This is my diary for Sunday 11th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]
The photos for this day are here.
Index of all relevant blog entries is here.
Sunday 11th November – first day in Beijing
The best breakfast yet, but a nasty head accompanying. To Tiananmen Square – very cool! Get to do the touristy thing of following a yellow flag about the place! Eric [Chinese guide] telling us about the place: the Great Hall of the People (i.e. parliament), Mao’s Mausoleum, the National Museum of China, and of course the Forbidden City – where we’re heading in a sec. Would have loved to have seen the mausoleum and the museum, though the latter in particular is colossal… Lots of people, including two soldiers, the tallest Chinese people I’ve ever seen.
Frantic photos with Louisa, then head towards the Forbidden City. Go through an underpass under the road. Pass under the big picture of Chairman Mao and through the Tiananmen Gate. Roger Moore! [Er, what? I'm pretty sure he wasn't actually there, so presumably this refers either to an animatronic or a recording of his voice...?] Hawkers, tourists and courtyards, oh my! Lots more soldiers. Flags. Then through the Duanmen and Meridian Gates and we’re actually in the Forbidden City proper. Little girl hawker with Steve: mamiya! [Hahaha. Can't quite remember, but I think maybe he tried to talk to her or something, and she ran off calling for her mum?] Lions (male with ball, female with cub), urns, gold plate, stripped. [Urns had their gold plate stripped from them for the money, I guess...?]
Then through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, across the Harmony Square to the Hall of Supreme Harmony at last! Woo, Last Emperor stylee… Chinese bloke engages me in conversation. [No memory.] On through, Dowager Empress area, tripod frustration [I guess it was dimly lit and I wanted to do a long exposure.]. Imperial Gardens – very nice, but can’t hang around for long. “Loving Couple” trees [a pine and a cypress interlocked; I think this is a picture of them, from here] – awww. Into shop, a la Friendship Store. Nearly accidentally buy a banner. [Er?] Do buy some calligraphy. Shopping with Emma, she’s a dog. [Errr? Oh, I guess her Chinese sign?] Paperweight painting. Josie looking at horse prints - wow, Y500? About 43 quid – I’ll get it. But gotta go! Hurry, and get it for Y400 – but with debit card so real cost maybe much higher? [No idea.] Which way did the group go!? Left or right? Aha, there’s Eric!
Back to bus, then to Silk Alley, spat out in hawker/taxi central. Walk past Austrian and Cuban embassies to Silk Alley – bloody busy/insane. T-junction, turn left – looking for Pizza Hut. Dead end, turn back, fight through to other end. Micky D’s [i.e. McDonald's] to left, no sign of Pizza Hut. MD it is! Er, how do we order? Lady w/ pad – phew! Five Big Mac Meals and one veggie, please! Big Mac Meal costs Y173, i.e about 1.70 – mental. I’m no fan of McDonald’s but this was very welcome – no rice, no egg, no nuts, and the chips are hot! Strange experience anyway. By the way, with Becca, Laura, Jan, Emma, Julie. More trekkers appear everywhere, including Anthony with spicy chicken burger of renown. Emma’s contact lens adventure. [I guess it came out?]
OK, time to hit the shops! Aaaargh! Mental! Girls looking for dresses for tonight’s big meal, me looking for a shirt (aikdio trousers will do for legs). First dress purchase is Y320 haggled down to Y55, I believe – very good going! I get a shirt when I see one I like, it’s pretty plain. Y280 down to Y75, but I can’t haggle like Becca. Julie wants a yellow dress, which of course nobody sells. Trust a Julie to be awkward. [Hahaha. My girlfriend at the time was called Julie. Somebody once joked that as my Julie couldn't come to China, the organisers had been kind enough to supply me with one. Oh, how we laughed.] She gets a black one in the end – the earlier haggling paid off as get same price automatically. She and Laura try to get 5 more knocked off it but it’s not happening. Jan looking for a bag. Julie and I get taxi back to hotel (using card with address on it) – hairy! Looked for colour and meter. [I.e. to identify a legit taxi rather than one which would have resulted in our being sold into slavery, presumably.]
Sit in hotel lobby writing twelve postcards; takes fucking ages. [To this day I find writing postcards a terrible chore which takes an inordinately long time.] Then look for phone to call home, jog to another hotel as our payphone is not doing international. No reply! 0930 on Sunday morning at home - get up you lazy gits! Maybe they’re at church… Have to get back, late, no time to shower before dinner, so just change and get to coach (6pm).
Go to famous Peking duck restaurant, Anthony gets nasty response when explaining how it’s produced [presumably because part of the process involves force-feeding the ducks, though not to the extent employed for fois gras, apparently] – but all these people will eat it an hour later. The restaurant is big – really big, multiple floors, multiple rooms. Pictures of famous diners include Ted Heath, Fidel Castro, George Bush, etc. [This list strongly suggests that the restaurant was Qianmen Quanjude, est. 1864.] Seating confusion puts me on a table with people I don’t know too well, but of course they’re great people – just would have been more of a laugh if we’d all been together – this is the big night. Superb jasmine tea [first time I'd had it; love it to this day]. Meal excellent, best of week, and duck is great fun and delicious (duck sliced at table, pancake, scallion, sweet/salty sauce - yum). Toffee apple chopstick woman. [Hahaha. Something to do with the dessert. See photo below.] Speeches by Anthony and others, then William Lindesay [the first foreigner to walk the entire length of the wall, and the guy who was to present us with our certificates] – cool guy – then presentation of certificates, then votes of thanks. Then, like a big jessie, I burst into tears. The idea of not seeing these people any more really got to me. Awww. Gill and Emma console (well, Gill consoles, Emma listens). Buy the t-shirt. Then out to get bus back.
Liveliest night yet in bar – though most people have changed their clothes (oh yeah - girls all had to swap dresses because they didn’t fit!) Really cool night, everyone on great form and I’m feeling less emotional about the whole thing. Talk with Harry about cool places to go, and about Eric Shipton (he recommends I read The Six Mountain Travel Books [though as it turns out I prefer Bill Tilman's writing, on balance]) I tell him about Shipton’s Arch and promise to send him the National Geographic article I’d recently read about it), and got his card – fantastic. [The following year a bunch of the trekkers went with Harry to Nepal, a trip I had been very enthusiastic about but which I pulled out of for personal reasons, to my continuing regret. Always remember the words of The Butthole Surfers or, if you prefer, Orbital.] Collect addresses (and lipsmacks!) at back of this book. Buy a 30 quid round. Talk with Harriet about life and priorities – she’s a top lass. Talk with Ollie about his work, and discover a shared love for Withnail and I. Talk codshit with various people. Ace. Bed at about 3AM, apparently. A good night.