I'm leaving China's captial later today on another over-crowded train to central China. After being here for over a week i'm ready to move on again.
Beijing is huge. Massive. Really, really big. Six lanes of traffic cut through mammoth glass and stone buildings spread over colossal areas. It's an imposing place designed to demand attention and awe. But for all its size it's not actually big enough. The new metro trains and stations cannot cope with amount of people. There aren't enough ticket windows at the cathedral sized train stations. Buses don't run frequently enough, restaurants have too few tables, roads are not wide enough, temperatures not cool enough, prices not cheap enough, people not quiet enough. It's a city of excess all the time. Perhaps it's because there are millions of domestic tourists here on holidays clogging everything up. Perhaps there are just too many people. Whatever, I would recommend Beijing hugely to anybody but don't touch the place in summertime.
The best way to see the excess is by bicycle. There's nothing quite like cycling around Beijing using the wide, large (of course) cycle lanes that pass along all the roads and then ducking down an old alley way or hutong and getting lost, finding a park or big (again) temple, pagoda or another oversized building site.
Smoggy days here are weird. You can't see the sky or the sun or even clouds but you're sure it's above the pollution somewhere. There are times when the air seems to hang from the chunky new buildings and stick to your lungs. People in Beijing, and China at large, have a tendency to hawk their lungs up and spit parts of it out onto the floor. I joined in. It was the only way i could breathe peoperly.
I saw the now iconic Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Centre which are both awesome and best seen at sunset when they are lit up and make the whole area look slightly alien and unreal. I found some of the silly museums here as well. The Police Musuem was full of guns and propagander and the laser shooting range was closed which was the only reason to go really. The Underground Musuem was closed (maybe they filled it in) which was a disappointment. In the 1960s Mao fell out with the Russians and ordered tunnels to be dug under Beijing in case of, well, i'm not really sure why as he was as mad as a bag of badgers but the musuem was a tour of some of the old tunnels. Was. The Tap Water Museum is impossible to find and the Red Sandlewood Musuem can stay where it is at the end of a metro line as i've decided that i'm crap at finding stupid musuems. It didn't work in Seoul and it's failed here as well. I should just stick to being a normal tourist.
I stayed in a friendly hostel and got drunk almsot everynight with a collection of other travellers and holdiay makers including an English fella who was cycling around the world, a Finish guy who fell down a man hole and all sorts of other drunks and sweaty backpackers swapping stories and having fun. It was light relief from the Uzbek embassy hunt that i eventually completed. I found out that i needed a Letter Of Invitation (LOI) from Uzbekistan and these cost 35 dollars from an online central Asian travel agents who need all kinds of documents. So i started an Internet Cafe With A Working Printer Hunt and then a Fax Machine That Actually Fucking Works Hunt and i'm still no closer to getting a LOI needed to get the visa. I wanted to get across central Asia without using a plane but Turkmensitan can go screw and Azerbijan visa laws give me a headache so i'm going to have to get a plane from either Kyrgyzstan or (if the visa gets sorted) Uzbekistan to somewhere in eastern Europe or Turkey as i want to travel in China not spend all my time dicking about getting visas for countries nobody's ever heard of. Ah well, it could be worse. I could still be working for idiots in Seoul.
But i'm not. I'm going to Lanzhou later today which is famous for being one of the most polluted cities in China (and, therefore, probably the world) and then further west onto to the silk road cities of Turpan and Kashgar. I should leave China on the 24th of August for Kyrgyzstan so i'll write more crap between now and then.