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Brian’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 21 Feb 2007

Location: Beijing, China

MapOff to Beijing! I actually paid for a train ticket to Beijing and fully intended to spend a mind numbing 48 hours on a train. Beau had already purchased a plane ticket. But, (luckily?) every seat on the train was sold out for the next couple of days and I ended up getting on the same flight as Beau the next day. Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) creates a logistical log jam on the rails all throughout China. We landed in some seriously heavy fog in Beijing, which was pleasent to discover because I first thought it was smog.

I don't have a lot to say about Beijing. Its a big city with millions of people that are significantly less friendly than those in Tibet. It was, however, nice to visit the western supermarket with real cheese and Belgian beer and peanut butter. The tourist sites in Beijing are nice, but don't offer a true feel of history. Walking through Tian'anmen Square and the Summer Palace felt like it had as much history as Lego Land. The Starbucks in the middle of Tian'anmen added to the feel of forged history - and worst of all it was closed! Everything was also under construction in preperation for the 2008 Olympics, which didn't add to the air of ancient history. The Great Wall on the other hand was quite interesting. I picked a spot of the wall that was 110km from Beijing and is generally left untouched by the tourist mobs of the other parts. The Simitai wall is incredibly steep with a 70 degree incline in parts and is a serious leg workout of stairs and steep rocky ascents. It's quite rewarding to get to the top and see the wall disappear into the smog. But, beautiful nonetheless. To get down off the wall I chose the less intelligent route and took a zip line for about 1,000 feet over a river and down to the bottom. For only $5 and strapped in with simply cloth and stitching and told to simply 'hold on' it has to be the highest injury potential to cost ratio I have experienced yet. Good times.

For those of you who are as ignorant as I was, the wall is not one giant connected wall, as I had thought. It's actually all in parts scattered over a 100km apart across the northern side of Beijing. I think there are 5 or 6 disconnected sections in total. China used to tell the world it's the only man-made construct that can be seen from the moon. However, when China finally put an astronaut in space he couldn't see it from orbit let alone the moon. Unless the smog lifted you probably couldn't see it from a 1000 feet anyway.

Having taken all forms of public transportation in Beijing I fear for the 2008 Olympics.The subway is bursting at the seems as it is and there seems to be a general attitude to not help tourists. Hopefully they find a way to get rid of the smog or the olympic blimps with be as useful as they are at dome games back home.

29 Hour train ride to Ulaanbataar, Mongolia and I'm officially on the Trans-Mongolian Railway.