was known as the dragon lady. 


Wednesday morning started with rain and we headed off to the Forbidden City at opening time. It is an amazing place even if crowded with busloads of local tourists as well as the First Minister of Grenada and his retinue.  We toured the numerous halls, courtyards and gardens with electronic guides at our own pace.  The sun came out and the rain had cleared out the pollution and you could see the mountains in the distance.

That was the time we should have been on the Wall !!!!


For our last dinner we met up with our friend from Norway at the Bookworm before packing and heading back the next morning for a 15 hour stopover in Singapore before our next adventure: sailing and diving around Phuket/Krabi in Thailand for a week!