Visit to China 2002

China 2002

Friday 29 March 2002
Be Careful

As soon as we arrive, we see signs that the old, authoritarian China is wrestling to come to terms with the new, commercial one. Our Air China plane is bright and modern, Beijing airport is bright and modern, but at the bottom of the escalator leading to the main concourse, a large, red sign in English warns 'Be Careful'. What danger are we being told to avoid? Pickpockets perhaps, or a general 'don't break the law here', or is it simply to alert us that the bottom of the escalator is approaching?

As we queue for passport control, a huge state-of-the-art electronic sign board scrolls through the full details of the bureaucratic regulations governing entry into the country.

Peaks, Xiling Gorge

Peaks, Xiling Gorge
Jet lag? What jet lag?

China is eight hours ahead of the UK. (The whole of China is in one time zone, apparently, which gives strange dawn and dusk times in the West.) We had left London in the late afternoon and gone without any real sleep on the plane, and are ready for a nice long sleep on arrival at our hotel. Due to my well-known fear of flying, I have avoided reading the Voyages Jules Vernes itinerary in much detail. I know, however, that a cruise on the Yangtze River is included, and therefore assume that the holiday will be restful. This is before I discover VJV's uncompromising approach to jet lag. It is late morning local time, a visit to the Summer Palace is announced and the missing night's sleep is lost forever. (I'm sure this is a sensible approach really - we would have wasted too much time getting our body clocks straight otherwise, but it is a shock to the system anyway.)

Beijing is hazy. Recent winds from the Gobi desert have left a lot of dust in the air, making the sky seem dark. At the Summer Palace it begins to drizzle and the drops leave tiny patches of dust on my coat. The famous 'Long Corridor', a very long covered walkway with painted scenes on the ceilings, is impressive.

Many people try to sell us postcards and fake-looking Rolex watches, while a few offer genuine-looking Gore-Tex jackets, presumably obtained from local factories by people who, for making them, are paid a tiny fraction of the sum they're sold for in the UK.

Lock gate, Gezhouba Dam

Lock gate, Gezhouba Dam
Hotels and food

We return to the Tianhong Plaza Hotel, which is pleasant and modern. It's Easter so, somewhat unexpectedly, we find an enclosure of very cute chicks and baby rabbits in the hotel atrium.

We are taken to Xuan Temple Restaurant in Di Tan gardens for the first of many excellent meals on the holiday. We sit at large circular tables while dishes are placed on a revolving platform in the centre and shared. The variety is so great that no-one remembers being served the same dish twice over the entire holiday. The spicy Sichuan food we eat later in Chongqing is especially tasty.

Finally we are allowed to sleep. But not for long! It's soon time to get up for the flight to Wuhan.