Terra-Cota Army and China’s First Emperor

Terra-Cota Army and China’s First Emperor

The weather in Xi’An was a lot damper and cooler than in Beijing. The clouds hung low in the sky and covered the green mountains that we passed on our way to the famous Terracotta Army.

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The story of how this army was discovered is a parculiar. For years, broken parts of pottery and body parts had been surfacing as local farmers ploughed their fields. However, it was when Yang Zhifa dug a well and broke into a pit of 6,000 warriors that the discoveries were reported to the local authorities. His discovery has made him rich and it has made him famous.We met Yang outside the museum, where he now signs autographs, his books and all sorts of memorabilia. He has helped unearth one of China’s greatest treasures, a reminder of China’s mighty emperor and the incredible craftsmanship of a sophisticated and cultured dynasty.

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Soldiers and chariots lie in four pits which are now encased by an elegant and modern museum.Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin. During his rule, Qin standardized coins, weights, and measures; interlinked the states with canals and roads; and is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall. A big believer of life after death, he wanted his army always with him and always there to protect him. It was rumored that he ordered all his soldiers to be murdered when he died.  His shocked advisors felt that without his army the kingdom would soon fall and so they convinced him to spare his subjects and instead to have by his side an army made of stone.

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Each soldier’s face was replicated and all figures vary in height accrding to their roles, with the tallest being generals. They were once colorful and painted.  According to writings of court historian Siam Qian during the following Han dynasty, Qin ordered the mausoleum’s construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin’s death.

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When the pits were found, most of the statues had been broken or were damaged, partly due to the roof collapsing but mainly due to the Emperor’s enemies finding, smashing and burning his Terra-Cota army after he died. I loved walking round and seeing not only the repaired figures but it was also fascinating seeing piles of parts of warriors and weapons yet re-assembled.

It isn’t possible to walk amongst the soldiers, but we paid and got our picture taken with some plastic ones…No one needs to know ;). I would recommend waiting until after you exit the museum or even arriving at the Mausoleum (mini-mountain) to buy any Terracota replicas as they are so much cheaper here than at the entrance or even in the official factories which we were taken too before we got to see the real ones.

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Qin’s tomb itself remains unexcavated, though Siam Qian’s writings suggest even greater treasures:”The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text. The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars. Through partial misunderstanding and also translation we thought we were going to see all of the

see wonders on our visit and so were slightly disappointed when all we got as a distant view of a wonky looking mountain.

Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury. Whether it was meant to or not, this has meant that no one as of yet has been able to see inside and rob the Emperor of all his riches.

This was a great day trip organized by our hotel/hostel. We had some lovely local food, a very informative trip and really one of Ancient China’s finest legacies.

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Xi’An a place of Culture, Beauty and Sophistication

Xi’An a place of Culture, Beauty and Sophistication

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Our hotel was in the Central Plaza but just wasn’t the Crowne Plaza…

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We walked out of the large beautiful hotel, down into the underpass. We emerged and walked round the square, I dislocated my shoulder yanking my massive tour bag around, but thankfully our real hotel wasn’t far away. This was it, not quite the same, but the location was still great. We walked into a dark little corridor, a stark contrast to the grandiose building we had just moments ago enjoyed. Our room was on the 7th floor and there was no lift. We dumped our bags off and set off for a wonderfully creamy comforting Starbucks at the large spacious, modern building just next to us. So much glass, a large shopping mall close to us.  I am a pleb, but truly this was heaven.

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Dirty and and in the same clothes from the day before in Pingyao we rocked up. There were so many couples and all beautifully dressed. The girls wore their hair in ringlets and had beautiful ball dresses and disco style heels on. The young boys wore suits and elegantly accompanied their dates to their tables where they would whisper over the sumptuous drinks. I looked at my clothes like ones does at a swanky party. I felt under-dressed and slightly embarrassed.

