Wow is the only adequate reaction to china really.
The mountains of Russia, Mongolia and china are stunning when flying over - vast, bleak and snow topped and you get such a sense of size and range.
Arriving at Beijing Airport is just a huge expanse of regulated organisation - rows of police, soldiers and officials and swarming with Chinese people...
But, it very cold. Only about minus 5 at the moment but with cutting wind. I 'have done' Tiannemen Square (am going back for Mao's tomb) but was quite emotional to be there remembering 1989... The city is clearly a massive sprawl and it is quite difficult to see the difference between slums, homes and shops in places.
The shopping areas are dominated principally by noise and smells - and everything in western terms is very cheap. The English health and safety fascista would have a field day but fortunately are not in existence here so I was able to enjoy the on street steamed dough balls and meat parcels.
Today was the great wall trip and wow, wow, wow... The whole idea must have been the dream of a mad leader - the most obscure mountain tops provide the route and it was a struggle along the part we went to, let alone in armour are in the marching train of 100 other soldiers... What was amazing was the solitude of the whole thing - for the world premier historic feature the place is deserted. Granted it is winter, granted today was freezing but just myself, Russell, a German called Marco and the three Chinese people trying to sell us postcards and books (they claimed to be poor farmers).
The abiding feature is that people stop and stare at you - when you are eating, walking or doing anything – western faces are not uncommon but clearly interesting. All young people are desperate to talk to you and to practice their english. It is almost as though china has accepted that English is the other world language and that's what they are collectively learning.
The other facet is haggling - china makes the life of Brian scene seem positively tame - it is said you should take the last digit off and pay half of that from where ever they start. Certainly yesterday the guide book I was offered at 120 yen was down to 20 yen within a minute and I was just trying to get rid of him! And I didn't even try and transact anything.
Well think that is it for now - a few days here in Beijing then north to Harbin where it is really cold!! Just off to buy Mao tat from the local seller - they think it is old fashioned and communist - the west thinks it is classic student/yoof tat and you can buy it any street corner as well as your Olympics 2008 woolly hat!
nihao and ciao