Tuesday 22nd March – Beijing Day 2

Because we stayed in port, it was really still, so I knew I would sleep badly, so I took a sleeping tablet. When dad rang at 8.30, he woke me up! How I was on the quayside, washed, dressed and breakfasted by 9.05, I have no clue, but I did make it.

Mr Li picked us up ON TIME and drove us into Beijing. It was a long, boring drive on a dead straight road for over 100 km. How he stayed awake, I have no idea. I didn’t. He took us to the Forbidden City first, and the traffic in the centre of the city was a nightmare. We were spoilt, last time. We came on New Year’s Eve, when the whole place was deserted. This was hideous. It took us an hour to get from the expressway to the city – I think it’s about 10km as the crow flies. We paid for a little golf buggy thing to take us round to the main entrance, but they put the ticket booth so far away from the actual entrance, we couldn’t be bothered with the slog! They also had no slopes to help wheelchairs off the kerbs, which were several inches deep. So we beat a hasty retreat back to the car and headed off to the Summer Palace instead. We have now tried and failed to get into the Forbidden City twice. We can take a hint. No disabled people welcome.

At the Summer Palace, we bought our tickets (a bit more sensibly located, this booth) and had to show mum and dad’s passports to get a senior discount for them – again with the LOOK AT THEM!  But when went through the barrier, we were confronted by a massive flight of stone steps! Why would you let a wheelchair through, up a ramp, and not tell them there was a massive great staircase up ahead?! We found some guards in green uniforms and they CARRIED mum, in the chair, up the steps. Which was very nice of them, but frankly the least they could do after having taken thirty quid of our money! Mum said it was very nice, but did nothing to alleviate her fear of flying!

Once up, it was quite flat and (fairly) smooth and we pushed her around the lake from the South Gate to the East Gate, where Mr Li picked us up. We got hopelessly lost and, although it was all very pretty, and looked especially romantic in the mist – just like paintings you have seen, I have two observations about what we encountered during this half hour walk.

  1. The Chinese have never seen a wheelchair before and stare quite blatantly. They seem quite fascinated by the idea of HELPING someone old to move about. They are utterly fascinated at the idea of not making someone get up and walk, despite their infirmities. Absolutely hypnotised. They may have to provide disabled toilets by law, but they don’t seem to think much of old people. In fact, they don’t think of them at all.
  2. They will push and shove you, no matter who you are, or how old you are. They will physically CLIMB OVER YOUR WHEELCHAIR if they feel you are not getting out of their way fast enough. I try very hard not to be judgemental of other nationalities (although I admit I don’t always succeed!), but what we experienced today would make anyone consider racism as a new hobby. I have never seen every single representative present of an entire nation of people treat each other and everyone around them with such disregard, disdain and outright abuse. Mr Li said it was the “out of towners”, who were also tourists, and that ‘proper’ Beijing people don’t behave like that. I’ll have to take his word for it. But I reckon that 98% of the native Chinese I met today deserve a punch on the nose and a lesson in basic manners. A bit of inconsiderate, ‘not familiar with the concept of personal space’, I can stand, but this was downright offensive, and at times bordered on physical violence. I learned a lot about the locals today, and I now see why the emperors built some epic walls to KEEP THEM AWAY. Nasty bunch. Both the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace were off limits to ordinary folk, and, having met them, I completely understand why. They’re a mean bunch, on the whole. There were exceptions, obviously, but only enough to prove the rule.

And so back to the car and back to the ship. Three hours each way does take a pretty enormous chunk out of a day. Again, the traffic was pretty hideous in the centre of town, but once we were out on the expressway, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Mum only ate one packet of crisps between breakfast and supper. None of us had any lunch, come to think of it. We spent too long stuck in traffic to have time for a food stop. I had a GF bread roll I had brought from breakfast, which I ate at about 5pm, in the car on the way back to the port. Dad had nothing at all, that I recall.

We overtook three P&O excursion coaches, so we knew we wouldn’t miss the ship – they can’t go without them! Dad reckoned that, with BOB being 8pm, we would be lucky to sail by 10. It is currently 9.35pm and we are still tannoying for missing passengers, so he’ll probably get it spot on. UPDATE: 10:30. Still sat here… 11.05 pm. Long soak in the shower later? Still here. And we were fretting about being back by 8! (we were at the dinner table for 7.30pm). We started moving at about ten past eleven, in the end.

The pollution in Beijing is horrible. You can taste the air, and see it. Yesterday was bright and sunny, but today was overcast. Still 16 degrees, so not cold, per se – didn’t wear my coat, scarf or gloves (in fact, I nearly left them in the boot of Mr Li’s Mercedes!)- but the air was a strange, opaque sort of yellowy-grey. On the drive back, we saw crops being burned, which was very dramatic and pretty against the night sky, but hardly helpful with the air quality thing. And there is no way that the facial cotton wool should be that colour after a twenty-minute soak in the shower. Yuk.

The shower was essential, not just because of the filth in the air, but also because I felt so grubby after using the public toilets in and around Beijing. An fyi. ALL toilets are a hole in the ground – neatly tiled and ceramiced, unless you go to (a) a five star hotel, such as, ooh, I dunno, the Crowne Plaza* (yes, I appreciate this is a step down from the Pangu 7 star hotel of last time, but we were short on options and time), or (b) find a disabled booth – they are allowed a proper sit down. This may be by the entrance door, or located as far away from said front door as possible. Apparently disabled means unable to fully squat, not unable to walk. And forget toilet paper. Actually don’t forget toilet paper. They don’t provide any. EVER. Ditto with hand soap. Luckily, mum is paranoid enough to carry all of the above at all times. I’m not sure I ever want to shake hands with a local ever again, because I have no idea when they last connected them with a cleaning product. Ick.

*As an aside, when we went into the Crowne Plaza loos, and opened the disabled cubicle door, there was a girl – a member of staff –sitting in there. She shouted at us to close the door. So I did. THEN I realised she was (a) not disabled and (b) sitting there TEXTING ON HER PHONE. So we threw her out. We kept banging on the door and opening it (disabled cubicle, so she couldn’t fix the lock without standing up – it was too far to reach!) until she buggered off. Cheeky bitch. She’s lucky mum was in too much of a hurry to introduce her to the assault options a walking stick affords – she certainly looked like she wanted to.

I have had a very raw, painful throat, croaky voice and sneezing for the past two days, but I think that was probably allergies/pollution rather than another lurgy. Only tomorrow will tell. We have one sea day before South Korea and Japan –then three port days back to back. Yikes. In fact, it takes longer to get from Nagasaki to Osaka than it does to get from South Korea to Nagasaki. Very odd.

I appreciate this sounds, overall, quite negative, but, despite all of the above, we actually had a lovely day. Mum gave it 8 out of 10, and I think Dad enjoyed it too. I’m always happy to see somewhere new. As I said to Dad in the car, there are only two kinds of holiday experience. Good ones and anecdotes. Today was a mixture of both, which suits me fine. I’ll probably not rush to come back here again, but it was a nice enough day out. Thank you to Denise for recommending the Summer Palace.

And the clocks go FORWARD tonight, which means less sleep, which is rubbish too. OBviously.

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