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We emerged from our room all groomed and fragrant. If the people of Xi’An dressed up and looked amazing, we wouldn’t let the side down. As one of the four ancient capitals of China, the capital of Shaanxi Province is used to its fair share of wealth and opulence. Xi’An marks the start of the Silk Road and is one of the most influencial, important and oldest cities in China. Here class, culture and taste rebounded off the tall skyscraper walls and resonated around the beautifully kept ornate gardens. Here are some photos of our beautiful evening around Xi’An’s magestic  Bell Tower and Huifang Style Street. The orange lights lit up th architectural wonders which litter this area and appear all around this square. Glaceful birds soared around the towers and scattered when the loud gongs went off. People teemed along the rampart hights and bronze statues ornamented the clean vibrant streets. Street sellers sold beautiful jade bracelets and chefs cooked food on wild fires. The night was warm, people were friendly and it was great that we had dressed up because everyone looked great and super stylish. Xi’An soon became my favorite place in China, it was just so beautiful.

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WEARING

MONSOON DRESS

ZARA BLACK BLAZER

KAREN MILLER HEELS

Sleeper Coach and arrival at Xi’An

Sleeper Coach and arrival at Xi’An

We loaded our bags into the car and then joined two other backpackers who were already sat waiting inside the taxi. A strong Chinese man with a shaved head slammed the doors shut and sped off. Pingyao was lovely, but it was nice to see the mud colored houses and dust blown ancient city behind us. We had a modern destination waiting for us, the large city of Xi’An, where power cuts, cold showers, trickling dirty water and smelly drains would surely not plague our hotel stay.

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We had bought tickets for a sleeper bus as the train had long been fully booked. I didn’t know what this was, but being slightly scarred of flying I didn’t mind coach journeys too much. We had tried unsuccessfully to get the hostel to present us with the tickets, with them reassuring us that we wouldn’t need them in order to board the vehicle. Somehow something didn’t quite add up, but as we had already paid, we didn’t have much of a choice but to go along with our instructions. The old car travelled further out of the city and then as we were about to board a motorway we came to a toll booth. The tough Chinese man screached to a halt, turned off the car’s engine and without bothering to close his door, beckoned for us to get out of the car and follow him. We grabbed out bags and scuttled hurriedly in his direction. There wasn’t a coach station in sight. We passed under the orange barrier and started walking along the hard shoulder. Fast cars, lorreys and coaches wizzed passed us. We were ordered to halt someway up the road. The night was silent except for when large vehicles roared passed us. Six lanes of traffic, three going away from Pingyao, three going towards. Behind us, a steep bank, brambles and dark fields. Hot sweat rose on my body and I got a queezy feeling in my stomach. Is this fear rational, should I just run away?

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We tried asking our new friend, but he didn’t speak English. After 10 minutes, he started waving his arms and hands at the many large coaches that passed us. He walked into the center of the roads and tried halting the vehicles but to no avail. Just when we thought our ride would never appear, a fast travelling beast of a coach drew up and did a massive u-turn in the middle of the road. It was coming straight for us. “Abi! its not stopping”, shouted Shirwa! “It’s going to hit us”… Jump, Abi, juuump! The bright yellow lights blinded me. I took one look behind me at the mass of bushes and the huge drop. I was blinded by the lights and then, just inches in front of us, the coach stopped. The doors were opened, the driver shook hands with the shaven Chinese guy, our bags were loaded.

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“Women at the front, Men at the back” was the order as we boarded the bus. I looked down the corridors and saw three lines of bunk beds stretching down inside the narrow bus. It got darker the further down you looked. Twinkling eyes and little faces emerged from the shadows. Limbs and feet stuck out at odd angles. I had boarded with a few valuables. I push them onto the bed and then made a couple of attempts to jump on the top bunk. After the third attempt, I scrambled up, head and body first and then maneuvered my legs over as well. Everything was dirty and very cramped. My feet faced the front and I knew that being the first top bunk of the coach that if there was an accident, my feet would be the first thing out of the front mirror. It set off and careered down the black motorway at an alarming speed, passing cars and vehicles.There was one driver and we didn’t make a single stop. Being at the front had its horrors, but being in the middle row, under a bunk at the back as Shirwa’s was had its own. I came to visit to the shame of a fat little man in speedos who was forced to cover himself up. It stank of bodies and cheese and it felt really claustrophobic, alarmingly so. Apparently I was good to shag according to Shirwa’s neighbor. Some things, the essentials I guess transcend language barriers. I scuttled back to the front, to the woman’s sanctuary and made a desperate effort to unhinge my lodged safety-belt. I buckled up and pulled it tightly around me for comfort and tried to go to sleep through telephone conversations and mid-night feast of chicken feet.

