Thursday, January 05, 2012

China – 23 December 2011

The 10 hour flight to Beijing passed relatively quickly, thanks to the helpful check-in boss. When we checked in, we checked the leg room in our Air China flight. When we queried the answer of 44”, the helpful boss must have decided to make good her answer, by releasing 2 bulkhead seats (reserved to the last minute for families with a bassinet), and we were able to stretch out for a pretty good (although fitful) sleep.

As the flight approached Beijing, we kept looking for the Great Wall. As we learnt at school, that it can be seen from space, we expected it to be easily seen from the air. Sure enough, there it was, winding over the hill-tops, complete with guard-towers. It was exciting to get this first glimpse of a man-made phenomenon we had known of most of our lives.

What did surprise us, was how long it seemed to take to fly over Beijing. But when our tour guide explained that Beijing has the same area as Belgium, then that made sense. (She may have been a little over enthusiastic as web research says the area of Beijing is 16807 km2 compared to 30528 km2 for Belgium.)

Everyone on the tour was very happy to accept the offer of a couple of hours at the hotel to recover before the first optional outing which most of us took. We were taken to the old part of the city where the streets are too narrow for traffic so the transport through the Hu Tongs was via rickshaw.

The traditional, single level, dwellings behind the high walls fronting the streets are based on quadrangles with strict adherence to the compass points for the various room uses. We were privileged to be able to visit a private home to show us the typical arrangements inside a quadrangle and although the land value in central Beijing would make the place worth more the £1 million the residence did not include a toilet, public facilities on the street provide the necessary relief.

After a fairly average Chinese meal for dinner we walked across the road to the Olympic Green park and down to the Bird's Nest stadium. Although it was bitterly cold it was great to have a look at this fantastic structure a close quarters.

Before being delivered back to the hotel we had a wander along the food market selling all manner of deep-fried delicacies; rat, silk-worm cocoons, centipedes, scorpions, snakes, sea-horses and so forth.

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