A Travellerspoint blog

China

Shanghai

The mega city!

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The last hour of our 17 hour train ride from Xi'an to Shanghai I vacated my top bunk bed, in which I had slept quite well, apart from the air-conditioning giving me a sore throat, and sat down to view out of the window. It's difficult as a new person to Shanghai to say where exactly it starts, but for that hour high rise, new looking buildings, some finished and painted White or just metal and glass reflecting back the landscape was a continuous sight across the vista and their proximity to each other increased as we drew closer!

We had been informed by other travellers in china that Shanghai wasn't worth spending much time with. The place is very new and they are developing it at a blistering rate, throwing up skyscrapers over night. Much of that old china which we were able to experience in Beijing and Xi'an has gone, and if it hasn't yet I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Many if the poor living in the slums were moved out to make way. Maybe Shanghai is a microcosm of China itself, offering a view of what's to come in a nation that's developing quicker than it's feet can carry it, living for 'the now'! That aside we wanted to make our own assumptions and after all, for a vast amount of the trip already the aim of the game has been to explore the culture and amazing sights the various countries have had to offer, I was quite looking forward to this modern look China and one of the mega-cities of the modern world.

Our first day was used for relaxing after the long journey, just venturing out of the hostel to grab some noodles. The following day we woke up to heavy rain, however Shanghai is much hotter than the other cities we have been to already, so while trekking out to sort out our ticket to take us to Hong Kong we bought ourselves an Umbrella, looking for something plain wasn't really an option as they were all pretty colourful. So we all went for a different tartan number, I ran straight outside to do my singing in the rain impression drawing a few looks. That evening we went for a few drinks at the bar of the Hostel and played a bit of pool. After a while we struck up convocation with a guy who was from the U.K. who seemed ok. We had all exchanged the usual pleasantries, and after another beer or two we discover he wasn't a fellow traveller in the same sense, but in Shanghai for business. After a little more probing (if he reads this it'll appeal to his sense of humour) he disclosed that he was in Youth Advertising and wrote books on Street Culture. A lengthy convocation and a flick through one of his books which looked fascinating (he didn't pay me to say that) seemed to seal the deal and we all seemed to hit it off. 

Adam a.k.a King Adz, although he was kind enough not to insist on being addressed as King, or The King had been giving some recommended rearurants by someone who he was meeting in Shanghai for the work he's doing on his next book, as suggested we joined him. During the day the three of us headed out to see The Jing'an Temple, which bizarrely emerged as we rounded the corner like a dandy lion amongst the fence posts. Huge skyscrapers hung over it, but bizarrely these modern glass buildings which refelcted it made for a truely unique view. The temple was very much under regeneration, but it was interesting to look around and view the cities skyline that encroaches the temple from it's courtyard. We had a quick look around the shopping area which was a tad out of our league and headed for the people's square by this time sheltered under our tartan investments. 

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We met up with Adam and grabbed a beer in the bar before taking the instructions he was given and heading out to locate this restaurant, jumpin on the metro and heading to The Bund. The Bund has been home to foreign traders and major banks for many years, and is one of the fancier places in shanghai, many of the buildings have a western look to them. The restaurant was in a fancy hotel called The Hyatt and we instantly knew that it was out of our price range, Adam was maintaining though that it was the second best restaurant in china for Peking Duck, the other being in Beijing, the home of the dish, in it's sister Resturant. We ordered a whole duck to share, being warned it would take an hour to prepare, we also ordered a beef dish, some special noodles and some vegetables. The beef, unlike the other Chinese beef we had eaten tasted like diced steak and was tender and the vegetables which Adam said were cooked in liqueur tasted like spinish but was cooked to perfection and had a delicious crunch. The Duck arrived early, landing on out table after about 40 minutes. After watching it being carved in font of us with precision. We were advised to dip the skin which although oily, was crisp, in some brown sugar and pop it in your mouth, once doing so the saying 'melt in your mouth' adopted a whole new meaning! Adam, being well travelled himself via leisure, business and lifestyle, he appreciated that it wasn't somewhere we would have gone on our budget and very kindly picked up a vast amount of the bill which we were massively grateful for!

