My favourite trains (so far)

I rarely remember my dreams. I have to wake up in the middle of them to remember what they were about, and quite often I’m so tired that by the time I can get my mental faculties together to try and remember the dream, I already forgot what it was. Which is probably good, since most of the dreams I remember make very little sense.

This morning’s dream was an exception. I was talking with someone I know (admittedly, can’t remember who it was) about trains. (Believe it or not, this is not an unknown conversation.) They asked me what my favourite train trips were, and I had said something like “whoa, that’s a tough one, let me think”. Then I started rhyming them off.

Oddly enough, that was about when I woke up … and I kept rhyming. So I figured, heck, that just sounds like a blog post!

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The IOC is living in a dream world

As I was skipping through my various feeds this morning, I came across the following quote from Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC:

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said the Games would “help the world to understand China, and it will also help China to understand the world.”

I think we need to send a team into the IOC’s fantasy world and extract them, because they’ve clearly (and totally) misunderstood the situation.

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On the topic of Beijing

I have to say, I was a little uncertain of what to expect in China. Mostly because we’d been told by several Brits and Aussies that we could expect a plethora of unsanitary toilets, pushy and obnoxious people, and horrible trains.

I really have to wonder what on Earth these people saw that was so bad?

So far, we’ve had excellent experiences, even walking into alleyways that are likely more local than tourist. The bathrooms have been clean (mostly, some do have a fairly powerful odour), the food has been mostly outstanding, the people very friendly (“art students” aside, we’ve had a number of people who do just want to talk, even if Amy doesn’t dig the whole “practise my English” thing), and the pushy lines are no worse than trying to get into Future Shop on Boxing Day.

Mind you, we’ve only just started China, but so far, I have little to complain about. Beijing is also a fairly modern city, which is a nice thing to see amidst all the old buildings, hutongs, and styles that make this metropolis up. I’ll be very interested to see how Shanghai is…

The Summer Palace in Beijing, and a duck

About the only thing Amy and I had on tap today was the Summer Palace. For this, we took three subways and a (decent) taxi to the location. Total cost: about 30 yuan, and about 30 minutes. The palace entrance was crowed with about half the population of Beijing, it seemed. High for a weekday, but we soon realized why…

There’ve been storms here the last few days. Big ones. I haven’t heard a good thunderstorm in a long time. The rains, it seems, have washed away the all the haze and pollution that’s been hovering around the area for the last few days. (We should have gone to the Wall today, but c’est la vie.) This made The Summer Palace near perfect for visiting today. It wasn’t too hot, there was a great breeze (almost to the point of calling it “windy”) and the sky was actually blue (instead of the usual white with a blue tinge).

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Shifty Taxis in Beijing

So Amy and I decided to take a taxi back from the Summer Palace to our hotel. Partly because the walk around the Palace grounds (which are huge) wore us out, and partly because we couldn’t figure out how to get back to the subway station we’d taken the taxi from in the first place.

A warning, which will likely be universally understood by many travellers, some taxi drivers in Beijing are con artists. Well, more like would-be con artists, as to be a proper artist, you have to be accepted for your ability. The a-hole who decided to dupe us really didn’t come off that way.

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Enter the Forbidden City

My calf muscles are killing me. I don’t know how many stairs Noah, Justin, and I climbed yesterday, but I swear my calves have never received such a workout in their existences. And now they’re taking their revenge on me. Even small stairs hurt … a lot. They’re rocks attached to the backs of my legs. They don’t flex, they pulse. Forget the Stairmaster, folks! If you want a great workout, spend the money on a trip to China, then visit three different sections and walk as much of it as you can. Your legs will be cut out of stone in days.

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Searching for the Tianjin Antique Market

Lonely Planet recommends going to Tianjin, especially to see the antique market there. It is said that a lot of the materials there were confiscated during the Cultural Revolution, and are now being sold to the dealers, who in turn sell it at the market. Theoretically, neat stuff, right?

This brought Amy and I to hop on the first Beijing – Tianjen express train this morning. A jaunty 90-minute trip on a fairly zippy (and comfy) train that deposited us at a rather chaotic train station. We walked from there roughly south-west (“roughly” because the street grid is slightly skewed, and got us turned around more than once) when we stumbled across a rather large and bustling pedestrian mall.

As Amy so aptly put it, this distracted us a while.

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Hello, underwear!

Today was errand day. Today, we decided to get our train tickets sorted out, and make plans for an excursion to the Great Wall. Inadvertantly, some things happened along the way…

First off, we hopped the subway down to Qianmen station (which is Tiananmen Square, but we weren’t headed there) to search through the hutong neighbourhoods. After a little dive in, we were diverted due to biological reasons (namely self-preservation having not to use the toilets in the back alleys). Out back on the main street, the decision was made to skip ahead to the Grand Hyatt Hotel for two reasons: exchange traveller’s cheques and see if they can handle tour bookings a little more easily.

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