Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Thursday 30th September 2004

I'm still in Beijing, and it still surprises, infuriates and delights in equal measures. An oddly moving moment last night - Claire and I headed to the Houhai Lake area to find some food, and having satisfied our hunger we slowly made our way back to the hotel. On the way, flanked by the lake on one side, and a busy road thick with trundling electric buses on the other, we found dozens of couples in each other's arms, dancing. A rudimentary speaker system played slow and more upbeat Chinese songs, while the couples delicately twirled or gently stepped back and forth to the music.

Over the weekend we headed north out of the city on a train. Fortunately we had bought our tickets a couple of days previously - the station at first seems impenetrable for a foreigner. There is a special ticket desk for non-Chinese - it just takes a while to learn of its existence a track down. We were headed for Chengde, a medium sized town, four hours away by rail. The journey there was pleasant - the train smoothly took us past more rural scenes, as well as dusty mountains and small towns. For some reason I was harassed for much of the journey by a couple of small Chinese children - their courage grew from simply staring to, nearing the end of the journey, open physical abuse.

Chengde is home to a huge park and palace complex - similar to the Summer Palace in Beijing, it served as a holiday home for the Qing dynasty emperors. The literal name of the park, as translated, is 'Resort for Escaping the Heat', and it took us a day or so in all to explore. As well as heading into the hills in the west of the park, where we shared our walk with various creatures including deer and chipmunk, we went rowing on the large willow lined lake. There are also plenty of temples in Chengde to keep the tourist amused, and we visited a couple, including one called Putuozongcheng Miao, a Lamaist temple, the outside of which is designed to look almost identical to the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

But Chengde also offered a rich variety in the food we ate - or tried to eat. We almost managed to order successfully in a restaurant and a tea-house with no English menus. But on both occasions we miscalculated slightly. In the restaurant, an order for a pork dish turned out to be a large plate of wobbling dark orange pig fat, while in the tea house, on ordering chicken on a stick, we were presented with some things on a stick that looked as though they had been designed by H.R. Giger. They were, I think, silkworm pupae. They tasted OK. We also enjoyed a Mongolian hotpot in Chengde - since the diner chucks his own ingredients into the bubbling soup stock, we were on safer grounds with this.

Back in Beijing, yesterday we stocked up on souvenirs such as kites and a lot of various types of tea. And today, we headed up to a section of the Great Wall of China. We walked 10km along the crumbling structure, from Jinshanling to Simatai. It was exciting to finally get to the wall, and see it snaking over the hills into the distance. The walk wasn't too demanding, although there are some tough uphill stretches and parts where the path has disintegrated to the extent that finding an easy way is challenging. But the real difficulty was presented by the weather. The rain poured down for most of the three hours we were walking, and the wind rushed through us at the highest parts of the wall. At one point mist closed in, and all we could see was the track in front of us, as cloud bubbled up on either side of the wall - it seemed for a second like a pathway to a mythical kingdom. Unfortunately the reality behind such fantastical thoughts was hard to ignore, and arriving at Simatai thoroughly soaking, we had to buy a whole change of clothes from eager stall holders - for our own health and to preserve the upholstery of the car that took us on the long journey back to Beijing.

The day after tomorrow I'm off to a country which prohibits cameras with excessive zooms and mobile phones. Sadly, internet access is definitely out of the question, I should imagine.

66 - posted at 12:34:21


Great writeup, and I think you've been admirably openminded about the silkworm-on-a-stick dining experience. What about the way their evil fat crispy black bodies cracked open to reveal an interior of greenish MATTER, or the way we had to smuggle half of them out in a napkin to bin once we were safely outside? Call me a faddy eater, but of all the things I've ever attempted to eat they had to be the most visually appalling.

1: Claire (Back in the office alas) - 11:40:23 on Thursday 7th October 2004 (permalink)

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