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The following day we decided to go to Shanghai Science Museum, as it was highly recommended on online reviews, it takes a few stops to get there, but it was very direct in the metro, just taking one line. There is far more there than to see in one day in all honesty. Again, in typical Chinese style some areas were under redevelopment so not open. We had arranged to meet Adam again in the evening to get some food, but somewhere a little more modest. We headed out to the bar street, where we planned to get some food and have a few beers. Not being spoilt for choice with the selection of resturants we chose luckily a very good one. We all ordered a dish, as well as some rice and noodles and shared it amongst us. The highlight of the meal for me was Adams choice of a spicy fish soup. The fish was delicious and the liquid contained nice vegetables like pok-choi, pea shoots, bamboo shoots, chillis and at the bottom of the bowl were Vermicelli noodles, I'm salivating writing about it! We went for a drink in the bar street then headed back to the Hostel bar.

Adam was doing some work with Converse and after talking to Smith had obviously realised his enthusiasm for skateboarding. He kindly got us tickets to go to a skate compotition being held at one of the largest outdoor parks in the world called SMP were we met Sebastian, a Swede who had been given the task of looking after Adam. He had been living in china on and off the the last three years. After the skate comp which was good, although very wet, we went to get some food at a restaurant out of town, which again was very nice.

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(King Adz)

The following day we said our goodbyes to Adam and Shanghai, and embarked on our 19 hour train ride to head to Hong Kong!

Posted by Christian25 01:59 Archived in China Tagged china_shanghai_travel_asia Comments (0)

Xi'an and the Terracotta Army.

(more pictures have been put up on the last Beijing blog)

The reason for including Xi'an in our travel plans was so we could include what the Chinese refer to as the 8th Wonder of the World, The Terracotta Army.

We left Beijing almost reluctantly, it's not a place I could see myself living, but we spent the longest period of time there out of anywhere so far. I think we had become settled after the travel so far and we allowed ourselves a few days to relax. We took a taxi to the train station, luckily leaving enough time as the roads in typical Beijing fashion were gridlocked. Once arriving at the station we located our platform and walked to our train, through the windows we could see all the sleeper compartments which looked quite alright, but we did not pay for a sleeper. We eventually got to our carriage, it was packed! There were people already sitting in our seats, but luckily they did move. There was also so much luggage initially that we couldn't keep ours anywhere but the walkway and had to keep lugging it onto our laps when people needed to get by! Great we have 13 hours of this!

Gradually people started to leave the carriage picking up deals on the sleeper cabins which were empty or not full, allowing us to put our bags in the storage areas and get a little more leg room. I can't say it was the most pleasant trip I have encountered, and I only managed about 30 minutes sleep, but I expect it could have been worse, luckily the people around us were ok and kept themselves to themselves.

Arriving at Xi'an we were accosted by people trying to offer us lifts, but we went straight to the bus stop to head to the hostel. With minor difficulty we found our hostel and decided to get a private room to get some good sleep without snoring and the luxury of a private toilet and shower. 

The following day we headed off to explore the city and in particular the Bell Tower and the Drum tower. Both were interesting, they are two separate towers that are located close to one another emerging from the smartly built up areas of Xi'an. So they say the Bells were rang at dawn to see in the new day, an the drums were struck at dusk to exit the passing day, now they are only used during special occasions.

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(the bell tower)

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(the drum tower)

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Xi'an is a walled city, or at least its epicentre is. The city sprawls much further that the ancient wall but most of the interest to a visitor is inside. The wall surrounding the inner city  center is 8.5km long so we decided to go up and take a look. Once up there we found that you could hire bikes to ride about the wall for only the equivalent of a couple of pound. So with our new modes of transport we set off to ride the wall. There are areas which are very smooth and some were a bit more of a challenge, but apart from stopping for photos and photos that Chinese people wanted of us, we conquered the wall, riding the whole thing and descended from it with tired legs. 

