Having spent most of the evening listening to Michael Jackson CDs on repeat it was a little too late when some of us attempted to party hard in Beijing.
Considering it was almost 3am and without anything vaguely resembling a ‘club’ near our hostel, we headed home and called it quits as we had an adventurous day starting at Summer Palace planned for the next morning.
Summer Palace, or ‘Yiheyuan’ as it is known in pinyin Chinese, is a bit of a mission to get to (if more than one of you thinks you know where you are going, but in the opposite direction!). But when you arrive, the surroundings are beautiful and as we hit the palace early in the morning, the crowds were slightly less too.
The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s not hard to see why, it’s stunning! A wonderful contrast of natural architecture by way of hills and lakes (the lakes take up 2/3rds of the whole surface area of the Palace) and man-made buildings and bridges. This popular and key tourist attraction has a fascinating and wild history spanning vast dynasties and an array of invasions. One not to be missed.
By now, although slightly more tanned than when we first arrived in China, some of us were still struggling to get used to all the staring and the building confidence from the locals and other Chinese tourists who ventured up to us begging us to pose in their photographs.
After the Sumer Palace experience and with the sun sinking low in the sky, we ventured over to the Beijing Olympic site, or as most people like to refer to it as- the Birds Nest! It’s weird, thinking of all the families and hundreds of people who were displaced here so that China could build a huge and impressive Olympic site (where no one now lives)! Despite the fact there were throngs of tourists, it still felt rather eerie and empty.
Before we arrived in China many people told us that because of the Olympics everybody speaks English. It actually transpires that hardly any one speaks English and those who do are often the university-educated children of the wealthy upper middle and upper class of society. Not those who you come across in every day shops, supermarkets and street vendors and certainly not those who would have once lived on the Olympic site.
That night it was actually time to party, and party we did! We started at a dumpling place before heading off to Beijing’s many KTV bars and eventually stumbling back to the hostel in the wee small hours to drink Baijo (a very VERY strong Chinese firewater) with the hotel staff.
TWO HOURS LATER
We woke up with the worst hangovers known to man. We assembled in the main lobby to get an incredibly rickety Fred-Flintstone bus for 2.5 hours to the outskirts of Beijing to climb the non-touristy part of the Great Wall of China. As if the last 2.5 hours of teeth-rattling ride wasn’t enough, we then had to trek up the steepest of hills before taking a rickety chair lift up to the top of the wall. This would have all been a breeze if we hadn’t been doing it in 100%-humidity-soup-air with the world’s worst hangovers.
The advice we were given about the Great Wall Adventure (but didn’t heed) was:
1. Have an early night before attempting to climb the Great Wall. There is a long steep hill you must climb first before you even get to the chairlift to take you up to the wall. Bring a pillow or a jumper for the bus, your bum will go num. (You will need ALL your energy)
2. Don’t get drunk the night before and drink plenty of water before you go to bed. If you do not you will have a hangover, one that is made far worse when you are up on the high wall.
3. Bring a big bottle (or two) of water with you, you will need it, especially in the summer when it is hot! Well – I was with a bunch of Germans, so we just had…lots of beer!
Oops! Despite the hangovers, we weren’t going to be held back from this adventure, so we attempted a bit of a run up steps here and there, racing each other along the wall, with ample opportunity to pose on various significant points. Unfortunately for us the smog had set in, so our view wasn’t quite as majestic as it was for our friends who had gone the day before.
We spent most of the day up here, only coming down when the bus was practically about to leave. It was a quick journey down from the wall to the top of the hill- in a metal sled! We then hobbled back down the hill haggling with vendors for brass dragons and jade bangles as we went, before finally legging it for the bus!
Well, the adventure had certainly worn off our hangovers and, although shattered, we did feel revitalised and wanted to do nothing more then hit the town again. Our feet on the other hand, didn’t feel quite the same about this and so we spent the evening listening to more (the same) Michael Jackson CDs on repeat and one of our fellow hostelers trying to play Oasis songs on a guitar…badly.
Took my new found German friends to the Forbidden City for their own adventure. Left them to it, as I really couldn’t face camera-wielding, umbrella-poking Chinese people harassing me for photographs. Instead I wandered about the back streets for a while, at one point being dragged into a calligraphy shop for the best part of an hour while someone ‘wrote’ my life story on a piece of rice paper – unfortunately my Chinese isn’t actually good enough to work out what he wrote…I hope it’s nice…
After saying goodbye to our South African friend – she was back off to South Korea to teach English, it was time for the Germans and I to visit the Temple of Heaven. It wasn’t until we had already embarked on the journey that we discovered a major problem with our plan…we had an out of date guide book and when we got off (at the wrong stop – thanks to the book) and asked for directions we had about 6 different people offering us advice and sending us in all different directions!
Eventually we aborted this mission as we began to venture into dirtier and shabbier parts of town where there often weren’t even any signs for the shops, let alone the streets. We headed back to the heart of Beijing, to Beihei Park where we hired pedalos and zoomed about the lake before wandered around the grounds watching old people doing the strangest exercise routines, with old ladies farting. This caused the Germans much amusement, with Tim summing it up in one: ‘The only things I will remember of China is that old people walk backwards and flap their arms like birds at night and fart.’ – Got it in a nut shell!
Later that evening, after accidentally eating fried donkey willy, it was time for us to hit the town. Having been in Beijing for a while now I was well aware of the partying time-frame, the Germans were not, and after many failed persuasions to get them out earlier we ventured out to the clubbing strip at about 1am. By this point pretty much everywhere was closed, aside from one Irish pub full of pissed English people. We sat dejectedly among this drunken stupor and made a pact, that when we were all back in Europe, I would come to Cologne to make up for the failed party-making of this evening.