Red Alert number one! I’m back in China for the second time, planning to see the major sites in the Northern part of this behemoth rice paddy. Stepping from the ‘plane at the airport, it’s clear where I am – already the scams have started and inflated prices just for me (shucks you shouldn’t), as “Lao Wei” is spoken toward me with distain in their tone. It’s every man, woman and child for himself as barging and pushing people – not raised by parents but dragged up instead – refuse to follow any kind of order or manner and invade my personal space so closely it’s borderline sexual harassment.
I’ve my shields up and at full charge; thankfully locals are in front of me queuing (and I use the term lightly), for bus tickets to town. So I can see what they’re paying and that makes me less of a target; 15 Yuan to take me from the Airport directly to hotel and I think it’s actually rather cheap. Once checked-in and having paid an extortionate £1.20 to print off my hotel voucher, I’m off to explore sites.
Olympics 2008! The Beijing Bird’s Nest! The biggest Olympic Park ever! Well no, actually it’s more of a disused sports ground now, where little or no attention was paid in foresight to the end of the Olympic proceedings. It now serves merely as a tourist attraction; so why don’t the Beijing locals use it for sport you ask? To practice and get some exercise in? Because the Chinese are about as energetic as stoned Sloths and with most wearing sport apparel that never actually sees cardio-earned sweat, an ironic bunch too.
I’m fairly certain the area was built simply to be named the “largest” facility in the world (a suspect size complex no doubt), but either way it’s a scammers delight as they swoop around your assumed rich toasted-carcass trying to sell inflated tickets. My shields are holding Cap’n and I’m buggered if I’ll be funding these useless males; too lazy to learn a skill and earn money honestly. It’s “very very far” they say to purchase the originals, and seemingly the architects designed the place to facilitate their very existence; hiding the ticket stall down a long path with not a single sign.
Instead, head to Tiananmen Square and marvel as paranoia reaches fever pitch; with an X-Ray scanner and accompanying guards placed at every point of ingress. Once you’re in, there’s very little to look at as it is quite simply; a large rectangle with an Obelisk (that you cannot reach), two beautiful propaganda statues (that are cordoned off), and an enormous screen displaying images and blaring sounds that any Doctor of brainwashing would be proud. The numerous guards dotted around stand ludicrously still for random periods of time and also facing in random directions; for no apparent random reason, which I assume is a sign of respect to Uncle Mao, whose picture hangs across the road at the entrance to the Forbidden City.
Entering the aforementioned, I’m a little surprised having to pay almost 9 quid. That’s some serious cheddar for what effectively is a fractal of architecture, where the repeating tedium of design has little to display except poor maintenance and fading colours. Ooh but look, there’s the room where the King and Queen got busy. And there’s another building housing yet more dusty armchairs and ornaments. And another. And another. To the end and a small park begs your attention for about the same amount of time that it takes to – walk straight through – so all in all, around half an hour will do the trick. So far my shields are still holding, but my enthusiasm levels are rapidly depleting. I need Geordie to see what magic he can work.
Shields down to 89% captain, I’m being bombarded by girls from Risa and whilst some are seriously attractive it has to be said; in general the Northern Chinese are horridly fugly. The few hotties that do exist all seem to have been recruited as part of scamming groups, who usually approach with the ruse that they would like to “practice Engrish”. That sounds great, but at an average of 7.3 seconds between first glance and first stroke of arm, and 12.9 seconds to say “you’re so handsome” (these are measured averages from the sheer amount trying it on), I’m pretty sure there’s something awry here. There’s no “boom boom” on offer; this would be the tea, coffee, beer or food scam.
The fit one is used as bait, with the other one or two (always at least a pair), most likely better English speakers but far less attractive (who’d have thunk that one), and able to try and manipulate a few hundred (or thousand if you’re unlucky enough), Yuan from your wallet for a simple cuppa. I’ve read up and aint no punk, sukka so my advice is to simply state that you’ve “heard about too many scams like that and I’m sure you’re all lovely and wouldn’t dream of taking my money, would you?” Deflector shield activated and they’ll bounce away like the balls on a Newton pendulum. The alternative is to speak something other than English – try German or Afrikaans for example; works a treat too.
So thus far my experiences in China have been less than impressive to say the least. I’ll skip over any details of the Summer Palace, which is actually an enormous park of silly attractions (the marble boat being the biggest waste of money ever to have been signed off), and lack of signage, making it easy to get lost and aggravated at the 10Y “Map of Uselessness”. The Temple of Heaven is inside a Park, which is so memorable I’ve completely forgotten what it’s all about. And that’s about all the major attractions that Beijing has to offer. But wait! There’s more? Something about brick layers and Mongolians I think.
Indeed, if you really want to feel the widening of back passage, head to Simatai to visit the Great Wall. Pay 4Y on the tube to get to the bus station and then 15Y to head out of Beijing, 50K North East. Pay 200Y to a taxi driver to take you a further 60K NE to the site of the park, which would be better served by construction of say – a train line – to better extract cash from overweight Californians that can barely lift their own bodyweight up the hundreds of steps to the mountain-top. Speaking of their weight, it’s a wonder the 30Y cable car is still able to function; with this much rust I’m already both brown and yellow from the worry that a major component is heading for imminent failure and looking down; the drop will mangle me in to a rather wretched mess.
Taking me half way up towards this part of the wall, which according to all “guides” is the “best” place to see it, I’m then expected to hike the remaining half, or take a pully car, which costing another 30Y is a little steep in both price and elevation and only takes me a further half of a half way to the wall. Any more of this exponential commuting and I’ll never reach it. The final hike of a few hundred steps is marred by tatchants (my slang lingo for tat-merchants), who thankfully are rather slow off the mark and can’t keep up. Which is good as once at the top, except for the wonderful view, there’s very little to see; on to Xi’An.