Problems with Internet in China
Firstly many websites/services are banned in China, including both Facebook and Twitter. As my blog is linked to both, I’m having some difficulty but will attempt to keep the updates coming. Facebook may well not work for me until I can find a host with a VPN (virtual private network that gets around the restrictions), if I get it working it’s a bonus. Because it is also so slow photo’s take ages to load, so I will just batch load them (leaving the laptop ticking away) making my blog very image heavy. Normal service will be resumed ASAP, but probably not until I leave China.
Route finding is the biggest headache as I have no paper map. I’ve tried to load routes using bikeroutetoaster/googlemaps and it just will not load the maps as the speed is insufficient. So riding across China is going to challenge me in more ways than one!
My first night with my Warmshowers hosts Ira & Rachel involved a trip to their local eating house, where I was introduced to a wide selection of food from the menu. I was certainly ready for a good meal and tucked in with gusto, washing it down with a local beer. The food (and beer) is so cheap here it’s hardly worth cooking and apparently it will get even cheaper as I travel outside of Beijing and into the countryside.
Ira and Rachel are saving for their own cycling tour to Italy, working far too many hours (those who say they can’t afford a trip should take a leaf out of their book!) and I was so grateful they took time out with me, as well as letting me have the run of their small apartment. Thanks for helping me out guys.
I spent the first two days familiarizing myself with the local area, wandering round the Hutongs (the name for the narrow streets/alleys) and then went into the main town looking for maps and other bits I needed. It was a fruitless and frustrating exercise as I found Google maps pretty inaccurate when it came to locating the stores. Me and Luke know all about this – we had the same problems in Kyrgyzstan and so it’s just as well I also took time out to find some of the sites I would later visit, including Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City.
Rachel did give me the tube directions to a Decathlon store, where I was able to pick up the remaning bike parts broken in the accident (bottle cages etc.) and I also treated myself to a new fleece for the cold winter here.
The Forbidden City
I chose a clear and chilly day to visit the forbidden city, the wind blowing just enough to work it’s way into my bones as I made my way through the tunnels of Tiananamen Tower and towards the Forbidden City. I had to keep moving just to keep myself from becoming another of the many statues and taking my gloves off to take photographs was a pretty painful experience. But it was stunning and worth all the effort, as I hope you’ll agree. I’ve loaded all the pictures together, apologies for the lack of dialog but I didn’t collect all the information as I normally would, due to the cold.
A pair of lions guard important buildings. The male lion has one paw placed on a globe, representing the emperor’s power over the world. The female has her paw on a baby lion, representing the emperor’s fertility.
On the terrace, a bronze crane and a bronze tortoise can be seen. They were placed there to expect everlasting rule and longevity. The crane lives 1,000 years and the tortoise 10,000, says a proverb. Both animals are symbols of longevity and the connection between a tortoise and a crane also dates back to early Chinese history. The crane is a symbol of Long Life and also the symbol of the relationship of Father and Son according to the Confucian philosophy. Furthermore the crane is a symbol of wisdom. When a high-ranking Taoist priest died, it was said he was “turning into a crane.”
The roof guardians are led by a figure riding a phoenix, followed by a number of mythical beasts (the more beasts, the more important the building) and at the tail of the procession is the imperial dragon.
More than 300 copper and brass water vats can be found in the Forbidden City. They were used for fighting fires and in winter were prevented from freezing over by wrapping them in thick quilts.
The tour of The Forbidden City ends with a wander round the Imperial Garden. At the northern entrance are two bronze kneeling elephants, which symbolise the power of the emperor, showing even these strong creatures kowtowed before him.
The third largest public square in the world, Tiananamen Square is more recently famous for the 1989 massacre of several hundred students following the Chinese governments crackdown on demonstrations. Police presence was very noticeable on my visit (including the many secret police I spotted) and I’m told that anyone attempting to display a “free Tibet” T-shirt would not even get their coat off. The square gets it’s name from the Tiananamen Gate located to the north.
There’s so much to see (and photograph) here in Beijing that it’s difficult deciding what to include in the blog, as I’ve taken dozens of pictures and I haven’t even edited the Great Wall photo’s yet. I’ll save those for my next blog.
I move on in the morning and it’s back to wild camping (which should be very interesting – some people have said it’s illegal here, others that it’s OK), then coping with the intense cold. But I’m just happy to be cycling again. Next major town will be Pingyao, China’s best ancient walled city, so stay tuned! More soon, if I can get internet…