Tuesday 6 May 2008 - Friday 9 May 2008
Spent Tuesday at the Summer Palace which is basically the Forbidden City but spread around a lake! I thought it was going to be a nice stroll around a park but true to form, the Chinese really do love their hills and steps!
Longevity Hill overlooks Kumming lake and has the Tower of Buddist Incense on top, it was quite a climb but had a great view out over the lake.
There are lots of gardens and pagodas and some exhibitions of artefacts from chinese history. there was a lot of intricately carved jade jewellery boxes and screens which were beautiful. there was also a street called Suzhou street which was meant to be a replica of a traditional street in southern china but it looked more like souvenir central!
There is a seventeen arch bridge which leads onto the south island where you can catch a boat across the lake. it docks next to a big marble boat aka the clear and peaceful boat (some of the names are brilliant!). in 1888 empress cixi decided to use money allocated to the navy to give the summer palace a facelift! the marble boat was the most 'naval' part of the remodelling. she used to use it for tea parties! it was built on the premise that 'water can carry a boat, and it can capsize a boat' and being as it was made of marble and unsinkable was meant to signify the Qing empire would never be toppled!
On Wednesday i went for my morning constitutional around Tiananmen square and headed for my audience with Chairman Mao! His body lies within the Mao Zedong Memorial hall which is at the Southern end of the square. on the way in a lot of people buy silk roses to lie in from of his statue (which im sure are just picked up and sold again the next day!) after filing past a big stone statue of him sitting very nonchalantly with his legs crossed you are herded through into the room with his body in by white gloved officials. The whole building itself it massive so i was a expecting a big open room but it was actually really small...two lines of people filing past...no stopping! the strangest thing about the body is they have a spotlight focused on his face which is a strange shade of orange so he looks like he's had a streaky st tropez tan!!
apparently the man who embalmed Mao had never done it before so he had a waxwork made as a backup. at night they lower the body down into the fridge next to the waxwork so it does make you wonder which you actually see!
on wednesday evening i headed to the station to catch the sleeper train to Xian. met a lady from london in the waiting hall and it turned out we had both lived on the same road in london.....how strange, the world is such a small place!
well i was really looking forward to the sleeper train and had all these romantic notions of being gently rocked to sleep and waking up refreshed in a new city.......WRONG!!!!!
i knew i had the top bunk which i thought ok thats fine thinking there would be 4 bunks to a compartment, no there are six!!! which means you pretty much need a climbing qualification and oxygen to reach the top bunk!
it was very tight quarters with the rest of my compartment mates. i was travelling hard sleeper so it was all chinese people. its not as bad as it sounds, you still get a mattress and pillow etc its just not quite as comfy as the soft sleeper (which has 4 bunks) and its a lot cheaper!
we left beijing at 21.36 so after about an hour everyone started to go to bed. i wasnt looking forward to getting up into my bunk! i'd already turned into the typically blustering foreigner by losing my phone (which i found) then losing my ticket (also eventually found) so i was imagining the things i could do to embarass myself while climbing up. well it got to a point where i couldnt put it off any longer and the climb up was ok! the bunks were pretty small, much smaller than the capsule hotel, i couldnt sit up or anything. was trying to sort out my bedding and managed to knock my pillow off the side and clout the lady in the bottom bunk with it...oops!
i had my fingers crossed that i didnt need the toilet in the middle of the night! i was writing my diary with the light on and the man in the bunk across from me was making noises like he was annoyed so i stopped writing and turned the light off and settled down to sleep. well now i wish i had kept him awake with the light because it turned out the man snored like a bear!!! it was so loud i had my ipod on and i could still hear him over the music!!! got about an hours sleep and then...obviously...i needed the toilet, great! so i planned my climb down route in my head and tried to silently climb down...big problem, the women on the bottom bunks had folded up the rungs so there wasnt anywhere to put my foot once i had got past the bunks below so i was stuck in the middle of the compartment! climbed back into my bunk and a guard walked past...great he could pull down the rung...tried to get his attention but he didnt see, so i was waving my foot out the end of the compartment trying to get someones attention, about four more attendants walked by but no-one noticed because i was too high up! so this was about 40 mins later and i'm pretty desperate for the toilet now! just had to go for it and managed to slither down the side of the bunks and head for the loo! oh the relief once i was back up in my bunk! i didnt even mind the snoring man!!! but 3 hours later without a wink of sleep and his snoring louder than ever it was the closest i've got to commiting GBH!!!
we arrived in Xi'an and i was so tired as i hadnt slept at all, luckily i was getting picked up from the station by the hostel. checked in and then went to bed!
in the evening i went to a dinner/theatre show with 3 people from the hostel. it was a meal of dumplings which i was unsure about but they were lovely!!! it was funny because they were in all different shapes, chickens, flowers, fish, walnuts, leeks! and they kept bringing out steamer after steamer of them, we really did get our moneys worth! i knew the show wasnt going to be amazing, it was dancing and music from the Tang dynasty. so they had lots of women in floaty dresses dancing round and then some percussion numbers. it was geared towards tourists so it was all quite cheesy! but it was worth it just for the meal!
havent really left the hostel yet so going to have a walk round the city today! it was raining yesterday but seems to have cleared up today.