Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Closing Ceremony

I hate having to re-write entire posts. This one failed the first time when I got to the last paragraph on the Olympics! Grrrrrr.....

So on Thursday morning, I was a little late in getting up, and had to rush to the shop inside the hotel to purchase a drink and a sealed packaged 'chocolate croissant' (looking more like a sausage roll) for my breakfast. The morning's lessons went well, and at breaktime we played the now-obligatory whiff-whaff (or Ping-Pong for non Boris fans) and badminton as well, for which the equipment was readily on hand. It is a good stress reliever!

After the second couple of periods of school, we all headed to a restaurant which I had not visited before, which specialised in rice and noodle dishes (which Chinese restaurants don't?!) right next to my favourite Bouzi takeaway. I had a delicious Mutton noodle dish, but unfortunately as I was about half-way through eating it, my guts were really starting to squirm and after rushing through the end of the dish, I had a very concerning rush back to the hotel just in time! This was my first 'bad reaction' to the food in China - and rather than being affected by the small restaurants, street sellers, lukewarm Bouzi and other such foods, I am convinced it was the chocolate croissant which caused the problem - almost certainly being out-of-date and featuring soy bean paste in the chocolate which many people react to...

So after recovering a little while in my hotel room, I took the bus over to Beihang University, where I had hoped to meet an Engines professor but unfortunately the meeting fell through! However, I had a nice walk around the campus with Frank and Eva, and found a 1950s Chinese Turbojet engine, managing to get another potentially incriminating photo...

I then went back to thank their professor very much, and wave goodbye to Frank, Eva and Penny through the use of chocolate. They had been so accommodating to my visit and it was great to spend time with some real Chinese students, especially studying my own subject of choice! The good news is, that Eva has agreed to help my study my Mandarin if I help her with her English, so I guess I now have a pen-friend...

On my way back to WU-mart I was unexpectedly and pleasantly joined by Alisa, on her way back from her own University. She had quite an eye-rolling tale of bizarre beauracracy while trying to get her medical examination (for a permanent student visa) done, resulting in her passport being impounded while they look into the small business of her passport number not matching on one of her documents. An O was substituted for a 0!

In WU-Mart I picked up some socks and some presents for my teachers. Who knew that Pepsi made sports socks?! Also, observe the cool basket-come-shopping trolley which they use here... Though when I got to the checkout, none of my cards would work in the machine, and I was forced to get cash out from an ATM before returning to pick up my rucksack (which I had already filled) and my goods. In virtually any other country, I would have been concerned to leave my nice rucksack with a cashier, but in China I have a bit more faith in the good of the people!

Our intention that evening was to converge to Hou Hai, which we never would have reached by public transport if it weren't for Jennifer and her iTelephone and sense of direction. But taking a detour round the lake did allow us to admire its beauty at night, marred only by the omnipresent tat-sellers, this time selling laser lights and other evening tat!

We found a restaurant just away from the lake, where I couldn't eat much due to my tender stomach, but I could certainly tell I was on the mend, and thankfully had some sympathy from the others! Taking a taxi home with a couple of other less-than-party-animals, I ended up in Alisa's room with her, Coco and another German friend, apologising for breaking up the Deutsche party but being consoled by eating all their cream cake!

The following day, Friday, was Iolo and my final day of tuition and we managed to get the lion's share of verbal practice. As you can see from the board, we were learning sports today (aided by sketches and photos for the more obscure ones) and I was delighted to learn that Gliding does in fact have a Chinese name - take note, it is Hua2 Xiang2 Ji1. I also had an amusing conversation with one of my classmates (I won't embarrass him by name) explaining the difference between sailing and rowing, because he honestly didn't have a clue!

I also provided the teachers with a present each, and also my classmates with a Mooncake each, though the teacher turned down the 2.5 Yuan Mooncake because appararently they are supposed to cost 10x that! How was I supposed to know!

I would say that I had a really good time at the University of International Relations. Firslty, and most comfortingly, was the reason I chose it in the first place - the superb communication of Emily, one of the administrators, which assured me that things would be well-organised and my 100USD 'application fee' sent by wire from the UK wasn't just ending up in a fraudulent bank account! Once I arrived I was delighted to see how close the accommodation (which was perfectly adequate once cleaned) was to the classes, the teachers were really good (even if my speaking teacher was marginally more enthusiastic) and the class sizes just right. I would certainly recommend.