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(taken with smiths camera with his little tripod he bought in Beijing)

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(taken using the tripod)

You cant come to Xi'an and not visit the Terracotta Army, so we did just that. Paying for a guided tour at our hostel, the following day we were picked up for the tour by our crazy Chinese tour guide Jaja, or as she called herself Lady Jaja! Unfortunately for me I was sitting right by her, an after initially struggling to pick up some of the things she said in her broken English, so she decided to test to see if I had been listening in front of the coach! A great source of amusement for everyone, and I tried to shift the blame to some of the other tourists, who I could tell were as clueless as me! This set the tone for the style of the tour, were I was regularly pulled out to help with questions and even a demonstration, which sounds more bizarre that it was. The Terracotta Army is located in three sites, all enclosed by their individual museum buildings. Some are still being excavated, and are not as impressive as the last colossal airplane hanger of a building which houses the ones that are produce those world famous pictures of those regimented terracotta warriors.  The collection of terracotta sculptures are depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China which he ordered the construction as he believed after his death he would rule one way or another back on earth and wanted to make sure he had a army to protect him. They date from the 3rd century BC. It's an incredibly impressive collection of individually sculpted figures, and naively due to the scale of them I had always beloved them to be small, but they are not, the Emperor had asked them to be constructed larger than his own Army so they would be even stronger. 

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(the kneeling lucky archer)

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An interesting fact about the army is that the first one found has been nicknamed 'the lucky archer'. This is mainly due to the fact that he was the most intact warrior they have ever found, and he still has some of his original colour, as they were all once upon a time painted. During the tour, we even met the farmer who discovered the army in 1974, he was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette as he signed books for tourists. Lady Jaja pulled me forward and made me shake his hand. A little while later there was another gift shop with a man claiming to be the farmer who found the army too. I'm not sure who to believe! During the tour Lady Jaja gave Kailey a little Terracotta warrior as a present, and on the coach she gave me a 'the lucky archer' for my help during her tour. A few days later she knocked on our hostel room door and gave Smith a Terracotta horse so he didn't feel left out which was very kind.

One of the days we went along to the Small Goose Pagoda, and had a look round the gardens that surround it, and in the evening headed out to the Big Goose Pagoda to watch the water fountain and light show which they hold every evening. It turned out to be very good, and it was bustling with people. Everything was lit up, and it made for some good photo opportunities!

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(small goose pagoda)

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We had a good night out during our time in Xi'an with a British guy and two Americans all teaching english as a foreign language. They taught us a Chinese dice game that people play at the bars, as well as getting some street food with them, arguably having the best Chinese  dumplings I have ever had.

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may recall the section during the Great Wall tour explaining about the Silk Factory in Beijing, and their Poopoo pillow. We were treated to one of these in our private room in Xi'an. If you were thinking of investing, don't, they are quite literally crap!

 Next stop Shanghai!!!

Posted by Christian25 23:47 Archived in China Tagged asia_china_travel_xi'an Comments (0)

Beijing and beyond (the third and last installment)

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(Now with all the photos!!!)

The Beijing Zoo is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, due to the fact that I have never seen a Panda before, and I have always been a fan of bears. Beijing zoo is huge, I wouldn't say it was the nicest zoo I have ever visited, there appears to be new investment, so some animals have modern and well designed habitats, while others seem to be rather cramped by U.K. standards. Arguably it was another black and White animal that was the most entertaining at the zoo. The Penguins put on a great impromptu display, playfully swimming around and seemed very content, which I enjoyed. In the aquarium, the highlight, apart from catching the end of an impressive dolphin display was the Beluga whales. These huge white mammals are very playful, maybe three times bigger than a dolphin, and looking like a cross between that and a whale. They appear to have a constant smile on their face which adds to their charm and character, and one carried on playing with it's foam toys most of the time we watched it!

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One of the most important of the zoo inhabitants we saved for last. The Panda. They were very cute, and although not the most active, fascinating to watch wrestling with their bamboo, particularly the youngsters!

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The next day we went to Lama temple (Yonghe Temple) which is situated at the end of our road and was just about visible over the high wall closing it off. The temple is primarily used by Tibetan Buddhists, and is considered one of their most important religious sites. We had been recommended that it was well worth a visit, as it's home to the largest standing Budda in the world made out of a solid piece sandalwood. The temple is very much a working temple with Buddhists praying and lighting incense sticks, which gave the place a very sensory experience. 