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The journey was long, but by 4 am we pulled up at Xi’An coach station. American girls translated for us and the driver confirmed that we could sleep a bit longer in the bus, at least until it got light or until the taxis started running. Our hostel had organized our pick up, but they had somehow gone to the wrong coach station. It seemed like it was up to us again to find our way. At around 6am, workers emerged from pre-fab houses which lined the coach depot. Some got dressed whilst others brushed their teeth outside in the gutter. Everyone starred and no one understood. A man smiled and gestured wildly though for me to enter his shack which he shared with 5 other people after I exclaimed loudly  “Fuck! My arse!” after emerging from the coach with a numb bottom. That he can understand, I ragged!

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To be honest the people in Xi’An were the friendliest that we encountered during our stay in China. We had met some nice people in Pingyao, including the son of the owner of the hostel and some other Chinese guests. Xi’An however, we were able to interact with real local people and they were really welcoming. A taxi cruised passed at around 7. We stopped it and got in. We were taken to a sumptuous 5* hotel. Wow! Somehow we had really cashed in! They had said that this place would be nice, but for the price, the location and the decor was incredible, almost one would say too good to be true. It did in fact turn out to be too good to be true.

 

When the goldfish died in Pingyao a little part of me died too

When the goldfish died in Pingyao a little part of me died too

Throughout the night we tried the light switch but every time to no avail. The air-con wasn’t working and our water was freezing cold. Looking out of the window we could see that our room wasn’t the only one overcome by darkness. The bar downstairs was pitch black and silent and not a sound or an strand of light radiated from the hostel. In the morning we made our way to down to the common room. Pingyao had suffered another power-cut. This was apparently a regular occurrence and sometimes these episodes would last for days. On the streets we could hear the loud wurring of the many back-up generators bought by the most lucrative businesses.

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Ping Yao is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Ping Yao was the major centre for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.The nearly 4,000 existing shops and traditional dwellings in the town which are grand in form and exquisite in ornament bear witness to Ping Yao’s economic prosperity over a century. With more than 2,000 existing painted sculptures made in the Ming and Qing dynasties, Shuanglin Temple has been reputed as an “oriental art gallery of painted sculptures”. Wanfo Shrine, the main shrine of Zhenguo Temple, dating back to the Five Dynasties, is one of China’s earliest and most precious timber structure buildings in existence.

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Our hostel provided us with bicycles and so we spent the morning touring the ancient city in this way. It was truly beautiful and well worth the long journey to see. Here are some of the photos which we took of this amazing place.

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The exterior walls were really imposing and extremely well preserved. The original walls were made of tamped dirt and were located to the northeast of the present location. The current wall–faced with bricks and stone–was started in 1370, making it over 600 years old.  Grass now grows from the dirt along the inside of the wall. It is often said that the city wall is shaped like a tortoise–a traditional Chinese symbol of longevity–with the south gate and north gate representing the head and tail respectively. The east and west walls each have two additional gates, representing the tortoise’s feet. A series of 72 watchtowers are distributed around the wall, and a moat, now dependent on the rains, encircles the city. One can still walk the 6 km long road atop the ramparts, with the outward-facing parapets punctuated by 3000 crenelations, or openings for shooting.

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It was a great journey getting to them. We passed beautiful timber structures, gates and temples. Every single house was unique and made in such a special way. I loved  walking around Ming-Wing Street and looking at all the fabulous antiques for sale. I bought a lovely hand woven silk scarf and an incredible hand cut picture of a bird which I now have framed and hung up on my wall in addition to wooden fruit bowls and jewellery. This town was really vibrant and full of life. There were loads of massage parlours and some huge food shops which sold very posh gift wrapped foods and herbal medicines. From our window we saw the city and the tightly packed. slate roofs. This was the Old China that I had so hoped to see but hadn’t until now. No wonder it is considered China’s best walled city. I would recommend going into some of the many private houses and looking at their ornate inner courtyards.

