Welcome to China

18:33 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

After living in China for 18 months, I had become something of a weary veteran. Returning to China with my girlfriend Erin, I had a chance to see China afresh, through Erin's often unexpected point of view.

Erin hadn't flown long distance before and after seeing her delight at having a personal TV, free food and endless glasses of juice, I was sure China had enough to impress her. We arrived in Beijing, slept a little then went for a walk. Erin's first impression was typical - she was grossed out by all the hocking and clearing of throats.
Temple of Heaven
Our first full day was spent visiting the Temple of Heaven, a 'fake' market and 'Ghost Street' which is full of restaurants. Culture, shopping and food. Despite Erin's fondness for silly sounds, she is a woman of few words, but even she was drawn to rhapsodise over the vibrancy of Chinese street life. They Chinese call it 热热闹闹 (rere naonao). If you've grown up in sleepy England there isn't really an equivalent - its a lively exuberance that only manifests itself when lots of different people, sights, sounds and smells mingle together. I love this hustle and bustle and British streets always feel lifeless in comparison.

China will eat you alive if you don't stand up to it. It'll rip you off, push you out of the way, run you over and then take your photograph. You have to be firm and decisive and this behaviour is just alien to us Brits. As a result, Erin didn't enjoy crossing the road and squirmed when I bartered a watch down from £38 to £6. She also couldn't get her head around all the staring and sneaky photographs.

Our second day continued with visits to the Lama Temple and the Hutong. The Lama Temple is a large Tibetan Buddhist temple and tourist attraction which Erin thought was 'beautiful'. We visited during the Tomb Sweeping Festival and Erin felt like we were imposing whilst people practised their religion. In the Hutong, there is such a contrast of rich and poor. Traditionally the Hutong we where poor people lived but now they are very quickly being gentrified into expensive cafes and art galleries. China can be so complex. Despite this, I love these places in Beijing and after taking about them for months, it was nice to finally share them with Erin.
Paying their respects at the Lama Temple
For the third day, I arranged a tour to the Great Wall. I had asked for tickets to Mutianyu (further out, less touristy) but the Chinese receptionist heard what she wanted and booked us on a tour to Badaling (tourists everywhere). I was disappointed at first, but I needn't had been. First off on the whistle-stop tour, we visited the Ming Tombs. Whilst it was interesting, Erin thought it was 'not tomby enough'. I guess she's played too much Tomb Raider. Then we visited a jade factory, where we were 'encouraged' to buy some expensive tat. We successfully resisted. Then we hit the Great Wall. It was chock-a-block full of Chinese tourists. As usual, everyone wanted a photograph with us, we enjoyed the attention though. Finally, we visited a Traditional Chinese Doctor. He held my hand and gave me a diagnosis whilst some poor soul massaged my feet. After about four seconds of examining my hand, the doctor correctly diagnosed a digestive issue I have. My scepticism was blown away. Thankfully he had nothing else to report. And after the Great Wall hike, the foot-rub was bloody amazing.
Crowds
Before we knew it, our time in Beijing had come to an end and we were off to southern China. Erin had glimpsed China, but we'd hardly had chance to draw our breath. China never stops. Erin was starting to feel settled in China and I was looking forward to visiting somewhere new. It was time to go to Yunnan.
Strike a pose

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