Back from Mi Yun we were given an afternoon’s grace before sightseeing the next day, organised by the CEAIE. Rather short-sightedly, Becca and I chose to go for a run (also a bad idea given Beijing’s air) the morning before we visited the Great Wall. When given a choice between the harder and easier routes, most people naturally opted to attempt the Hero’s Ascent. Let’s just say it was a relief when I lost feeling in my thighs. After a very nice banquet lunch (I’m getting far too blasé about those…) we were taken to the Summer Palace and shown around, so I’m told, only a fraction of it.
A fun-filled KTV session that evening meant the Museum trip next morning was slightly under-attended, but enjoyable nonetheless. Shortly after we were taken to a buffet lunch at the top of the Silk Alley Market at which, we were warned before arriving, nearly everything is fake and therefore worth a fraction of the asking price. In the end I didn’t get anything so I got no haggling practice, but looking around was fun enough. By the sweltering afternoon visit to the Heavenly Palace, most of the group had rejoined the visits.
The next day saw most of the post-university TESOL teachers leaving for their new schools across the country, but we were allowed a later start to meet Mike for a few more days of Beijing. We were taken to a very nice hostel with a very nice bar serving Western food. Once we’d been pointed to a pretty lake nearby we were left to our own devices. Half way around the lake I was too tired to properly enjoy it, though a few went swimming, so I napped back at the hostel before dinner at a dumpling place. The next day we were taken by Mike to Beijing’s Art District – largely art galleries, trendy tearooms and creatively converted factories which are now used as public conveniences. In the evening we were taken to Atmosphere, a swanky bar on the 80th floor, complete with Jazz band (Mike knew one of the members) and spectacular views even from the urinals (no photos though, as it would have looked strange).
The next part of my third week was a thirty-two-hour long train ride to Ürümqi. It passed in a blur of card games and self-generated entertainment (1,000-dot dot-to-dots…) and we emerged, not particularly jet lagged, into southern Ürümqi to meet our waibans (hosts). I think my first impression was, ‘OK, there’s a lot of Arabic writing.’ I’ve just about got used to not being able to read most things in China, but now there are two languages I cannot read vying for top place: Mandarin and Uighur first or second, depending on where in the city you are. English is definitely in third place in terms of frequency; fourth, in some places, where it is bumped out of bronze by Cyrillic.
My illiteracy aside, Ürümqi also felt much more densely-packed than downtown Beijing; much louder and busier. And Beijing is fairly busy. Having split up from the others, our waiban, Josh, took us to a hotel which is apparently owned by the Karamay local government (I can’t imagine any local council in the UK being able to set up a fancy hotel!). The next day we set off for Karamay, and our new home in the far West of China.