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It was late afternoon and almost time to go. The power was still not back on, so we showered with cold trickling water. As we waited for our taxi to come pick us up, my last memory of Ancient Pingyao was starring open mouthed as a man  plunged his whole arm deep into the hostel’s feng shui aquarium, to remove a dead large floppy orange fish . Apparently it had just died of asphyxiation due to the lack of power.  I looked solemnly at the rest of the other fish still bobbing around. I hoped the power would come back on soon, but whether it did or not I never found out.

Pingyao Our Final Destination?

Pingyao Our Final Destination?

Outside the Hutong we waved and hollered for taxis, who one by one refused to take us. We couldn’t afford to wait much longer otherwise we would miss our train. With great determination I jumped into the road. This one would either kill me or take me to the station.The directions were written in Chinese on our piece of paper which we handed gingerly over to the driver. When he accepted to take us, I almost cried with relief.

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This train station had not one, but two terminals which were separated by over a ten minute drive.  Thanks to some miracle Pingyao, our next destination was listed and so we headed down the corridor to the gate which would then lead us to the platform. We passed our number and entered the designated room. It was massive, a small wing like the one used by Ryanair at any European airport. We could see the entrance to our gate but we looked on in horror as it would be absolutely impossible to get to it. Rows upon rows of people were sat down blocking any access to the doors, in fact we couldn’t even get into the room. We panicked. What should we do? No one was moving and we didn’t have that long to go before our train departed. A man in a uniform approached and asked us something in Chinese. I handed him our tickets. He started to take our bags and load them onto his trolley. Shirwa fought him off  but I just let him take my stuff. More bags were added. I just watched on in horror. What was he going to do with them? People gathered around. We kept asking but no one understood.Then everyone set off. Should we follow? I didn’t want to let my bag out of my sight, so that is what we did and we raced after the party, leaving out terminal number far behind.We had just followed the group and somehow we hoped we had come to the right place. We boarded the nearest train with our huge suitcases we asked and asked until someone finally confirmed that yes this was the train for Pingyao.

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We had booked just a few days earlier, so the sleeper carriages were already full. I would highly recommend if you wish to travel around China by train, to book your tickets as well in advance as possible. Our train journey was 12 hours and we had the last tickets left… the hard seats. This was undoubtedly the most packed out train that I had ever traveled on. There were people standing for hours and hours. The whole corridor was full and even the toilets. As we boarded we gave a quick glimpse in to see what would await us if God forbid we needed to go – a whole in the ground and a large contingent of Chinese men all huddled in the doorway. I shuddered and pulled my bag onwards. I was sweating by the time we found our seats.

We made some nice friends on our long journey. A young man bought a basket of ripe apricots from the lady selling food and giving out boiling water for people’s noodles and tea. Shirwa was offered the fruit first but he politely declined by instead insisting that I would love one. An eager face and an outstretched arm offered up the apricot to me. I refused once, but his eyes were so eager and his manner so kind I couldn’t refuse a second time. I held the soft furry object in my hands and smiled at him apprehensively. Both he and Shirwa watched me as I eyed it nervously and then bite into it. Images of the grim train toilet filled my head. I wondered how long it would take for the diarrhea to kick in. I gave the thumbs up when all was gone and made circular shapes on my stomach to show how full I was after just one tiny fruit, to justify refusing the second apricot offered up. As the night went on it got colder and the young apricot guy gave me his wooly blanket for which I was very grateful.

