Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, China

So, after almost a month without access to my blog here in China, my computer crashed taking all my “China” blog posts (and all our photos except those of China – still in my camera) with it. We’ve got the corrupted hard drive so maybe at some point we’ll be able to pull them off and I’ll be able to post them (I hope so, otherwise we’ve lost all our photos of the trip to date). In the meantime though here’s a summary of the last month as a place holder.

We arrived in China on the train, the parts of the journey I saw were fascinating but I was feeling unwell so I slept through much of it. In the mid afternoon we arrived in Beijing and the whole carriage was euphoric – almost as if we’d got their by virtue of something we’d actually achieved, rather than just by sitting around for 5 days eating instant noodles. Mr. K and I had decided to treat ourselves to two nights in a nice hotel so we could have a decent shower and a couple of good night’s sleep so we holed ourselves up in the luxury of the Swissotel and only ventured out to catch Holland’s football match and to use the gym. After that we ventured back into the budget hotel market and out to explore Beijing.

It’s hard to write about my experience of Beijing in retrospect – in hindsight it was a treasure trove of delights: the walled city gardens, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven Park, paying homage to the Buddha at the Lama Temple, the wall, Beijing opera, Peking Duck… but at the time the heat, the lack of cleanliness (both in and outside our hotel), the smells and the language barrier – gave me my first proper dose of culture shock for the trip and, although it was wonderful, I was pleased to leave Beijing.

We left by overnight train in a class (“soft seats”) significantly below what we’d grown accustomed to on the Trans Mongolian, but still not the lowest available (you guessed it, I’m referring to “hard seats”). We arrived in Xi-an having had very little sleep. Xi-an’s main draw card is the Terracotta Army. The site has still not been fully excavated but even so it’s clear that, like the pharaohs, emperor Qin Shi Huang left this world very well equipped for the next with not only every imaginable rank of military, cavalry and intelligence personnel but also charioteers, stable hands, stone masons, acrobats and horses. Xi-an itself was engulfed in heavy smog and walking down the street meant avoiding dirty puddles at every step – but its walled city is charming in itself and it has a party atmosphere that comes, I imagine, from the influx of domestic tourists and which has inspired a wonderful food scene and an active night life.

After a few days in Xi-an it was on to Shanghai for the World Cup final – with Holland still in with a chance of the big prize Mr. K was nervous all day, and miserable all the next – a disappointing end to a very exciting World Cup for cloggies everywhere. But there were some advantages nevertheless: Mr. K, in a moment of weakness (at half time during the quarter-final if I remember correctly), promised to shout us a 5 star hotel for the final if Holland was in it – in the end we settled on a 4-star start-up serviced apartment which we LOVED — especially the fact that they washed our dishes for us every day.

Events conspired to keep us in Shanghai longer than planned: first my computer broke and we had to wait for it to be serviced, then Mr. K fell ill and finally the cost of flights to Japan encouraged us to end up staying a total of two weeks in Shanghai (which hopefully our travel insurance will help cover the cost of). In general I like Shanghai, but there’s less to see and do as a tourist than in Beijing. Currently the World Expo is drawing foreign and domestic crowds and Shanghai is clean, foreigner friendly and a life-size museum of contemporary architecture. It is also very large and as such harder to get an handle on as a whole.

The world expo itself is a massive It’s-a-Small-World ride with longer queues and better food. A highlight for me was the meat pie and VB at the Australian pavilion – as I write, Mr. K has headed out for a second round of fun there but for me, one night of crowds and queues was enough.

A highlight of Shanghai for me is the Shanghai Museum – free, and consequently swarming with visitors, it houses an amazing collection of Chinese treasures: jade, ceramics, brass, calligraphy, painting, currency, seals, furniture…all in glass cases that are cleaned so frequently that you are more likely to have your view of the priceless Ming ceramics obscured by the cloth of the cleaning lady than by the finger prints of the excited youngsters who buzz around in matching school t-shirts, sometimes joined together by a length of elastic affixed to each child’s wrist.

Tomorrow our 30 day visa expires and we’re off to Osaka. China has been a mixed bag but I’m very glad we decide to spend a little longer here than we had initially planned. It’s a friendly country with a history so long, anicient treasures so numerous, and a culture so rich,  my ‘new world’ mind boggles. I’m sure it would take many times 30 days before I felt I really had a handle on what China’s all about.

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