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Recap of China

Although it happened a month ago, here is the posting of the remainder of my journal from China.

We caught a minibus out of Beijing towards the Great Wall, but as so often happens in China, we later discovered that we'd been ripped off, and they had demanded five times the normal fare from us. The bus stank of exhaust fumes, but we soon realised that it wasn't coming from the other traffic but seeping up through the floor. Part of the exhaust pipe was obviously cracked and leaking directly into the bus - we looked around to see all the other passengers asleep! Nina and I tried to get some air through the window and opened it as wide as we could so that we could breathe through it. After what seemed like an eternity, we were relieved to get to the mountains where the Great Wall was, and we set off to hike up to it. We'd chosen to go to the section at Simatei, which, although harder to get to, is less touristed, and stretches across steep-sided mountains. It was truly impressive, and we spent several hours walking a section of the wall as it climbed up the mountainside, sometimes at a 70 degree incline. We caught a minibus returning to Beijing in the evening, and were given a truly frightening display of Chinese driving. Perhaps because there are so many of them, the Chinese hate to be behind anyone else, and so will fight to push onto a train first and run to an available seat before you. This also means that they are unable to sit behind another vehicle on the road and will immediately pull out to overtake even if there's another car coming or they are going around a bend. We had several near misses on our way back to Beijing, and on some occasions the oncoming traffic was forced to stop to avoid hitting us. Very few bicycles in China have lights fitted, but they still cycle them across the dual carriageway in front of cars in complete darkness. We passed a total of five accidents, which included a flattened cyclist and a bus which had driven into a crane that had been parked on the road.

When we got back to the hotel we opened our room to find it full of gas. Of course, we went downstairs and told reception (eventually, as we had trouble with the sign language for 'gas' and our guidebook didn't list the Mandarin for, "Our room is about to explode"). They came up immediately, failed to find the leak, and so opened the window, turned the extractor fan on, and told us that would sort it out. They initially thought that we were being unreasonable when we asked for another room, but eventually they did agree.

Many of the children in China wear trousers with an open slit in them, traditionally so that they could relieve themselves while their parents worked in the fields. Unfortunately, this isn't such an ingenious solution in a busy city such as Beijing where children suddenly stop to shit on a busy pavement, but it seems to be generally accepted. On the train to X'ian, Nina walked into another carriage to find a father supporting his child on the sink while it shitted into the waste bin on the floor.

We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel called Redhouse with satellite tv (as well as the gas) in Beijing, and watched the US/UK strikes against Afghanistan on BBC World. Militant groups in Indonesia had been searching hotels for Americans, and British nationals were being advised to leave the country. With the hostility that we had experienced while we had been in Indonesia, I could imagine it and I was glad that we weren't still there. Seeing that many Islamic countries had started to demonstrate, and we were about to travel to a predominately Islamic area of China, we thought it a good idea to contact the British embassy in Beijing to find out if the travel advisories for British citizens in China had changed since the attacks. Unfortunately, however, they only seem to be employing Chinese to answer the embassy phones, and their grasp of English is not too good. I asked about travel in China since the attacks, but they replied, "Tax?", and put me through to an answering machine that I could leave a tax question on. I tried again, and this time they put me through to recorded information on how to get a visa to visit Britain. Finally, I gave up, thankful that I didn't need their help for something like a lost passport.

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