China

I’m intrigued by China, a country so big and unknown. I listened to an interesting conversation at the guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar. One guy had worked in China for two years, the other had travelled there for six months. They seemed to complain all the time about it and every sentence seemed to be graced with the word “fu**ing”. After some time, I asked why they spent so much time in this obviously annoying place, the travelling guy was first to answer, “because it’s fu**cking interesting”. I got what he meant.

Beijing

Beijing is an amazing place, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Tombs and the discovery site of the Peking Man are all World Heritage Sites. The Chinese Wall isn’t far either. I do not know any other place with such a concentration of top attractions. For me it was also just amazing because it was so different from anything I had seen before. It was also a bit overwhelming. After sleepy Siberia and empty Mongolia I found myself in a place full of people. I also still had to get used to being in an environment where I cannot understand and read anything, little English is spoken. I book the train to Hong Kong at a travel agent, doing it myself seems forbiddingly difficult. In many ways, I just have to get more relaxed (I’m still young, I’m still finding my feet), take ordering food for example, the guidebook advices to just point somewhere on the menu, you should avoid the very cheap (might be weird) and very expensive stuff (might be weird as well). I ran into a friend in Beijing, just by coincidence, we rented bikes for one day and just rode around. We got to some very small backstreet restaurant, of course no English menu, we just tipped somewhere and the food was delicious. In the evening we end up flying a kite in Tiananmen Square.

Chinese Wall

Of course, I want to see the Chinese Wall but I’m not keen on going with on of the tours from Beijing as everybody else seems to do. My aim is to go to Lao Long Tou, where the Chinese wall meets the sea. I go to the bus station from where my guidebook claims buses are leaving to get there. It is not an organized station but rather a big parking lot for buses. It is chaotic. I wander around, after an hour-and-a-half I give up, I have not found the bus and I haven’t found anybody able to speak English. Frustrated I go back to the hotel (with all my bags and everything) and book a tour to the wall. The Great Wall is amazing, I visit in Simatai, which is less crowded than Badaling and very beautiful, the Wall isn’t just there, it zig-zags around the highest peaks.     

On to Hong Kong

The Train to Hong Kong takes 24 hours. Very enjoyable 24 hours, several people speak English and are interested in talking with a foreigner. I am surprised how open they are to talk about politics. Criticizing Mao? No problem, one man calls him an idiot. Another tells me how angry he is about his government’s decision to buy high-speed trains in Japan. He wanted to see German high-speed trains running cross China. But Japan, he hates Japan, he asks if I know what they did in Nanjing during World War II? Not really, but I think if he knows which crimes were committed in the German name?