Steve and Rachel are returning from Montreal to the UK via Japan and China.
You can follow their progress here... 

Saturday, September 24, 2005

11:40 AM - House Hunting - Steve

After a few frantic days trawling round an endless string of South London estate agents we have finally found a place to rent. It's near Clapham Junction on a nice street, and of course tiny and extremely expensive. We can't move in until next Friday, so this afternoon we're heading out traveling again. First stop is Birmingham where Rachel has a hen party tonight and I can hang out with my Grandpa. On Sunday we are meeting up with my parents and then later in the day we're catching a train down to Exmouth to visit Rachel's parents in their new house.

We are enormously grateful to Josie and Rich whose spare room we've been using. Their advice and Josie's wonderful cooking have made the last few days much more fun than they could have been. Thanks guys.

I'll put a post up here with all our new contact details once they've been confirmed and we are settled in.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

7:06 AM - Birthday - Steve

After a great few days of eating brunch (thanks Giamal and Sylvie!)and enjoying Leah and Alan's hospitality, it is almost time to go home. But today is my birthday, so I had some treats. Naturally we celebrated according to English time which meant from 7 o'clock last night I was birthday boy - so we went to our old local bar and played table football and bored people with stories about our trip. Then we came home and somehow Leah had managed to make me a surprise cake, covered in Smarties. It was delicious. This morning I was woken with two fistfulls of cat shaped balloons showering down over my head, and another rendition of 'Happy Birthday'. Even my breakfast bagel had candles! Thanks everybody!

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Friday, September 16, 2005

6:42 AM - Alaska - Steve

Night had just fallen as we departed Tokyo Narita airport, but we soon caught up with the sun again as we flew east. Later we were treated to some great views down over the mountains of Alaska before it clouded over on our approach to Toronto. The sun was setting for a second time as we took off on our final leg to Montreal and the lights of our old hometown looked happily familiar as we flew in. After a wonderful night's sleep we are now relaxing in the luxury of Leah & Alan's lovely apartment, and dealing with unpleasant piles of laundry. And trying really hard not to drink all the homebrew...

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

10:47 PM - Final stages

Well this is it, the end of our Asian travels, and time to start our next adventure. It's been fun, and we are looking forward to catching up with everyone in Montreal over the next few days before we carry on to London. We will shortly head out to the airport, to catch our very long flight to land in Toronto 30min before we left, 12 1/2 hours later. Hope that's clear.

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9:31 PM - Tokyo - Steve

We spent our last day or so in Japan soaking up the sights and sounds of Tokyo, whilst searching out a few items on our shopping list. It's a city I can happily wander around endlessly, just watching stuff - every moment there is something interesting to see on the street; a bizarre building, a unique haircut, a garish advert. Here are a few random shots....

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12:45 PM - Sumo wrestling - Rachel

Yesterday we wandered out to explore some of the parts of Tokyo that we missed first time round. We were headed for the sumo stadium and the Edo-Tokyo museum. One of the national sumo tournaments is currently running in the stadium, so we went to check out the ticket situation. We had just decided that we didn't understand the ticket board, but guessed it was more expensive than we wanted to pay, when suddenly this guy approached us. He was distinguished looking, casually dressed. He offered us two of his tickets for the day! We were speechless. Of course, we accepted with all the japanese we could muster - "domo arigato". We followed him through the gate, then into the stadium, a one storey square building. On the way in, he stopped with us in front of a sort of shop, and they gave him a large paper bag containing wrapped packages. He spoke to them some more and a guy went off and came back with the program and a booklet explaining sumo, all in english. What service! We entered the arena itself. It is a large square room with tiered levels on all 4 sides leading down to the central ring or dohyo. Although the balcony has normal chairs in rows, the tiered levels contain boxed-off squares containing 4 cushions, sort of the equivalent of a box I guess. It turned out that this guy was letting us share his 'box' with him. Awesome!

