I’m happy to report I’m having a fabulous time in Beijing.
Initially, the omens weren’t too good. Flying into the city of 23 million from Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, my neighbouring passenger – a Chinese woman – commented: “I’m just looking out the window, the pollution is serious.”
However today dawned fine, unpolluted and not too cold – one of the city’s only 90 sunny days, so I’ve been told – and a contrast to November 1 last year, when it apparently snowed.
I’m staying at the very flash 521-room Grand Millennium, where the residential manager is none other than recently departed Kingsgate Queenstown general manager Glen Cook.
He joined me in a hotel Audi today for his as well as my first visit to The Great Wall, one of the world’s few manmade structures visible from the moon.
Glen and I went to the Mutianyu section of the wall – only 90 minutes from Beijing – which is accessed by a gondola that’s fairly similar to Queenstown’s Skyline version. On the way to the gondola, you weave past hustling stallholders – the best way to avoid being hassled, Glen told me, was to avoid eye contact. I still bought a Great Wall cap, though.
The wall presented a fabulous, scenic walk, about three or four kilometres long.
Rather than go back the way we came, we took an exciting toboggan ride down a metal chute.
Traffic in Beijing is pretty scary at times – we saw the aftermath of a couple of collisions on the way back.
Despite the fast-paced cheek-by-jowl cars, cyclists don’t wear helmets – nor do most motorcyclists.
The scariest part is that drivers don’t give way to people on pedestrian crossings, which makes you wonder what the point of them is. Apparently the rationale is that if you stopped at a crossing, you’d slow the traffic flow – and anyway, no one’s policing them.
What is good is how reasonably priced the taxis are. From Beijing airport to the CBD it’s only about $NZ20.
Right next to my hotel is another which was just on the verge of opening in February this year, when it was burnt from the outside by a rogue firecracker. I gather the fire is caught on a popular YouTube video – not that you can view it in China.
Off now to a Silk Market to buy a couple of shirts.
Next up that most modern of cities Shanghai, which apparently makes Auckland look like Timaru.
Take care, Scoop.
– Mountain Scene chief news hound Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler flew to Hong Kong and China courtesy of Air New Zealand.