Friday, May 21, 2010

Walking Wild - Untouched, Unrestored, Undamaged Wall

It's over 30 degrees C (high 80s F) in Beijing now. As a friend said, Spring barely happened--the trees and flowers are very confused--and we just rushed straight into Summer! Last weekend, before this sudden hotspell, some friends managed to drive to the countryside just over the border into Hebei province, to get away from the city for one day, and enjoy some fresh air, fresh food and some gentle hiking.

It wasn't any special holiday weekend but traffic was bad on the highway to Badaling and other (restored) sections of the Great Wall nearest to Beijing. They knew they should start out early at the weekends, but 8.30am was too late, 7.30am would have been better. To compensate, however, there are some magnificent views of the Wall following the peaks of the mountains.

The group had instructions to go to Chenjiapu, a small village of old farmhouses with some families settled there since the Wall was built, many with surname CHEN. From there, it's a short walk to the base of the mountains on top of which are several beautiful untouched sections of the Wall - undamaged (by Man, but not by Nature) and unrestored. One can hire a guide for 100 RMB to take you on a range of walks, such as High and Round Towers (only 3 such round ones on the whole Wall, the guide said), demanding but rewards with one of the best views over the Chenjiapu valley and beyond, or Hunchback Curve, also demanding but with some of the most picturesque Wall curves and fairy-tale like staircases in beijing, or Easy Over, a short walk of 3 or 4 hours.

My friends went for a shortened version of the short walk . They met no one else on their 2 hour trek, no tour groups, not a single backpacker even and no ladies selling postcards. They were welcomed by groups of lovely blue butterflies. They were able to scramble up a part of the Wall which descended into the valley, but gave up halfway up because it got too steep and there were too many loose stones. Later on they met a group of local people on a survey mission, looking to develop the area for tourism. That was bad news!

They got back in time for a hearty, healthy lunch. They even picked some of the fresh vegetables and leaves themselves from the farmer's own plot, grown organically they said, but no questions were asked on what they used for fertiliser. The farmer's wife cooked up a table full of dishes, all freshly made.

It was only the (plastic) flowers in the dining room that were not 'fresh'.

The farmhouse also has simple rooms for overnight stays, only 50 RMB per person, complete with traditional 'kang' bed with underbed heating in winter. There are even hot showers available, courtesy of the solar water heater. And TV via satellite dish, but no CNN or BBC I'm afraid.

A short walk round the village rounded off our trip. They met an old lady in her courtyard home, doing her daily housework, all very traditional, in contrast to the wedding photo proudly hanging on her wall.

I wonder how she spent her honeymoon? staying up to watch the sunset (or sunrise) over the Wall, or the stars at night? How romantic!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beijing Auto China and Shanghai World Expo 2010

The May holiday weekend has just passed. It was a bad time to visit the tourist sites since there were so many people visiting Beijing, not just foreigners but also other parts of China. 4.36 million visitors came to Beijing over the 3 days, 17% more than last year. And 230,000 people crammed into the Forbidden City. On Apr 30th, a record number of 6 million passengers used the 9 lines of the Beijing subway, that's like the population of London all on the move in one day.

Some were at the Auto China 2010, which featured 990 cars from all over the world. The show attracted 800,000 visitors over 10 days, making it the world's best-attended auto show. I'm glad I went last year (see my Apr 2009 blog "Moo-ve over Ox, this is the Year of the Car"), and bought my car then, because in just one year, prices have gone up and delivery times increased to several months. My car is cheap compared to the 40 luxury cars sold for 150 million yuan, that's an average of just over half a million USD each! The most expensive one was a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 sold for 5.6 MUSD.

And for those without that kind of money, there were always the free parks, currently with lots of blossoms and tulip displays. But again there were crowds of people, since the weather finally turned warm, and every day, over 500,000 visited the city's 11 parks.

Some of my Beijing clients were on their way to the Shanghai Expo. You hear about this every day on the TV, a bit like before the Beijing Olympics 2 years ago. Twice as much money has been spent on this Expo than on the Olympics. 70 million are expected over the 6 months to end of October, in a city of 22 million people. It will be a chance to show off China's economic development to the world, but since 95% of the visitors will be from within China, it is more a chance to show the world to the Chinese.

This is the world's largest Expo since the first one in London in 1851, with 246 countries and organisations taking part, 102 government leaders attending and 2 million volunteers to help you around the site, whose area is equivalent to 1000 football pitches.

Tickets sold out on the opening day, May 1st and large crowds came over the long holiday weekend, over 200,000 a day. However numbers are now down to less than half because of the hot 30 degrees C temperature or maybe because of the rain or maybe because it's too expensive for locals. They may have to start giving away free tickets or organise company outings to reach the targets. During the soft opening, the most popular pavilions, apart from China's Oriental Crown, came from United States, Australia, Spain, France and Japan.

I plan go in July with some clients. For those of you who can't come, there's always the virtual site on