Now to the sumo. It used to be a religious ritual (which mystifies me). The dohyo is considered sacred, and has a sort of temple roof suspended above it. For each fight, a guy enters the ring with a fan and sings something at the two opponents. He leaves and they then enter the ring, bow to each other, go to a 'corner' of the ring, and start doing the ritual squats and stretches. One guy even did a vertical splits, received with cheers by the crowd. The opponents then return to face each other at two lines in the center of the ring. There follows more stretching, and much glaring at each other. Eventually they squat down, then lunge at each other and the wrestling starts. Its really not attractive to see 2 very large guys giving each other wedgies with large silk nappies while trying to throw each other out of the ring. We thought we might get bored after a while, but the day builds towards the last match where the champion guy fights his match.

The first guys we watched were low ranking. Their 'nappies' (mawaki) were made of wool instead of the silk of the higher ranks, and their rituals were shorter. Also, they had simple top knots or no top knots, whereas the higher ranks wear their hair all carefully slicked up into top knots held by several bands. They were reffed by lower refs, who have bare feet and 'low colours' on their reffing fans! Next, the second highest ranking group came out. They arrived wearing a sort of highly embroidered mat tucked into their waistband, to create a sort of skirt effect (well at the front - still the thong look at the back). They are announced into the ring and walk round until they are all standing shoulder to shoulder facing out towards the crowd. They then turn inwards, bow, clap, hitch their 'skirts', then walk back out. Their matches involve much longer posing and stretching and psyching. Also they ritually rinse their mouth with water, wipe their face with paper towel, and throw a handful of salt into the ring, all purification rituals. Their refs have socks and sandals as well as 'high rank' colours on their fans.

The fights themselves were very short. The longest bout must have lasted 30 sec, maybe 1min. So that's 4 min posing, 30sec fight. But it's all a good show. Some fights were very dramatic, with both wrestlers throwing each other out of the ring, almost landing on a judge. Others were ridiculously fast, where one guy managed to side step his opponents first lunge and send the guy sprawling (the one who touches the floor with anything other than feet, or who touches outside the ring loses).

When the highest category wrestlers arrived, our host said he was just going to exchange the food bag. We'd only eaten 3 of the many packages so I assumed he'd gone to get some fresh food. He returned carrying 4 bags! he gave us one each and explained that it's all included in the ticket price. Well it was like Christmas sitting with a bag of packages next to me, and not opening them. So I gave into curiosity and unwrapped them all! There were boxes of chestnuts, dried fruit, chicken skewers, japanese sweets, random snack packs, and a set of two ceramic bowls. Wow!

We stayed til the end of the day's tournament - 6pm, then thanked our host profusely and headed back to the hostel with our bags of goodies. So that was dinner taken care of. What an amazing and lucky day!

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Monday, September 12, 2005

8:16 PM - Dodging Typoons - Steve

Japan, South Korea and China have all suffered quite serious typhoons in the last few weeks, but up until now we have managed to avoid them. Last night there was quite a storm in Shanghai, but by morning it had cleared somewhat and as we headed to the airport we were hopeful that our flight back to Tokyo would not have been cancelled. The journey there was quite fun. As part of their long term transport strategy, Shanghai has built a Maglev (magnetic levitation) train from the edge of the city to the airport as a trial for a wider network. We sat in a taxi in chaotic traffic for half a hour to reach the station, but once there, all was swish and shiny. The trains are very impressive, and they go very fast indeed. They have just about enough time to accelerate to 430kph before slowing down again during the 8 minute journey to the airport. That feels very fast when you are so close to the ground, and especially so when a train passes in the other direction!

The airport itself is quite a sight too, and is in the process of expanding to be one of the biggest in the world. We checked in and were relieved to find that our flight was not cancelled like many others, just delayed by a couple hours. The only other inconvenience from the typhoon was a very turbulent take-off, but once we were above the clouds the view was lovely.