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At around 5am we were woken up by our friends. Pingyao, they waved, Pingyao was the next stop. We thanked them repeatedly, gathered our things and when the train pulled up into the station we eagerly jumped out. I had for some reason expected Pingyao to be the train’s final stop, but it wasn’t, it was just one of the many little places visited towards a much larger destination. The platform was deserted, only a few people had gotten out, a couple of whom were foreign. It was so dirty, litter on the floor, chicken muck. As we emerged from the tiny station I saw huge industrial buildings, cars, and dirty streets. Wasn’t Pingyao a beautiful walled city which was 100 by 100? Where were the twee little houses and the turrets? All I could see were wires, a main road and billboards. We had just hoped to walk to our hostel, but now we didn’t even know where we were. The scene was a cross between Resident Evil and Apocalypse Now. We were stranded, in the middle of nowhere, in the most disgusting place I had ever seen.

After about five minutes of utter despair we heard a call. There it was again. A call for Harmony Backpacker Guest house, the name of where we were supposed to be staying. Was this a miracle? The answer to that one was no. Luckily more a organised person had booked a room and had informed the hostel that they would be coming from Beijing on that train. Apparently part of the service was a train station pick up. They hadn’t been expecting us and wouldn’t of come had this other person not arrived at the same time. A tuk-tuk was waiting. We loaded up our huge bags onto the rickshaw. A shaved headed man pedalled away. We spun off the pavement and onto a huge main road. There were few cars but the ones that were there whisked furiously passed us.

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I hadn’t imaged that Pingyao wouldn’t just consist of the old part. Actually the city is huge and has over 100,000 inhabitants. The UNESCO World Heritage part is just a minor part of this otherwise very industrial city. My nuckles were white from clenching both the bags which threatened to slid off and the frame of the bike itself. After almost dying three or four times we turned onto a smaller street. There ahead of us loomed the gigantic walls of the old city. It was magnificent a total contrast to the rest of the modern Pingyao. We passed under the large gates. It was like going back into medieval times. The buildings looked as if they were made out of mud, the streets were dry and the people looked dusty. We passed burrows of vegetables and food, chickens and raced under amazing ornate gates.Our hostel was at Pingyao’s heart along its main artery. Red lanterns hung from the stone roofs, street vendors lined this avenue and birds fluttered around large temples.

Our hostel was another Lonely Planet recommendation and it was very proud to be so. We sat down and waited for our room allocation. Shirwa ordered some breakfast which we saw being cooked out of a dirty saucepan which had been placed in a pile of crockery in the sink in the main living area. HA! I had gotten my revenge for the apricot after all. He looked faintly at the pile of egg presented to him on the dirty plate. I’m sure its fine I laughed, after all it is recommended!

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We were woken by the sound of the daily procession outside. We got ready and went out to explore. Pingyao by night was incredible. The lanterns shone bright red, street sellers sold food. Stalls and antiques were lined up and bars/ restaurants came to life. This was a true feast for the eyes and it was so exciting. It felt really safe and we wondered around and found a fun place to eat. It was packed and the atmosphere was great. At around 11.30 we came back to the hostel bar for a drink but this was closed and really silent. We crept upstairs in total darkness to our room. We opened our bedroom door. Flick, flick, flick but still nothing, no light. Too tiered and weary to complain, we found our way into the room and collapsed onto the bed exhausted.

Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven

Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven

This was our last day in Beijing and with so many things yet to see it felt as if our time here had prematurely run out.

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The Summer Palace was magnificent. It is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces right at the heart of Beijing. Honestly, it was shame that we had left such a beauty till the last day and next time I go back I will definitely be reserving a large portion of my time to simply wonder around this idyllic setting. It was busy as most parts of Beijing are, but it somehow offered a quiet and peaceful retreat from the everyday grind of the industrial city. The long branches of weeping willows floated in the cool water. Lillie’s grew in abundance and flowered under temples. Beautiful bridges and women practicing yoga. The vistas of pagodas and the most ornate structures perched on top of distant hills filled our eyes and just dazzled our minds. Wooden boats crossed this vast expanse of water which stretched out so far it would have taken a whole day to walk. Wonders, from stone boats to beautiful statues. I felt that the variety of architecture combined with nature made this a far more interesting trip than to the Forbidden City.  We got to see some of the beautiful things which we wanted to but not everything and I would love to go back and have a look inside the buildings.

