June 10, 2015

Travel Diary: China

My journey to China is a testament that advertisment on websites really does work. While trying to find a flight to go to New York, my attention was caught by an ad and a fantastic deal. I didn't even think this through, when I pulled out my credit card and booked myself a once in a lifetime trip to Beijing and Hong Kong. I must admit I was not always convinced, that this trip was a good idea. All by myself. A country I never been to before. With nobody there I knew. When I told my friends, the reactions were mixed. One told me: "They eat dogs there". I replied "not mine".
But the closer I got to the departure, the more I was looking forward to this.  I wanted to feel like a stranger. I wanted to concentrate on myself and experience things I truly never have experienced before. China was everything I anticipated and so much more.
In the next posts, I will go into more detail about the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China and the Great Buddha. For now I will share some snaps from both cities.

Let's start with Beijing. The dominating colour here is a fiery red. Houses, flags, doors and lanterns shine brightly in the Summer sun. Also a lot of green and blue. On my very first day I went to Jingshan Park. Once a private imperial garden you can climb the many steps up to the pagoda to get the first glimps of the Forbidden City right at your feet. But you look at the exit! Once you leave the Jingshan Park here, Riksha drivers will try to convince you to take a ride with them. They are willing to take you to the subway station or around the Forbidden City, so you can get to the entrance. The enrance is the red gate from which Mao Zedong looks down on you. If you prefer to walk around the Forbidden City, alongside the walls, it will take about an hour to get there. If you stroll along leisurely that is.

The Forbidden City with more than 8000 houses is so impressive. It is incredible to walk though the gates and imagine how life was within these walls. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a canal.
I'm obsessed with the figurines on the corners of pagodas and how they look into all four directions.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I wanted to attend a play or an opera while in Beijing. It is hard to get used to the sounds and instruments, but it is fascinating nonetheless.

The highlight of my trip was climbing the Great Wall of China. I chose the part of the wall at Mutianyu. Not even two hours away from Beijing, you go up the wall with a skilift and down with a toboggan.
While waiting to get on the skilift I asked the couple behind me, if they would snap a photo of me and send it via mail. I'm very glad I got that snap.

When you walk through the hutongs, you get a feeling of the real Beijing. Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys. It is worth to look into the open gates. While the hutongs themselves are often run down and not always appealing looking, I'm convinced behind the gates are treasures and beauty.

Street food is everywhere and cheap too. There are so many markets, where you can buy the typical snacks. Often skewers with meat or candied fruits. However if you fancy something out of the ordinary and want to try scorpions, sea horses or grasshoppers, you need to go to Wangfujing. Actually it is a very modern shopping street with all the stores you know from the High Street. But there is also this little alley, that leads you to this snack street. You cannot miss it! Follow the people. I'm not sure if anybody really eats those. Unfortunantelly there is usually one or two grasshoppers alive so the tourists have something to photograph. I'm guilty of that, too.

Military is everywhere in Beijing. The Forbidden City is guarded and twice a day people gather in front of the gate and on the Tiananmen Square to watch how the Chinese flag is hoisted and taken down later the day. There is a security check in every subay station. In each you have to put your bags through the scanner. Regardless if you are close to a landmark or a little further outside. Even though Beijings poulation has reached 20 million and there are a tourists everywhere, I never had the feeling that Beijing was crowded. I loved walking through the city in the evening. You can walk for miles and miles and still haven't reached your destination.

Things are different in Hong Kong

Just like Beijing, Hong Kong is very hot. However also extremly humid. You leave the plane and run into a wall of humitity. It didn't take long for sweat to run down my spine.
Hong Kong is oh so different. After hardly being spoken to for close to a week in Beijing, not being able to understand anything and being busy to find my way there, I suddenly understood every word that was spoken. I could read all the signs. And actually that got me into trouble on the day of my arrival. I had gone to explore the city centre, when I was so overwhelmed by everything, that I couldn't find my way back to the hotel. I had no idea in what direction to go or what bus to take. I had to sit down in one of the malls with air condition, catch my breath and then concentrate to find my way back.
While the city of Beijing is spread out, Hong Kong is built on various islands. Due to the limit of space, everything is built upwards. Combine that with the humitity and you are drenched in sweat. Or better I was. It took me some time to figure out how women in Hong Kong do it. The city is connected with a net of malls and subway stations. All air conditioned and my safe haven. The ways from point a to point b are very short. You can walk from one end to the next within minutes.

Contrary to the temples in Beijing, where you are not allowed to photograph inside the temples and pagodas, you can do that in Hong Kong. The famous Man-Mo temple is hidden between skyscrapers and at the end of a street filled with modern galleries. One day I will return and buy myself one of those pieces of art.

Nowhere is the lack of space in Hong Kong more evident than on the cemetary. There are various ones in the city, in between high rise buildings and right next to the highway. The heat and humitity also takes its toll on the graves. Various tombs have either cracked or sank or both.
A highlight (in the most literal sense) in Hong Kong is visiting the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. But to get there you have to take a cable car. If you have problems with heights or going over water in a shakey cable car, you might want to brace yourself. But when you reach Lantau Island, you are rewarded with the sight of the biggest sitting Buddha in the world. You are not allowed to eat meat around the Buddha, but you can eat with the monks if you buy a ticket for it.

Hong Kong is filled with great markets and specialized streets. In the Flower Market Street you get just that: Flowers! One florist after the next. Right next to the flower market is the bird garden. There you get, you guessed it, birds! All kinds of birds and parrots are sitting on bars, cages or in aviarys. I'm scared of birds so I kept my distance.

Taking the tram up a very steep hill of 400m and getting to The Peak should definitly be done during sunset or at night. Then you will be able to see the complete city brightly. Especially when you ignore the tourists and turn into the small Lugard Road, that is a residential street, you will be able to see the most beautiful panorama Hong Kong has to offer.

In the next posts I will share with you more details about China. Come back, please.


Giulia said...

Such an amazing trip! I've never been attracted to China but your words and photos might have changed that! :)

Annalena said...

Oh - du versetzt mich mit Deinem Traveldiary knapp 5 Jahre zurück, als ich selbst in Peking war. :)