Strangely, returning to Tokyo felt a bit like coming home - we knew how everything worked and where to go from last time. The contrast with China was stark too - it is a bit like arriving in Switzerland - everything is clean, efficient and very expensive. After a couple of train trips we arrived back at the Andon Ryokan where we stayed earlier, and folded ourselves into our tiny room.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

5:46 AM - Last day in China - Rachel

We spent our last day exploring a few more corners of Shanghai. First, we went to the Urban planning museum. Steve went to one in Beijing, and came across a 300 sq metres model of the city. This time I didn't want to miss out. The model of Shanghai was a similar size, and showed the city as it will be in 2010 for the Expo. The Expo site is huge, and there are some more bizarre skyscrapers still to be added to the already colourful Shanghai skyline. The highlight of the place was a 360 degree projection room, that took us on a flythrough around the city of 2010, past downtown, the maglev train station, airport and Expo site. So that saves us a trip in 2010!

Later in the day, we went to investigate a recommended antique and tourist shopping area. It proved rather disappointing as it was mostly piles of tat for sale, but Steve found some interesting arrays of Mao memorabilia, and there were some quirky nearby alleys strung with wires, where the buildings overhang and threaten to collapse into the alley itself.

We also went to explore a Norman Foster building at the south end of the Bund. It's a pretty uninspiring corporate building, and was fairly deserted as it's a Sunday. We walked in like we knew where we were going, though it took us 3 attempts to find the set of lifts that took us right up to the top floor. It was worth it though. We were in the top executive floors, where 4 terraced floors of open-plan offices faced a huge glass wall. The top floor seemed to be for food and coffee, with an incredible walkway across the glass wall where bar stools looked out on the view (of course, I had to go try it out (see photo). Then we strolled back out onto the street. Nice.

We had planned on a glam night out at the top of the tallest building in China (at the bar of the Grand Hyatt Hotel to be precise) but the weather has closed in, and we could see from our room that the top half of the building is immersed in cloud. So instead we went for a nice meal next door, and it was very tasty, though when we asked for water, we were served a ridiculous bottle of still water from South Africa that was bottled in Italy and cost 55 yuan (8 bucks). We'll not be venturing out again tonight - the typhoon is supposed to hit here later, though so far its just windy and rainy of Manchester levels, nothing too dramatic. Hopefully it'll clear up tomorrow ready for our flight back to Tokyo...

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

7:47 PM - Manchester Derby - Steve

It was with perhaps a disproportionate sense of glee the we discovered the Manchester Derby was showing live on TV when we got back to our room last night. So we settled into our arm chairs and watched the action as the bright lights of Shanghai flashed away in the background. We got nearly as excited as the Chinese commentators when Andy Cole (of all people!) almost won it for City with the last kick of the match, but alas, it wasn't to be. Great result for City nevertheless.

These time differences are curious thing. The match kicked off at 3pm Saturday in Manchester, and we went to bed at the end of the game at about midnight Chinese time. We just woke up to a grey Sunday morning here to see that Kim Clijsters winning her first major title against Mary Pierce in the US open was now on the box. That match started at about 8.30pm New York time, still on Saturday!

Today is our last full day in China. Tomorrow we are planning to catch the Maglev train (430kmph!) to the airport from where we are booked on a lunchtime flight back to Tokyo. We then have a couple of days to eat sushi and shop before returning to Montreal on Thursday. It will be really good fun to catch up with everybody. Then, a week tomorrow (Mon 19th) we commence the final leg of our trip, to London, where the adventure really begins!

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6:01 AM - Neon Nights - Steve

We've just got back from a super tacky tourist evening. First we went up the ridiculous bauble tower which had really great views from the top, and then came back over to our side of the river via the 'tourist tunnel'. This curious contraption allows you to ride along in a small capsule through a tunnel of psychedelic lights in a variety of configurations. It was a rather bizarre but swift way home.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

6:30 AM - Pudong Education - Steve

Today we went out to explore the other side of the river - Pudong, a area bristling with skyscrapers and a load of shiny new buildings. The fact that it was all paddy fields 15 years ago is slightly mind-boggling. We ended up spending a few hours at the Science & Technology Centre which was great fun. Highlights included the dancing robots, (so this is what they get up to after work in the factories!) and Rachel couldn't help but join in. Also fun was the archery competition where the robot always hits the very centre of the bullseye and I managed to hit the target, once. The others were closer to the ceiling. The piano playing robot was also very impressive. Later on we discovered some real dancers rehearsing for some curious performance involving beating drums in an exaggerated fashion and waving a lot. I think even the robots would have struggled with that one.

