As you might have guessed from the title, I’m back from a fantastic trip to China. My wife and I spent about nine days there – six days in Beijing and three days in Xi’an. Beijing was buzzing with pre-Olympics high-spirits, and it was wonderful to experience it. Everyone was wearing “I love China” t-shirts (including some not-to-be-named South African tourists), and Olympic flags, posters and souvenirs were EVERYWHERE! I got a good idea of what South Africa will be like before the 2010 Soccer World Cup. I think we might want to make a plan and be there for the atmosphere.
There were some downsides to the pre-Olympics buzz. Prices were definitely higher than I remember from my last trip in late-2005 (though this was offset a bit with my highly improved bargaining skills). The number of tourists definitely increased while we were there, so some of the friendliness of the locals seemed to dampen as the week went on. But there weren’t anywhere near as many foreign tourists as we were expecting to see, and we had to deal more with Chinese tourists than with people from other countries.
We got to do all the touristy stuff I missed last time I was in Beijing. We spent most of a day in the Forbidden City, we checked out Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum, and I finally got to hike the Great Wall. Fantastic! Amazing! I’d do it again tomorrow! I also had a blast bargaining with people for souvenirs, handbags, t-shirts and all sorts of trinkets. I used to be all shy about this, but now it’s loads of fun!
We took an overnight train to Xi’an, which was very comfortable and I think way better than flying. It only cost +- RMB410 for a softsleeper ticket, and we saved on accommodation. Xi’an was definitely worth the visit, though the only thing I wanted to see was the Terracotta Army. I’ve been interested in seeing that for years. The rest of Xi’an was a bit of an aside for me, though there is plenty to see and do. My wife and I ended up checking out the city walls, which were pretty interesting (though a bit of a letdown after seeing the Great Wall), and we unfortunately missed seeing a Tang Dynasty dinner show. Our timing was all wrong. Oh well.. Maybe next time.
All in all a great trip. Now, however, it’s all back to business for the last stretch of our time in Korea. We have about four and half months of teaching time left, and we’re already planning our next trip. Hmmm… Japan or Southeast Asia? Choices, choices, choices…