International Writers Magazine: China
can be seen from space, is one of the wonders of the world and
is 6000km long. It took eleven centuries to complete and was finally
finished five hundred years ago and, amazingly, its still
standing. The high point of a trip to China was, for me, unquestionably,
the Great Wall. It should not be missed and is within easy striking
distance of Beijing.
Pic: Wall from Space
The first thing
to decide is what section to visit. Those sites nearest to Beijing have
been restored and are the most popular. Bear in mind that easy access
for coaches mean lots of people. I didnt fancy standing on the
Wall accompanied by another five hundred eager tourists. I wanted a
more solitary, isolated experience, so, I shared a taxi on a bumpy three
hour journey to remote Simatai.
We arrived at a tiny village and were immediately pursued by a gang
of ladies carrying large bags. They began running after us even before
the taxi had stopped. The bags contained t-shirts and some other touristy
knick knacks. They were all giggling and seemed to be really excited.
I got the impression that they werent ever inundated by tourists,
so that, as well as a sales opportunity, our arrival appeared to provide
entertainment for them anyway. They were really friendly and their constant
giggling made all of us smile.
However, three hours is a long time in a taxi, so, first things first,
I needed to locate the toilet. I cant remember how we conveyed
this to our little entourage of ladies, but, they must have got the
gist of what I was saying as I was eventually led about half a mile
in companionable twittering down a bumpy track, until we reached a rectangular,
concrete block and was unceremoniously waved in the door. They apparently
were going to wait for me. Six cubicles, no doors and instead of the
now familiar footprints and circular hole, each toilet had a one foot
by three feet gaping hole. It was clear this was not a tourist trap.
I returned to the taxi and, after buying a few t-shirts from the ladies,
reluctantly left my new friends at the village and began the short walk
up to the Wall.
The Simatai part of the wall has not been restored and consequently
has relatively few tourists. On a cold, winters day, there were only
two other people in the distance. The sky was clear and the air was
fresh and cold. I climbed for about half an hour. Bits of the wall were
crumbling and treacherous but the view was endless and the past was
palpable. The Wall appeared to be surrounded by wilderness and it was
very easy to imagine sentries from the Tang dynasty looking out over
an identical landscape. It was impossible not to feel a sense of achievement
Second on my agenda in Beijing was the Forbidden City. In ancient times
it was exactly that, forbidden to the common people and the emperor
was venerated like a god. As you approach, the sheer size cant
fail to impress but it is the colour which resonates. Red. Red and gold
everywhere. It looks rich and proud. Even the details of each building
are arresting; tiny dragon statues linked down gables, ending with an
open dragons mouth to allow rainwater to drain. In amongst all
this Chinese splendour, I smiled as I listened to my audio guide, realising
that the distinguished voice was none other than 007; Roger Moore guides
you through the Forbidden City adding a touch of the surreal.
The Summer Palace is on the outskirts of the city and is a welcome break
from the sprawl of modern Beijing. Set in a beautiful park with a sizeable
lake and mountains nearby, it is a popular destination in the summer
as the name suggests. It was winter when I visited and the lake was
frozen. In the summer the lake is full of people on boat trips but on
a cold winters day, it was empty. You could opt for a sledge ride
around the lake so I decided to give it a go.
The ice cracked as the sledge crunched towards the centre of the lake.
Not good. My husband, Steve, was sitting behind me on the sledge and
our combined weight could not be considered light. The shore and the
Summer Palace looked very far away as we reached the middle of the lake
and the ice seemed to be thinner; there were loud thumps and cracks
underneath us. We glided to a halt. Our guide got off the sledge. He
was gesticulating wildly and appeared to want something. Slowly the
meaning dawned on us; he wanted extra money or he would abandon us out
here on the thin ice. We were being ripped off. We handed over the equivalent
of fifty pounds in Yuan and were pushed back to the shore and safety.
This was unexpected and wasnt repeated and certainly didnt
spoil the excitement of being in China.
Leaving Beijing, my next stop was Yangshuo in the far south of China.
Traditional pictures of Chinese landscapes depicting steep, sharp mountains
in the mist are based on the landscape around Yangshuo. The town, however,
is a bit of a disappointment being just a shabby collection of traveller
cafés with the inevitable banana pancake type menus. But it is
the countryside which is the star here. Time appears to have stood still.
