14th-17th Sept 2013
|Overlooking the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park|
So back to the charming YoYo hotel in 'trendy' Sanlitun district to recover. Still sore and lame I took a taxi from the station. The 'official' Beijing taxis, the two tone coloured jobs, are the only taxis that I have ever used which are good value. The 35 min ride cost 50 Yuan (about £5). The drivers, who nowadays often speak a little English, even give you a printed receipt. There are cowboy taxis at the stations and persistent hustlers who try to persuade you to use them. Some good advice, Don't! (unless you are feeling very generous).
A lazy day spent hobbling around and a welcome visit to Paddy's Bar for sausage and mash. Spent some time sitting around in what is an excellent 'travellers' bookshop cum pub/restaurant/library; The Bookworm in Sanlitun (look it up....@bookwormbeijing).
Next day I met up with a friend who works in Beijing and was taken for lunch at the prestigious Quanjude restaurant north of the Forbidden City. This place specialises in Peking Duck and there is a serious ritual when serving it (right). The place is always full, bookings essential, and has many photos of international dignitaries on the walls, including a few Presidents and Prime Ministers, who have been entertained there. Not a good place if you are on a diet. We went on a walk to Jingshan Park afterwards to do some token 'calorie reducing' exercise.
The following day, Sunday, I was invited to watch a cricket match. Aforementioned friend, Richard (who's father kept wicket for Northumberland), was playing for the Peking Ducks X1, a team of ex-pat Brits. They were up against a team of Aussies predominantly from the Australian Trade Mission.
The pitch is in the grounds of the Beijing Dulwich College out towards the airport and what a pleasant venue it is. There were several bars and a large barbecue tent set up on the boundary. Quite a few spectators too, enjoying picnics in the sun.
It was a Twenty20 match and batsmen had to retire on scoring 30 runs. The Peking Ducks were first to bat. Richard (photo left), who plays a lot of cricket in England, scored his 30 in rapid order. After that there was a bit of a collapse and they were all out for about 90 runs.
Come 'half-time' and lunchtime refreshments I was informed that the Ducks only had 10 players and 11 is definitely an advantage when fielding. Would I like to play? Well, being utterly incompetent and still somewhat unsound but nevertheless enthusiastic, I duly volunteered. It's not every day that one gets to play cricket in China.
Donning a Ducks' shirt and my cloth cap I took to the field, but insisted on being given a 'cowards' fielding position, somewhere I could do least damage. I was duly stationed at fine-leg on the boundary. I can't say that I contributed much and fortunately the Ducks had an excellent wicket keeper.
After a slow and measured start and against some fiery bowling (Richard being rather adept at flinging the pill down with considerable velocity) the Aussies got into their stride and won with a few overs and wickets in hand. I think I touched the ball twice but, fortunately, don't think that I greatly contributed to our defeat.
Left. The prize giving. I suppose this gave the Aussies a degree of satisfaction following their rout in the Ashes series.
Next day it was back to the airport, and I remain seriously impressed by all the new, shiny, and cheap, transport systems which take you there. I believe Boris Johnson, our flamboyant attention seeking London mayor, during a recent visit to China, made much mention of technical innovation in this country, especially in regard to railways (the high speed bullet trains in particular) which put our antiquated British systems to shame. He is correct and we in the UK are beginning to lag far behind. OK, the Chinese have more space and distance to cover and don't worry too much about such niceties as 'consultation', so if Mr Mee Noh Go objects to his house being frattened, their response is simply "Yu go. Yu lucky. Here 50 quid. Bulldozer come tomollow". The airport itself is excellent (as far as airports go) with very clear signage and decent restaurants. The only hiccup I faced was when I went to buy some duty free drink. The prices were very reasonable (£14 for a litre of Grouse whisky), however I was advised that as I was going to transit through Helsinki the Finnish (or maybe EU) regulations forbade the import of duty free alcohol and would most likely confiscate it! (possibly using the old max 100ml liquid restriction scam). The same stuff costs, 'duty free' in Helsinki airport, £35. What a rip-off.
So, back to Blighty after what was a most entertaining and educational journey. For what it is worth I will post my entirely idiosyncratic impressions of North Korea at some point.