We saw all the main attractions of Beijing (Forbidden City, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, Behai Park, etc.) and had a few days in a fancy hotel to celebrate our first anniversary. We also had some good food in our first stop here in China, including two trips to a nice hotpot restaurant (where you get a bunch of vegetables, meats and other [?] things and then cook them in a boiling pot of broth at your table). Jason also rode a bike around Behai Park and some of the old hutong neighborhoods on a rented bike.
We went to the Forbidden City early to avoid the crowds and heat. It is big and impressive, and it was nice to see before it was crammed with tourists (being in the country with the highest population in the world means there can be MANY people at the tourist sites here). Another amusing thing we noticed here (and in Tiananmen Square) is that Chinese people are very curious and intrigued by western travellers. Many people wanted to pose for photographs with us, and we noticed many other people taking ‘sneaky’ photos of us. We talked to some other travellers from Canada, and they are counting the amount of random people who want photos with them. We figure there are about 4 sneaky photos for each 1 photo taken by people brave enough to ask us outright. Once we got used to feeling like some kind of strange celebrities, we figured that we would also get a photo of everyone who wanted to pose with us. It should make for an interesting collection of photos with random Chinese people and us at various sites around China.
We took a day trip to hike a section of the great wall (from Simatai to Jinshanling) that is less restored than other sections of the wall. It was a nice (albeit hot) hike along a six-mile section of the wall, and we had great views of the distant segments of the wall along the ridgeline. Most tourist sections of the wall have been completely re-built, and we saw workers doing the same on this section (which is touted as one of the remaining places you can see the original wall). It doesn’t seem like really good historical restoration, as they seem to be casting aside the old stone and bricks from the original construction and using modern, evenly shaped bricks in the new construction. The “restored” sections don’t have the same ancient character as the older sections of the wall, which is a shame. We enjoyed our hike and time on the wall. The drive home in the shuttle bus was another story.
People in China do not really have the same views on getting in line like many other western people in the world. In China, you just elbow your way up to the front, and the only thing that seems to matter is getting there first. We have gotten into it, and push our way onto buses, push our way with the crowd to get tickets, etc. Unfortunately, they drive this way to.
We are used to countries where driving is more like playing chicken, where people are constantly passing in the worst places. But in most other places, someone gives at the last minute. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. On the way back from the Great Wall, our tour bus was passing and rear-ended someone else (no-one was hurt and the bus could still drive, but there was some expensive body damage and the windshield had many cracks).
The bus was left in the exact spot where the accident occurred (in the wrong lane, facing oncoming traffic) to wait for the police. The police expect people to do this and then they come and make a judgment of fault on the spot. The bus driver was indignant and was sure he wasn’t to blame (although he was passing and in the wrong lane when he rear-ended the truck). The bus sat in the middle of the road for an hour and a half, while we watched (from the side of the road) in horror as some of the world’s worst drivers did some of the most insane and unsafe driving to get around this bus, which was blocking half of the road. When we finally got moving again, a few minutes into our drive we saw an overturned cement truck. Then we saw way too many people passing large trucks and we watched as a van was forced off of the road and crashed down an embankment, right in front of some more police. The truck who drove the van off the road just kept driving, and the police (whom he did it right in front of) chased him down. We were all very happy when we got back to town and got off the crazy roads. Forget the one child policy, China may achieve some serious population control as more people own cars here if they keep driving like this.
After Beijing we took a train to Pingyao, a nice, quiet historic Chinese town.