I checked out of my room, delayed slightly by the intriguing tale of the housekeeper who couldn't find my TV remote (I hadn't even acknowledged the existence of the TV) but I persuaded them that I left the room as I found it and hence had my deposit returned. I also had to say farewell to all the friends I'd made over the past 2 weeks - and it was hard because we'd had a lot of fun together - but I certainly didn't regret leaving because I had so many other fun things to head to in my next destination!

Along with Nessie, one of the other teachers, I took the train to the Olympic Park as a way of whiling away a couple of hours before going to the airport to check in. Evidently I had to take all my luggage with me, and am now very grateful for the shoulder and waist straps of my hold luggage, which were as-yet unused apart from about 2 minutes in Seattle.

The approach to the Park, with the Bird's Nest Stadium behind a lovely lake, was quite beautiful and the Park was clearly being kept clean by a small army of people sweeping, gardening and polishing.

It was quite empty, although the above photos aren't really representative, but was being kept clean as I said. Interestingly, though, the Park does not seem to have developed much since the Olympics finished (though I heard that the water cub is now being used as a water park) and is more of a celebration of the Olympics that China once hosted, rather than a development into some sort of legacy. I wonder how tourism to this attraction might be affected now that it is no longer the most recent olympics?

You are probably wondering why this photo was taken at such an odd angle. Well, I was keen to quickly get a photo of this chap who was taking a photo of me (photoception). Why? First of all, I must explain that very, very few Chinese can get a passport and the majority of country-folk have never seen anyone who isn't their own race. Yet despite this, they grow up exposed to music, films, adverts and packaging which all feature Westerners prominently. Even adverts for chinese brands of food, toothpaste etc all seem to feature stock images from the USA - as if they can't find the actors here!

So when these country folk rub together the money to visit the city centre, and see Eesterners (or people from any other race, for that matter, including Indians and Africans) for the first time, they are naturally captivated and can't help taking photos. I must have got photographed hundreds of times since being in Beijing, not by Beijingers of course who are well used to us, and only a few times overtly from the front. Of course, I am happy to oblige to random photo requests posing with peoples' friends, family, children and grandparents (all of which happened), but I find it very amusing when they try and discreetly photograph you using their camera phones, or get out their normal camera and pretend to take a photo of the sky, before turning the camera on you as soon as they think you're not looking. Hence me retaliating with a photo of my own here!

I then paid the small fee (discount with my Chinese student's card) to get into the magnificent structure of the Bird's Nest Stadium itself:

 The architecure of this building is incredible, so I decided to climb the wiggly staircase (still loaded with about 25kg of stuff!) up to the top deck and have a look:

It was really good to see that this building is definitely not being ignored. All of the seats are still present but the main arena was transformed into some sort of extravaganza, featuring water pools and projection backdrops and chariots and dancers and all sorts. Clearly some sort of dramatic show was being rehearsed:

Most impressive was about 10-12 acrobats who were suspended on wires being pulled by large teams on the other side of the stadium. There seemed to be no safety device, other than the sheer number of people on the other end of the rope! They pulled in unison and in patterns so that the acrobats formed amazing patterns with each other while leaping and moving to the music. At one point, they plummeted towards the ground looking for all the world like death was upon them, before being caught by the runners just in time! All specially rehearsed, I am certain.

After some procrastinating here, I enjoyed the view over Beijing and saw that the crowds, presumably having just left work, were starting to swarm:

So I made my way to the tube station and eventually to the airport express. Obviously it was more expensive than the normal tube, but so much cheaper than the taxi, that I have declared I shall never take an airport taxi again! Such a rip-off, especially before you have a feel for the currency and how much things cost.

I had the pleasure of being at the front of the train and seeing the driver do his job on this journey:

Finally, I reached the airport. The checkin for Hong Kong Airlines was prodigiously slow, taking an hour to check in 4 people (though 40 minutes of that was one person) but fortunately I had Sherlock Holmes to read on my phone. Lots of security checks to go through, this time I was called back for my hold luggage and my hand luggage, but convincing them that I had no ulterior motive for being on the flight, I was allowed through.

Waiting for me at the gate was a China Southern A380 - but unfortunately not for me!
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  1. Another great read CJ - interspersed by a few "server not found" messages which obscure the text (on my page, anyway) so I had to copy-and-paste into a Word document to read them. Where there's a will there's a way, ay?

    Just so you know.

    Onwards and Westwards.....HK next??

  2. OK - second time of loading they've gone now!!!