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The Temple of Heaven was another Ming Dynasty creation, there is an important balance in Chinese culture between opposites, this is reflected in the Feng Shui culture and the famous chinese YingYang (or Ying & Yang). The Temple of Heaven, was a place to pray for good harvests. It was built in a way that echoed the idea in ancient and still modern Chinese culture, that the square represents Earth, and the Circle represents Heaven. The temple is unique from the others we have seen in Beijing as it's circular, set in a large walled square. To represent the Chinese beliefs. In the grounds of the Temple of Heaven Chinese people played cards, bat and ball games, played instruments and a group of people wrote Chinese characters with massive sponge calligraphy brushes in water on the black paving slabs that take you up to the temple which was great to watch.

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The last few days were spent relaxing and we only ventured out to see the Summer Palace in the north of the city. We actually didn't make it, turning up at the old summer palace which is now a ruin, after the English and France destroyed it during the Second Opium War in 1860 in revenge for the torture and deaths of some British envoys, a Times journalist and their group of British and Indian Troopers by the Royal Prince. When it was ordered to be destroyed the troops looted the palace, and these actions are still criticised today!

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The next stop on the trip is to Xi'an which is home to the Terracotta Army, which should be interesting! However, the 13 hour train ride without a bed doesn't fill me with as much enthusiasm!    

Posted by Christian25 23:01 Archived in China Tagged travel_china_beijing_travelling Comments (0)

Beijing and Beyond (the second installment)

The first chapter of an Asian adventure!

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We decided that we would pay for a guided tour of the Great Wall, in particular the Badaling section. We managed to sort one out via the hostel which also included a tour of the Ming tomb, lunch and a visit to two Chinese factory shops that explained and sold traditional exports of the country.

Setting off early in the morning, embarrassingly our earliest start so far in China, we were picked up by the mini bus, greeted by our guide Mavis (which was her English name). On the bus was other Asian tourists, most from Hong Kong and the others from Taiwan and then a couple from Switzerland. Mavis did the majority if the explanation about the wall on the bus so we could be left to explore and experience the wall how we chose fit. One point she made to us and the Swiss couple was that we were going to be a major minority of westerners at the wall. In fact she suggested that due to the time of the year, off season there would be extremely few westerners. This is surprisingly the case even at the peak of the season, that western tourists are massively out numbered by Chinese and other Asians making a visit to there most famous landmark. She warned us that some of the people visiting may have only have seen a westerner in Hollywood films and never in the flesh, so not to be worried if they stare or even take pictures, which we laughed off!

We arrived after an interesting drive through the Chinese countryside to a massive coach park, Mavis sorted out our tickets to the cable cars to get to the top of the hills which the wall is located on. The wall in places has over a 60 degree incline, and cuts across the hillside not fazed by the undulating terrain. I'll be honest I'm not the greatest fan of heights, so the cable car although fun, did fill me with some apprehension, but it was ok. Once up on the hill side, apart from the poor visibility as a thin mist hung over the vista, the vastness of the wall can be fully comprehended. This only being a section of the wall, there is four sections that are separate in the Beijing area alone.

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Apart from the visibility not being as good as we may have hoped the views were still amazing and the wall was as spectacular as I had imagined. It was as packed as Mavis has warned, and if this was out of season, we had chosen the best time to visit! We were treated to some excellent photography shots, hustling with the other visitors for prime locations. We also experienced a fame that might be our only ever experience of any kind of stardom, people waving at us, taking pictures, smiling and practicing English. At one point we asked a Asian man carrying a large camera if he minded taking a picture of the three if us. As soon as we got ourselves into position a photo shoot entailed which resulted in other Asians, I assume mainly Chinese, people from small towns and villages, snapping pictures of us on everything from phones to huge lensed cameras. It was a strange experience, and as I said to the others, 'we are currently standing on one of the Seven Wonders of the World and people are just as in awe of us'. This nearly went to my head, but I managed to keep a lid on it! 

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The descent off the hillside in the slightly dodgy cable car was almost a little sad after the heights of the Wall and the new found celebrity status, but it just helped to enforce the feeling if how lucky we are to be experiencing such a fantastic trip. Once in a lifetime!