Small rural villages surrounded by fields where labourers wield the
most basic of agricultural tools. I rented a bike and cycled for five
miles or so to the river then hopped on a boat with my bike and spent
a relaxing hour watching the scenery drift past. It was the festival
of the Hungry Ghosts that day and fire crackers went off in the distance
as people celebrated and honoured their ancestors. The roads were flat
and the cycling was easy. One word of warning; if you do hire a bike
in China, check you have working lights even if you plan only to travel
during the day. I cycled without a care into a mile long tunnel before
realising that there were no lights in the tunnel and strangely, none
of the vehicles had their lights on. That was the most terrifying five
minutes of my life. I couldnt see the front of my bike it was
so dark but could hear the growl of massive trucks trundling past me.
When I finally emerged at the other end I threw myself into the grass
and lay shaking, amazed that I had survived unscathed.
My last stop was Hong Kong. It is everything you would expect from a
modern city and more. Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on the mainland can
compete with New York and London for glinting high rises and modern
architecture. But the real pleasure for me was turning down a side street
from the sophisticated Central district to discover a noisy, bustling
market selling everything from fruit to live frogs and fish. The contrast
of traditional and modern architecture and culture is startling. You
get a real sense of Chinese culture and feel that you are in touch with
the vibrant heart of the city.
Hong Kong is an assault on the senses; from the smell of the sea and
the wood and oil on the Star Ferry to the smell of roast duck from one
of the open air stalls. The buildings, old and new, crowd together and
tower above you and neon signs are everywhere. Giant TV screens are
at major junctions and crowds of people jostle past. Cars and the ever
present yellow Hong Kong taxis beep and rumble in the background. The
city has a pulse and it beats with excitement.
The food stalls are amazing and a triumph of Chinese culture over sterile
supermarket convenience. There is always a huge butchers chopping
table perched precariously outside the shop with a massive cleaver ready
to snap the duck into portions. Ten sometimes twenty ducks hang in the
open air glistening with baked-in sauce. Temperatures soar and nothing
protects the ducks from the dust and city pollution. This might sound
like a health a safety nightmare but, I can assure you, the duck tastes
Shopping in Hong Kong is a great experience; there is something for
everyone. Designer shops crowd Central on Hong Kong Island whilst Kowloon
is the best place for electrical and fake items. One shop which must
be experienced is Shanghai Tang. It is on Pedder Street in the heart
of Central and is unlike any other shop. There are branches in other
major cities now including London but it is the flagship Hong Kong shop
that is the most evocative. Brainchild of entrepreneur David Tang, it
sells the most beautiful clothes based on traditional Chinese designs
with a 21st century twist. Bright neon colours such as lime green and
fuchsia pink make the shop a riot of colour. The shop assistants are
all beautiful, even the men! They waft about the shop dressed in long
cheongsams and Mandarin suits while Twenties jazz plays softly in the
background. It even smells wonderful, scented with one of their trademark
fragrances, Ginger and Lotus flower. Dont miss it but be prepared
to spend lots!
Stanley Market in the south of Hong Kong Island is well worth the trip
just to see the other, quieter side of the island. The south side has
beaches and a famous temple to the goddess of the sea. It also has an
excellent example of Feng Shui in action and the lengths to which Hong
Kongers will go to meet the Feng Shui rules. A large multi storey apartment
block has a hole two storeys high and six apartments wide. This is to
allow the dragon to emerge from the sea and fly without obstacles to
The new airport, Chek Lap Kok is on Lantau Island, which is a short
train or ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. Before the new airport was
opened, pilots had to navigate a path just above the tower blocks of
Kowloon and land on an airstrip which ended right next the sea. Unbelievably,
a large black and white chequerboard sign, which can still be seen on
a hill in Kowloon, was used as a navigational aide telling pilots when
to turn and begin their descent. It all sounds very hairy and thankfully
is not required anymore thanks to the new airport There are fast links
from Lantau airport to Hong Kong Island, but there are lots worth checking
out before you leave.
has one of the biggest bronze statues of Buddha in the world. Seated
at the top of hundreds of steps, Big Buddha is at the centre of
the Po Lin monastery and is magnificent. It is a long climb to the
top, especially in the hot, humid weather of Hong Kong, but the
views of the surrounding countryside and bamboo forests are worth
it. Although there are tourists and tourist shops at Po Lin, this
is still very much an active temple so it feels spiritual rather
than a tourist attraction. It is a bustling place with people buying
incense sticks and fortune sticks and crowding around the massive
incense burners to worship and pay respects. There is also a vegetarian
restaurant at the monastery which is huge and always busy but do
try it as the food is excellent and cheap.
China is vast and
my visit, which only covered three destinations, left lots still to
see. Modernisation and global economic success has not erased Chinas
unique and vibrant culture and most places are easily accessible. I
looked down on the amazing Hong Kong cityscape as we took off and I
knew I would be back for more.
© Maria Lambert
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.