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Longevity Hill is about 60 metres high and has many buildings positioned in sequence. The front hill is rich with splendid halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty.

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The Central Kunming Lake was man-made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill.  I particularly liked the seventeen arch bridge which was truly picturesque.

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By around 1pm it was hot and although the gardens were massive it was starting to feel quite crowded. We still wanted to go and see the Temple of Heaven, so after reaching the seventeen arch bridge we returned back to the metro. We never got the chance to see the Marble Ship 😦 If you go to Beijing make sure you dedicate a whole day to this wonderful place and don’t rush it like we had to.

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest.

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We walked through peaceful gardens and ancient trees to get to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a magnificent triple-gabled circular building. Built on three levels of marble stone base, the building is completely wooden and has been constructed with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889 but the current building was re-built several years after the incident.

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This site, like the Summer Palace felt very peaceful. These complexes and green areas are so vast that it really makes them feel millions of miles away from the urban streets which lie sprawling off into the distance. These places should be on the top of everyone’s list, especially the Summer Palace and I will make them my priority when I one day return here. For now however, we have to run as we will almost be late to catch our overnight train to the UNESCO heritage walled town of Pingyao.

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Chinese Nuts and Birds’ Nests

Chinese Nuts and Birds’ Nests

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Now if you want to be hardcore, you can’t just party and then miss the whole next day. As it was getting dark by the time we woke up, we set off for the Olympic park. We thought it would be the one thing that would be more spectacular at night than in the day time. We got directions and set off. The bus was rammed with people and it was here, in the middle of rush hour when the sexual deviance occurred.

The bus was full and yet still more people came in. Another stop, no one got out but in poured the crowd. Now in London I have experienced my fair share of personal space invasion during rush hour on the Jubilee line, with the carriage resembling more a discotheque with rough looking people and smelly breakfast breath than any sort of public transport. It is always awkward being pressed up against a total random stranger, so it was pretty mortifying when I got wedged up against a poor Chinese man so tightly that neither of us could move. Now he was tiny, but somehow he had angled himself upwards and had got stuck there. Our pelvises were locked in an antler embrace and with every movement of the bus his nuts pushed further into my stomach. Now, one always wonders in these types of situations whether or not the other person is in fact wedged and not just a total pervert. Indeed how much was this man actually enjoying having his balls rubbed in this way? I know I couldn’t move away, I did at least show him that I was trying to. Did he? Not really… which come to think of it makes it all the more suspicious. A few people got out. I managed to prize myself away. We disembarked. I looked at Shirwa who had moved up inside the bus. Something similar had obviously also happened to him. He mumbled in a distant voice something about a grandma. We walked in silence, not making eye contact and fought the instinctive need to sit in a corner and rock.

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Putting that memory in a little box and burying it deep inside of our psyche, we walked towards the park. The scale of the park was huge. The National Aquatics Center shone like a bio-luminescent jelly-fish. First acidic blue then candy pink. The moon was out, large and bright.

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We walked around this newly build wonder. Flanked by posh hotels and sky scrappers, this part of the city was world’s apart from our Hutong and the Forbidden City. We arrived in front of the Bird’s Nest stadium. I have never marveled at a structure of this kind before. This one was different, so artistic, so creative. Huge, gigantic concrete struts crisscrossed all the way around it. The orange lights pulsated away. It really did feel like the nest, but not of a bird, instead the the nest of a majestic phoenix.

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We took some wonderful photos. Women were flying large kites of paper and colorful toys were thrown up great distances into the air. The moon shone bright and full. We looked around, took pictures. There were lots of young people. The whole place was jovial. We walked along the wall which lists the winners of the different medal and the modern sculpture of the torch. At night this was truly magnificent. Red and orange hue spiraled from the city in the distance.

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On our way back we took a final glance back at the Nest and at the Moon. Kites fluttered in the wind. This had been a great few days, or nights or hours. It seemed as though the 24 madness which had engulfed the city had gone.

