Jetlag, as Sir Terry Pratchett may say, is a total embuggerance.
It’s coming up to 1am, and whereas I should be tired I’m instead starting to feel a bit peckish as this would be the time I eat at home.
This afternoon, my energy crashed as my body thought it was sometime in the early hours.
So far it has ensured that I have had two afternoon naps – and I have to say that I’m loving being in a position to take them – and went around 30 hours without eating whilst my appetite sorted itself out.
Some ten hours later, and with a good eight hours sleep in me I feel in somewhat better condition.
This morning is in marked contrast to the last few days. I have woken naturally, rather than because the clock has told me to. Outside, I can see blue skies and a touch of wind in the surrounding trees; much nicer than the thick fog or pouring rain of the last two days.
I should possibly be out and exploring. But there is plenty of time for they to come. For now, I am content to simply do what I have not for a while now and simply relax. I do not have to catch a plane, pack a bag, organise anything or be anywhere and that in itself is refreshing.
Yesterday was a day given to sightseeing. Before I left, I booked a day tour of the city. I find these to be useful to get an orientation of the city, and to help decide where I’d like to visit in more detail.
I awoke early having only managed a couple of hours sleep. I still had time before my alarm, but my traitorous mind had switched to hyperactive, and there would be no further rest.
I knew before I opened the curtains that conditions had not I proved since yesterday. The sound of rain was already loud, and as I looked thought the window it only seemed to intensify.
Jason, my tour guide for the day walked through the doors of the hotel, shook my hand and looked shocked as I announced I didn’t have an umbrella. “But it is raining”, he said. He wasn’t wrong. I told him that I intended to grab one on the way, and he seemed a little more convinced that I wasn’t some kind of nutter.
I climbed into the minivan which only had two other passengers, a very nice young German couple. I’d expected a group of around 15 and so was surprised when Jason said the tour was now beginning. May it just wasn’t busy, or maybe the rain had scared others away. Either way, it was good for the three of us as it meant that we would get a much more personal experience.
We drove a short way to Tiananmen Square. As we pulled up, Jason grabbed a hawker selling umbrellas. “it shouldn’t be more than Y10” he told me (around £1). In the end it cost Y20. The hawker had his price, and in the pouring rain the man with the umbrella holds all the bargaining chips.
The square itself is simply that, a large square. It is not a communal place, filled with markets or food stalls such as you find in Morocco. Instead, other then the two large video displays it is the events and historical significance that make this an interesting place.
We did not dwell in the square too long, only enough time to point out the surrounding buildings. First Mao’s mausoleum, where the body of the former Chairman in interred. The the south gate, which was to be our next stop.
The gate is an imposing structure, and one that is quite heavily guarded judging by the number of policmen that I saw. A huge portrait of Mao hangs over the entrance, surrounded by national flags and two large golden statements.
After crossing the short bridge you find yourself in the first of many courtyards, which you continue through until you reach the Forbidden City itself.
Even through the heavy rain the city looks magnificent. Built between 1406 to 1420 it towers above the surrounding area and projects an aura of majesty.
Home to the Chinese Emperors, and up to three thousand concubines (as Jason said, the Emperors tended to die young, probably through exhaustion), it is strange to walk though a place where a few hundred years ago I would have been executed for entering, or needed my balls removed to work here!
When I imagine Beijing it is this image that I see in my mind. I have been re-reading Micheal Palin’s ’Around the World in 80 days’, and the Beijing he describes as silent 23 years ago due to the comparative lack of cars, and the lack of high rise buildings is now so far removed from the city that I have seen so far that I wonder just how different this place will be in 23 years. yet, here stands a city inside a city comparatively untouched in hundreds of years.
I wonder how long it will be before the image of a New York, London or Hong Kong style skyline will become the dominant collective image of Beijing instead of the yellow roofed classic architecture of the Forbidden City?
We then moved onto the towering Temple of Heaven. It contains three levels symbolising Cloud, Dragon and Phoenix and is remarkable in that it does not have any nails or cement in its construction despite being 30 meters high. It was here that the Emperor would call upon God to ensure a bountiful harvest with prayers and a sacrificial cow.
We then walked the grounds, including a covered walkway that was teaming with people playing card games, Chinese chess or singing and dancing before stopping of at one of the banes of organised tours – the shopping excursion – at a silk farm. In fairness this time the demonstration was quite interesting as we watched process of the silk being taken from worm to finished product. best of all it was over in just a few minutes.
A second shopping stop at a perl farm was not as good, with a boring promotional video, followed by the opening of an oyster. But it came with the consolation of a small pearl each, and more importantly, lunch was served here.
It now occurred to me that the last food I’d eaten, was the cooked breakfast on my flight at around 7am that it was now past 1pm, it meant I’d not had anything in 30 hours!
Small bowls of white sticky rice were bought out, along with a type of sweet and sour pork, a vegetable that I wasn’t quite sure of that reminded me of elongated fennel, very thin potato strips, not fried, I a dressing, a broth and (for me) the highlight of the meal peanuts, with chicken in a chilli sauce. I ate hungrily and enjoyed the food.
After lunch we the headed to the Summer Palace, a huge expanse of parkland with a lake in the middle of it. Apparently the temperatures here can be around 5c lower than at the Forbidden City, and this is why is was chosen for the summer location. The area is undoubtably beautiful, with trees surrounding the lake and lotus flowers in the water. Dotted around the landscape are the buildings of the palace and the occasional temple
Rather amusingly, as we talked we would occasionally get people slide up alongside us that were pretending to be looking at something, but were in fact posing to have their pictures taken with us. Over lunch, I’d said how in Shenzhen I’d had people coming up to take pictures of me. I think the others may have had their doubts, but now they’d experienced it for themselves, I think the doubts had disappeared.
The Summer Palace concluded the tour and we drove back to our hotels. Being in the small group was brilliant, and everyone was really friendly with each other. Jason was a great guide, and you can tell he really enjoys what he is doing. The German couple are heading to Hong Kong next week and I hope that they enjoy it as much as I did. I should be there again in another twenty something days myself, only I’ll be arriving having travelled overland this time.
The heavy rain added another dimension to the tour, but I was glad that it cleared up later.
After returning to the hotel, I planned to go straight back out. But by this time all the bad sleep and jetlag kicked in, and I found myself drawn to my bed for a couple of hours before heading back out.
By this time it was dark and my street was a completely different place. Crowded and lit up in neon with small shops everywhere. I walked for a hour before getting some food and walking back and in possession of my first blister.
I finished up in the hotel bar, the only place I have found with wi-fi, sent a couple of e-mails, checked the sport (Spurs drawing with Norwich, selling Van Der Vaart and only no direct Modric replacement? Oh dear.) before doing some washing and retiring for the night.
A much better day than yesterday and the real start to this adventure. I meet up with the people I travel though China with later today, so it will be interesting to see what that is like.