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3:14 AM - First Impressions of Shanghai - Rachel

Lethal traffic, sky scrapers, dirty water, kamikaze taxis, noise.

Shanghai is BUSY! The traffic is a disorderly clash of mopeds, motorbikes, taxis and bikes, with the odd pedestrian limb mixed in for good measure. Crossing the road, with or without the little green man, is not fun.

We are staying next to the Bund, where the old colonial banks and hotels (top left) stand to attention beside the Huangpu River (the colour of tea, as Steve put it - not attractive in a river). Across the river is Pudong, an area that 15 years ago was muddy fields. Now, it is a mish-mash of towers and oddly shaped buildings, creating an interesting skyline day or night (top right). All in all it is the most western-feeling city we have been in, because in certain parts the western role in shanghai's history is still obvious. In the old french concession, the streets are cobbled, leading to terraces, trendy bars, tree lined streets, all very cosmopolitan.

These were our first impressions, but today we went to Yuyuan gardens and bazaar. This is a far more traditional area, though in a rather in-your-face tourist oriented style. The gardens are a maze of pagodas, weird shaped rocks, and ponds. Around it are equally maze-like streets of little stores selling every imaginable souvenir item you could possibly imagine (bottom right). There is lots of duplication, so the best strategy seemed to be to browse one shop to decide what you wanted, then go to another shop to haggle the price down. All very exhausting, but an experience non the less.

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2:47 AM - Nice view! - Rachel

We arrived at the Captain's Hostel in a somewhat dazed state, it still being before 8am. "At least we have a reservation", we thought. Turned out they had not yet checked on-line reservations for the day, but they found us a room, and gave us a bit of a discount for the confusion. Our room turned out to be the best in the place and is on the top floor, on the corner of the building. We opened the curtains to find a stunning view across the Huangpu River to Pudong - lots of towers of all shapes (including 'baubles'), and at night, lots of neon. Very dramatic. It'll do nicely for our last few nights in China.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

5:50 PM - Night Train to Shanghai - Steve

We left the Far East Hostel after a great stay and headed for Beijing's frenetic central train station to catch our night train. We were very impressed with the accomodations - the soft sleeper carrage had four beds per cabin and was rather luxurious. We shared with to Chinese business men, one of whom played with his two mobile phones most of the evening whilst singing to himself in a falsetto voice. We played cards for a bit and then went to check out the restaurant, which we found to be equally nice. It was lovely to eat a relaxing meal while the occainional lights of the coutryside flashd by outside. Later we amused ourselves reading the in-flight magazine which contained some fascinating insights into the 'scientific' running of the train.

We both had a good night's sleep until we were woken by the piped music shortly before our arrival in Shanghi.

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1:57 AM - Lazy Day - Steve

Yesterday we decided to take it easy after our exertions on the wall the day before. We lazed around the hostel in the morning and after lunch headed back up to the Summer Palace with Craig and Mary. All afternoon we sat around and swopped card games under the beautiful willow trees next to the lake until the sun slowly went down and we were ushered away by the wardens watering the grass. It was a lovely day and we rounded it off with a Chinese feast in the evening,ordering far more delicious dishes than we could finish. We shall miss Craig and Mary tomorrow as we are catching the night train to Shanghai in a few hours. We shall look forward to following how their journey unfolds once we're back in grey london and they are dodging Russian bandits and trying not to say 'about' with quite such a Canadian accent....