Suddenly behind us, two kites intertwined and fell crashing down to the ground. Apparently a kite seller had stolen the customer from another kite seller and as we walked off into the distance two women wrestled each other to the ground, each with fists full of hair. OK, so perhaps the full moon madness which we had experienced last night wasn’t quite over yet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full moon madness and lycra trauma

Full moon madness and lycra trauma

Tonight, Beijing went wild.The music started. The acrobats appeared dancing dressed in jeweled Lycra. So many acts, so many contortions. Some hung from the ceiling, others jumped through hoops to form human towers. They piled high and flashed passed on moving bicycles. A woman dressed as a snake bent herself completely in half whilst balancing herself on one arm. I saw the human body do things in that dark room that no one should ever see.

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Last night we went out close to the Worker’s Stadium. Surrounded by modern elegant glass sky scrappers and shops, it is here that expats and locals revel and drink into the early hours of the morning. What I had seen up until now had undoubtedly been an ordered, controlled and conservative state and peoples. Perhaps it was the heat or even a change of moon, I don’t know. But tonight we would see things which would rock my perception of China and its people to the core.

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Steam was vented, shots and drinks were downed. From our dance floor we starred blurry eyed into the distance and saw many, many a party on the roof tops of the skyscrapers and through the penthouse windows where music and lights blared out. Strobes and electricity pulsed through the night air. The festivities and madness exposed itself to the stars, loud and visible from where we now stood but had just minutes before been hidden and hushed up. We were young and we were free. The children of the Revolution and tonight the night was ours.

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Reggaeton and elektro-house, zombie cocktails that were so strong after a couple we could barely stand up. It was hot and the room and the heavens heaved with our activity. It was my friend Toni who had bought us here. He was a tennis player and we had lived and played together in Barcelona. Now he studies a masters in Beijing.We lived such parallel lives for a time and then our paths diverged. Tonight, we were reunited and for a brief moment our fates careered forwards once again on the same course.

 

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In the early hours we found ourselves back down in the narrow streets. Sellers and food vendors cooked their meats and sizzled eggs on metal slabs. Red tuk- tuks waited patiently and offered their services to staggering groups. The party upstairs was wild but still sophisticated.

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Down here, mixed with the earth, dust, the smoke, the litter and the dimness the wild grew wilder. Shouting broke out! Aggressive, loud! We heard a massive crash, glass breaking. Then another, high pitched against the droning back noise. It was all very hazy, a man stood erect in the street and aimed a full liquor bottle at an invisible target. He pulled his arm back and threw and then scuttled away. Out popped some heads from behind a car and another bottle was thrown from that direction at top speed – aimed to hit, aimed to hurt. This one smashed dangerously close and set off a car’s alarm. We drifted through this cloud of madness. A police car siren pierced our ears and in a puff of smoke all ran away and the scene dispersed as it was just part of a dream.

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We ate chips and other things, but I can’t remember what they were. It was good, it was grimy. We sat outside and waited for our friend who had returned to the bar to try to locate his lost phone and wallet which he had only just noticed had disappeared. The workers started to pack everything up. It was late, even for this area of town. This was our queue to get going.

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Taxi drivers turned down our custom left right and center. The combination of foreign, alcohol and a dodgy address was too much ,even if one of our party was half Chinese and spoke the language. It was getting light, we would have to walk back towards the bus stop and wait for the buses to start up. Our tiered party set off down the deserted boulevard. For us the night was over, we just wanted to get back into our beds and sleep. But somehow the madness and the revelry hadn’t quite finished.  On he other side of the street construction workers started grappling. A girl looked on in horror, perhaps she had been the spark that had ignited the barrel. Spades were drawn. Really? Did that guy just hit the other guy with a giant spade? The moment felt surreal and it wasn’t the alcohol that made it that way.

We got caught between two stops when the first bus eventually passed us. By then we had been walking over an hour. When we got back to our hostel around 10am. We collapsed into the warm soft duvets and pillows and took the feet off our aching shoes. People were stirring from their slumber but we slept like logs and nothing could wake us. This little episode didn’t help our jet-lag and we woke up around 5pm to a smiling hotel receptionist who laughed and wished us good morning.

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