 Back on the coach we headed off to The Jade  Gallery and lunch. The Gallery is still producing items in the precious stone, from large carvings to delicate earrings. The guide was very enthusiastic in telling us that the material holds it's value better than gold or silver. It's also a massively traditional material to the Chinese and many if the carvings in jade have different meanings and relationships in Feng Shui. Ultimately the idea of the visit is with the intention of getting the tourists to purchase some jade, the prices would have ended the travelling there and then, but it was an interesting place. 

Lunch was served and we were a little puzzled, knives and forks on the table, even a spoon for the real simpleton. The Chinese food was noticeably more western and then the bombshell... Chips! It then dawned on us what Mavis had meant earlier on the bus, that there was a specific area of Beijing which westerners tend to eat more western food! That went a long way to explain why we had been eating our food at restaurants serving grilled locust amongst other things, and the bemused stares we received from the Chinese people eating their food. So we had been having dinner in the hardcore restaurants, eating the 'real' Chinese food, which filled us with a collective pride in our blinded bravery! 

After dinner we set off in the mini bus across more rural China, to visit the Ming tomb. There are 13 tombs in an area about 30 miles north of the city of Beijing. The most impressive and most visited is the one of the third Ming emperor Yongle, who is responsible for most if the famous Ming buildings and temples, in particular the Forbidden City! Mavis explained a great deal of the ancient wisdom that is still left over to this day, such as the Feng Shui and superstitions that the Chinese believed when building their palaces and tombs, as well as other buildings. For example there is a step you have to cross in every doorway, this was believed to keep evil spirits from entering. She told us that women should cross the step with their right foot and men with their left. There were also certain areas where people would leave money at the tomb as an offering in return for good luck, which we all thought we could do with. 

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There was a doorway at the tomb which was called the Spirit Way, which the body of the Emperor would have been taken through when he was going to be buried, symbolically  to take him over to the afterlife. A mortal human should not cross the door in the direction to his tomb, but rather go round it, but once returning, you most pass through the door. Mavis taught us the routine that must be done when coming through the Spirit Way. First you need to brush yourself down to clean off any bad spirits that might have latched themselves onto you, you must cross the doorway in the correct manner, men leading with their left foot, women with there right. You have to recite in Chinese, 'I'm coming back' and once through the Spirit Way, not turn back to look, and hold hands with your family members. I'm unsure if this ritual has become more of a tourist experience to help sell the ancient Chinese wisdom, but we thought it's best to give ourselves all the luck we can get, and it was a nice experience. 

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(The Spirit Way)

Our last stop of the day was the Beijing Silk Museum, which much like the Jade gallery had an alternate ploy, to make you buy high quality silk. The introduction wad interesting, we learnt the life cycle of the silk worm, and how everything it produces is used, from eating the worm itself, to it's excrement being used in Chinese medicine. They made a pillow, which the guide at the silk museum had great joy explaining was called the 'poopoo pillow', which doesn't need much of an introduction but it's suppose to be good for your neck amongst other things. Needless to say we are not walking round donning the latest silk fashions, but it was a good experience, and arguably our best day out so far! 

Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment, coming soon!

Posted by Christian25 02:50 Archived in China Tagged travel_china_beijing_travelling Comments (2)

Beijing and beyond!

The first chapter of an Asian adventure!

sunny

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(Beijing from Jingshen Park)

Touching down at Beijing airport at silly O'clock in the morning after a seven hour flight, we walked out into the fresh China morning with the task of getting ourselves to our hostel. We had decided that the best option was a taxi, just to save the hassle which we didn't need due to how tired we were. After a bit of bartering we managed to get a taxi at a good price and headed off along the relatively quiet Beijing highway with our taxi driver weaving in and out of traffic. The buildings around Beijing are clean and modern, and most we saw along the highway were tall. Some had large signs advertising  their company, others had large tv screens or lights. Few looked like they were housing, as it all appeared very commercial. Quite a stark contrast to the run down flat blocks on the outskirts of Moscow.