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1:27 AM - Car Question - Steve

Since everybody was so helpful with Rachel's Ube query, I thought I might ask something that I've been wondering since we arrived here. As soon as we got off the bus we remarked on how almost every other car here seemed to be a shiny new black Audi or Volkswagen. This suprised us because these are not cheap cars, so why should they be the most common sight on the road after taxis? This afternoon I carried out some scientific research by standing at a busy road junction near Tian'anmen Square.In a 10 minute period I counted no less than 27 current model black Audi A6's and A8's. And I was only counting one of the four directions of traffic, and didn't include black VW Passats which look very similar and are almost equally common.

I have a theory about them being standard Communist Party issue, as they often look to have gloved drivers in the front with passengers in the back. Everybody else thinks that's a daft idea. Rachel's theory is that they must be some kind of posh taxi. I asked the guy at the desk in the hostel and he didn't know, although he said he wanted one. Maybe they are just very good at marketing them here? Anybody have any light to shed on this important debate?

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Monday, September 05, 2005


Thanks to Dad and Andy for answering the 'UBE' question. I had no idea that purple yam was a flavour of icecream, let alone popular! Still no clues as to the burning hats though...

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6:42 PM - Great Wall - Steve

It maybe a complete myth that you can see it from space, but there is no doubt that it is indeed a great wall.

Our day began early as we got up at 6am to catch the bus which took 3.5 squashed and hair-raising hours to work it's way through the Beijing traffic out into the country side. The roads became narrower and narrower and we were surprised how remote our final destination was. It took another half hour walk along a narrow path before we finally got our first view of the wall.

Sometimes these famous landmarks fail to live up to the hype, but not this one - we were all stunned by the wall, stretching off into the distance over the endless hills in both directions. The blue sky certainly helped. The first part we reached had been carefully restored, but after a while we reached parts that were in a much worse state. We were amazed at how steep some of the sections are - it was really quite hard work to clamber up. Apparently, the wall never really served it's intended purpose at all - it took just too many people to defend it effectively. It was, however, highly sucessful as a transport route - a fact which baffled us as we struggled up and down the endless undulations.

In total we passed 30 towers, a total length of about 10km, and we were pretty [very-Rachel] tired. It was a really special day.

Not quite perfect though. From the moment we stepped of the bus, we were greeted by various hawkers. They were very sweet, telling us the Chinese names for various flowers and insects and helping the girls on the steep parts. Little did we realise that they would follow us half way along the wall. They universally claimed to be 'Mongolian farmers' which made us wonder if there are vast areas of abandoned farmland up in Mongolia, gone to waste as the population decamped enmass to harass tourists on the wall. Soon we each had our individual 'Mongolian farmer' guiding our way, telling us how many steps we'd just climbed and making us feel very unfit. We of course knew the big sell would come soon, and indeed when we reached the half-way point out came the books, t-shirts, beer etc, etc and forlorn heartbreaking expressions when we politely refused. The second part of the walk we were left to stroll blissfully in peace.

The administration of this particular section of the wall(near Simatai)is clearly not under any central authority. We had to pay three for three different 'tickets' along the section we walked on, and it seemed each bit was run by its own tribe. This is probably why our hawkers have to stop halfway. The problem with this is that no work whatsoever seems to be taking place to preserve the wall - none of the money we paid was going towards maintaining the structures. The last restorations were done over 20 years ago and parts are clearly deteriorating fast, a process that will only accelerate as tourism inevitably takes off here in the run up to the Olympics.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005


I've been meaning to do this for a while. I'm hoping someone can help. While we were in Nagoya, I wandered off to buy some sandals, and came across a big temple. There was some amazing loud drumming going on, so I went in to watch the monks for a while. As I left, they stopped and I thought that they had finished, but then they processed out of the temple, so intrigued, I stayed to watch what would happen next. They walked out to an area where seating was laid out, there was some chanting, and then they set fire to a brazier of hats!! I couldn't find anyone to tell me why they were doing this, so if anyone knows what might have been going on, please let us know! (It was mid-August, if that helps).

