24 August 2009

Bits of Beijing

The Great Wall and the Forbidden City were the main reasons for visiting Beijing but in the three days we spent there we also managed to catch quite a few other significant sights.

The walk around the Olympic centre almost seemed unplanned but was most welcome. We had been taken to lunch nearby (we spent all three weeks be ferried to different but almost identical restaurants twice a day) and were allowed off the leash for a while to explore the Olympic legacy.

The Birds Nest is simply stunning, both from a distance as seen here and also close up where the structure can be seen clearly.

The stadium is now open to tourists but by the time we had worked out how to get tickets we did not have enough time to go inside.

Also on the site is the Water Cube, another interesting but less impressive building.

What was impressive was the plaza around the sites, some of which can be seen in the foreground. This forms part of a wide corridor that cuts North-South through Beijing all the way to the Forbidden City and beyond. It was one of the most dramatic public spaces that I have been in, much more so than Tiananmen Square, for example.

The Summer Palace is very big and very pretty, even in the torrential rain!

In concept it is similar to an English country mansion but the scale and grandeur is something else. We had less time than I would have liked to explore the palace and gardens; it could easily have taken a whole day and still have left most of it unexplored.

We did get to walk along the 1 km corridor that is, apparently the longest in the world. We soon got used to being told that what we were seeing was the biggest / longest / deepest / oldest in the world, and often it was true.

Part of the corridor can be seen behind the lion. It is open on both sides but is covered for the full 1 km and has thousands of pictures painted on the timbers. This type of corridor, or walkway if you prefer, proved to be very useful at times during the tour as they provided a welcome shelter from the piercing sun and, just once, the driving rain.

The corridor went part of the way along one side of the artificial lake, which gives you some idea of just how big the Summer Palace is. Wikipedia says that the lake alone is 2.2 square kilometers.

We did not have that many opportunities for shopping in China but we were let loose in the Silk Street market so that we could experience the counterfeit products and the sales technique employed.

The market consists of some 1,700 booths spread over seven floors and zoned by product. Shopping is not my idea of fun, though markets are, so I had a look around without seriously expecting to buy anything and was amazed by the size of the market and the range of goods available.

The sales technique was bit of a shock at first and took a little getting used to. Instead of "sales technique", perhaps "attempted kidnap" is a more accurate description. The sales staff, almost all of them young women, literally grab you by the arm as you try to walk past and attempt to convince you that they had the best price for the Gucci boxers that you undoubtedly need.

Once the shock wore off it almost became fun though I was never tempted to actually go into one of the booths, fearing for my wallet and sanity.

The limited lure of shopping faded fast and I spent the second half of the allotted shopping time having a beer outside. A wise choice.

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