After turning off the highway we entered what looked like 'real' China, but with some gift shops littered here and there along the street. Down the side roads houses of multiple shapes and sizes encroached onto one another. The street at this time, 6:30 (or so) in the morning was only inhabited by road sweepers and the odd Chinese person going about their own business. Our taxi driver, pointed at what looked like a temple and said something enthusiastically in Chinese, which I questioned to no avail until I realised it was Lama Temple, which was suppose to be close to where we were staying. The taxi driver continued for a short distance, pulled over and pointed out to a side street we had just passed on the opposite side of the road 'Beixin Hutong', this was our stop.

Wondering down the street felt like we were out of our depth, it was very quiet due to the time apart from the odd cyclist who zoomed past and rang their bell at us, the road being so narrow only one car could fit down it, and there were no pavements, the doors of houses and small businesses just opened out onto the street. After being lost in the back end of 'real' China for a little while, we plucked up the courage to ask two Chinese men cooking some suspect meat in a horrendously dirty pot outside a grubby looking shop, we showed them the name of the hostel written down and the pointed us in the direction, after a bit more time we eventually found the hostel, after checking in we headed straight for bed and wrote off the day.

When we eventually woke up we headed out to look for some food and to see if we could catch the Man Utd v's Liverpool game. After a few beers at the bar watching the football, we headed off to grab some food walking back down a road we had passed earlier which was full of restaurants. We choose the busiest with the most Chinese people inside and set about perusing the menu, avoiding the grilled locusts and the terrapin soup, we ordered some food that was a little more basic, but still adventurous. It proved to be very tasty apart from the odd chicken, or maybe it was a pork dish we had which I choose not to think too much about what it was!?

The following day we got up late again still suffering from the traveling, we decided to head down to Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City. From looking at the map it appeared to be a long but easily doable walk. As it turned out, it's quite a massive trek. On our way after walking up a hunger, but enjoying the sights and sounds of Beijing, we decide to stop at a restaurant for sone food. While looking at the menu the waiter suggested we try the famous Peking Duck. We were not disappointed, it was hand carved in front of us and you rap it in thin pancakes much like the U.K. but the quality of the duck was far superior! After the food we made it to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen square, we walked into the entrance of the Forbidden City but changed our mind about paying to see inside the Palace Museum due to how late we had left it, rather deciding to come back the following day when we would have more time to have a proper look.

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(Peking Duck)

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The following day, still cursed by our fatigue, we got up late and got a taxi back down to the Forbidden City and Palace Museum. The place was much larger than we had appreciated. Built over 14 years from 1404 to 1420 by the Ming Dynasty and also occupied by the Qing Dynasty, it consists of 980 building, of which we visited just a few, many are not open to the public. The place is truly remarkable and inspiring, and was a great experience, after walking the length of the Palace Museum we went and scaled the man made hill in Jingshen Park. The Hill was made at the north of the Forbidden City by the spoil left from the moats dug out around it. The hill in the park has 5 pavillions built on it offering fantastic views of the Beijing an back across the Forbidden city. It helps to put into prospect the vastness of Beijing and how huge the capital of china really is.

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(The top Pavillion in Jingshen Park from the Palace Museum)

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(views of Beijing and across the forbidden city from Jingshen Park)

The following day, still feeling lethargic, we ventured out later in the day to go have a look around the famous Pearl Market. Maybe named due to the fact the building was built on the grounds of an actual pearl Market now it's home to a massive three floored Market selling everything from electricals, clothing, tourist trinkets and fancy toiletries, many of it being 'knock-offs', but of a good quality. The place is a Mecca for the savvy shopper who is keen to have a good barter. Or even like myself, someone who was just keen to have a look, while having handbags and various silk scarves shoved into my face. It doesn't sound like it, but it was an amusing experience with the good natured Chinese sellers. Eventually I was being silly with the sellers pointing at my own underwear or shoes when offered pants or high heeled shoes. I'm not a hundred percent sure they understood, but the seemed to find it funny too!

The next instalment I will inform you of visiting one if the 7 wonders of the world, seeing Pandas and various other shinanagens!

Posted by Christian25 20:35 Archived in China Tagged travel_china_asia_traveling Comments (3)

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