We were met off of the train in the early afternoon by a very personable guide who will stay with us during our visit to China. He is Chinese and introduced himself as Gary! On the bus to the hotel (which, incidentally, is brand new) he apologised that we would not be staying at best hotel, but that it was in the best location, just off of Tian’an men Square. His opinion was that we weren’t in China to stay in the best hotels, but to see the best things! My heart sank. This sounded like the pre-amble to us staying in another crumbling, sub-standard, dirty hostel!
On the way to the hotel we passed Tian-an Square. Gary asked us what we knew of the “incident” there. He said unfortunately a “few” people had died but the student standing in front of the tank had not been one of them. No-one knew what had happened to him. He assumed that he now lived in another country under another name!
Imagine our delight when we pulled into the parking area of a very modern looking hotel. But we have been fooled like this before. The one we stayed in in Novgorod had a beautiful reception area, great location, but was basically a hovel. However, this hotel was great. Good en-suite rooms, wonderful customer service, first class restaurant facilities and, above all, it was clean.
During our stay in China most of our meals are included and on the first night Gary took us to a local restaurant and we had what I can only describe as a Chinese feast. It was fantastic.
On Tuesday we had an all day tour of The Temple of Heaven, Tian’an men Square, The Forbidden City, buffet lunch and then a tour of the old city and Hutongs (back streets) by rickshaw. We were also taken into a typical Hutong dwelling which was several hundred years old and occupied by three generations of the same family. Housing like this that was pulled down to build new roads for the Beijing Olympics and one of our group asked if there was a danger of this house being pulled down too. Our host Mr ???? shrugged. He didn’t know.
Gary explained that if it was pulled down he would be offered enough money to buy another house further out of the city or a subsidised flat in the same area. He said the same had happened to him.
He had chosen the subsidised purchase at £28,000, which in 3 years has risen in value to £300,000. But, as he said, where would I go? I have lived here all my life.
Being hosted by Mr Wa (at least I think that’s his name) in his courtyard Hutong shack home shared with his family alongside a multitude of cats, birds and fish was a really bizarre situation. His entrepreneurial spirit had devised a way to make a few bucks for his family by showing us how they live.
Here was this neat, angelic little man with dyed hair maybe in his 60’s, talking to a bunch of foreigners in his sparsely furnished, dusty home with absolutely no amenities whatsoever, about the benefits of feng shui! Mad. Even our nomad hosts in the middle of the Mongolian dessert had flat a screen TV in their Ger. I suspect that the family accommodation that he didn’t show us was probably furnished to perfection and may even be in another building! He smiled all the time and every now and again gave out a contented little sigh – hmmmm! But I’ve noticed that all Chinese seem to do that. Very enigmatic.
There was a silly moment when his son (at least I assumed it was his son) dashed in and gabbered excitedly to his dad. Seemingly Mr Wa had double booked and there was another party waiting to be entertained. Our visit came to an abrupt end, we were politely ushered out and the new group was show into the Mr Wa’s home to be enlightened by this delightful gentleman.
It was a full day, very tiring but what an introduction to China. Last night we went to see a Kung Fo Show at the theatre. Afterwards a few of us had sandwiches and wine in the hotel restaurant and agreed that it had really felt like being on holiday (at last).
Bob Hope - "A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don't need it."
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