After a nasty flight compliments of Dragon Air, where an airhostess tried to kill me by telling me my meal was beef when it was quite clearly fish, then arguing the point with me while I held the stinky substance on my fork, pointed in her direction, we collected our baggage and went to find a taxi.
Waiting in line in -2 degrees was challenging, little did we know where were about to be faced with our next challenge. No one warns you about the Chinese method of airport taxi hunting. 4 security guards were directing cabs into a weird sort of pattern, the cabs would park and pop their boots (think small card yard with loads of crappy second hand bombs). Out of nowhere the queue would start running towards the parked cabs, like a feeding frenzy. The Chinese certainly do things differently.
We arrived at the Regent Hotel in the heart of Beijing and were spoilt from the get-go. The giant Christmas tree in the foyer was perfection, the service, the marble, the gold, the glass, bigger than Ben Hur bed, sleek bathroom with products to boot and No.13’s measure of excellence…the flat screen TV that he could view from the seat of his throne (the toilet) and to top off the experience with inbuilt speakers in the toilet.
Everything surpassed our expectations and might I say the breakfast buffet was out of this world. I bet there isn’t one person that could name something that wasn’t on the menu!
Christmas Day we hailed a cab, and wedged ourselves through the door. Being -10 degrees was a trial and dressing accordingly for it was just as much of a tribulation. Japan had been cold, but Beijing defined FREEZING. 2 thermal tops, 1 normal top, 2 jumpers, 1 parker, 1 scarf, beanie, hat, 2 pairs of gloves, 1 pair of thermal pants, leggings, jeans, 3 pairs of socks, boots, ear muffs, face protector…I tell you what, I felt like Kirstie Alley circa 2009! 1 hour and 5 family ‘Merry Christmas’ phone calls later, we reached The Great Wall. The temperature was now at -20 degrees and yes…there is DEFINITELY a difference in the 10 degrees.
After climbing the steep slopes of the historical stone wall, giving the Canon a good run and taking a trip down the ‘riveting’ Toboggan ride, we were frozen. No amount of jumping, running, slapping or dancing got our blood circulating any faster or did it return any feeling to our skin. It was all worth it for the spectacular view that we were bequeathed with for our efforts. A marked improvement in No.13’s photography allowed for some pretty breathtaking shots (minus the obligatory photo of my arse as I climbed the stairs…men will be boys).
For Christmas lunch we enjoyed the finest Peking duck that Beijing had to offer.
Wrapped in warm, light and fluffy pancake with a sprig of spring onion and a cool slice of cucumber, drizzled with deliciously thick plum sauce, a steaming bowl of fried rice, salt and pepper squid, succulent steamed greens, sweet and sour pork…all the makings of a traditional Australian-Chinese feast. Meanwhile the real Chinese couple sitting next to us feasted on slimy Abalone (you all know what I think that looks like…and No.13’s father knows best) and other equally revolting looking so-called delicacies. Stuffed to the brim we pushed on in an effort to pick up a few wares from our travels.
That afternoon we ventured to the Pearl Markets and spent our Christmas bonuses (a few times over). I am constantly amazed at the ability of the Chinese to copy just about anything, and to absolute precision for that matter. It also makes me incredibly nervous, particularly after watching a documentary on Shen Zhen. These guys have been replicating things like eggs (the ones you eat) and medication to a point where you cannot tell the difference. Let’s face it, pair of imitation Christian Loubitans aren’t going to kill anybody (unless used as a weapon), but imitation heart medication for an individual that needs it to survive day to day…that crosses a line for me.
A few hours later we dragged our bags back to our hotel room and rested for another day. Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Wangfujing Food Markets had us in a trance for all of Boxing Day. No.13 had his work cut out for him on this stretch of never ending food stalls. Stand after stand of BBQ beetles, marinated snake, fried cicadas and centipedes and my favourite…raw sheep’s penis. Yummo! As we stood by and watched 2 female Russian tourists gob down their penis on s skewer, we were convinced that they didn’t understand the irony! “Hmm..this is good” says one Russian girl to another. “Yes, it is delicious…what is it?” the other Russian girl looks to the stall owner. “Penis. Baa Baa…penis.” the stall owners spits down at her in Ching-glish. Nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed the humor of it all, even though they didn’t seem to.
Walking back to the hotel we encountered our first scam, much to the delight of No.13. A large Chinese man approached us in his tin looking tuk tuk-style vehicle and motioned us to take a ride. We discussed a price for the distance, nodded our heads and jumped in in the back. I swear, I walk faster than the highest speed of this thing and I don’t let off smells half as foul. We were let out in the middle of the road and told our ride was going to cost triple what we had agreed on. Needless to say this caused dramas, no body rips of No.13 and nothing gets his blood boiling more than someone that tries.
Our final day was spent wandering the Hu tong’s and exploring other markets, sights and culinary delights. A particular favourite of mine was the toffee covered strawberries on a stick. Not sure how traditional this gastronomic pleasure was but I commend the Chinese for once again for knowing their market and sucking in the tourists.
Sitting in the airport, waiting for our flight home we were sad to be leaving Beijing. Trying to login to facebook and check out what had been going down in Sydney-town proved to be an interesting task. Oh how could I not have known, the Chinese government have blocked all access to social networking sites and the likes of YouTube – of course they had…ooo the control. Any who – We had copious amounts of fun putting a different spin on Christmas. We fought the frost bite and the food comas and got to know a city as rich in tradition and culture as it is invested in the future. We just hope that next time we visit, someone gives the taxi drivers a breath mint and a lesson reading a map.