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8:18 PM - Acrobats - Rachel

As a treat, we booked on a trip to see chinese acrobats. The tour guy took our money, then walked us round the corner to the theatre! We were wondering how much we'd been charged to be escorted to the theatre, but it turned out that our tickets were substantially cheaper than the official ticket cost. The acrobats were fun. There were tumblers leaping through hoops with dazzling accuracy, ridiculously flexible gymnasts, a great display on bicycles, and comedy monks. Well I don't think they were meant to be comedy, but they were dressed in orange robes, and most of their act involved them shouting a lot and waving bendy swords around. Well it made us giggle anyway!

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8:11 PM - Summer Palace - Rachel

The summer palace is a place I could spend a lot of time at, armed with a good book. It is set in a huge park taken up mostly by lake. Everywhere is green, with willows, peach trees, and pines. It was our third day of perfect weather, and just stunning. We started the day with our first trip on the Beijing subway (not too bad, as you just pay a flat fee to go on the line, which means our inability to pronounce our destination didn't matter!) Then we took a boat trip up to the summer palace. This involved a short speedboat crossing to the zoo (the smiles you see are above are smiles of fear!), then onto a canal boat up to the first lock, then a quick change onto a third boat which dropped us at the south end of the park (a family sitting near us was kind enough to translate all the announcements for us so we knew when to get off). Our first sight was of the absurdly steep bridge you see above, and as we walked around the lake to the north side, there were many beautiful views of the Summer Palace itself (too many photos to upload).

We are very aware of the approaching Olympic Games in Beijing. Official booths are present at the major tourist traps, but more obvious is that every sight has something off limits due to construction. This was very obvious in the Forbidden City, and the pavilions that had been completed were dazzling. The gold decorations, and yellow roof tiles glinted in the sun, next to the vivid reds, blues and greens of the paint work. Sadly, the summer palace itself was also closed, but we were still able to walk up past it to the buddhist temple on the top of the hill behind it. There are great views from this hill all around, across the park to Beijing. We may well return to the park because it is just such a pleasant place to be, especially if this weather continues.

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7:58 PM - Forbidden City - Rachel

Today we hired bikes to explore the city. I took a little persuading by Steve, but it turned out to be a great idea. The traffic is chaotic, and cars, buses and taxis do not slow down for anything, they just honk to let you know they're coming your way. Having said that, it's not quite as scary as it sounds, because there are huge numbers of bikes, and there are enormous cycle lanes, somtimes even wider than the lanes for cars. Taxis still dive across you, but you feel there is some safety in numbers. We largely just followed the crowd.

Our first stop was the Forbidden City, an amazing complex of tiled-roof buildings that used to be exclusively for the emperor, empress and attachments. It is huge. We walked up the middle, from Meridian gate at the south entrance, past the great halls that are raised on marble platforms, through the Qing Qong Palace, and impressive palace garden. By then, we were tired, but had only really covered about one third of it.

Question of the day: does anyone know what Ube is? I had an 'ube-flavoured milk ice lolly with raisins'. It was tasty, and purple, but I have no idea what Ube is. If you know, please post a comment below.

We spent the rest of the day exploring on our bikes. The fun part is that you can squeeze down all the little 'hutong' (narrow alleys) which are some of the most interesting streets in the city. We ended the day at the Temple of Heaven park on the south side of the city. This huge park is a pleasant escape from the city, and a popular place for the over 60's it seems. We passed a children's playground, and not one person in it was under 50. Many were all stretching in impossible positions, flexible as kids, or playing on the swings with big grins on their faces. we seem to be doing it all wrong in the west! We came to one area where they were all sitting in groups playing cards - a game that looked a bit like trumps. So we sat nearby and started playing Rummy, much to their amusement. Several came to watch, but seemed to feel we were doing it all wrong. Fair enough.

We were intending to take our bikes out again in the evening, but when we got back from the park, I couldn't get off the bike fast enough. I had carefully chosen one with a leopard skin seat so I could easily recognise it from the banks of bikes whenever we parked. But I had neglected to check its padding (minimal). There was no way I was getting on that bike again.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

6:46 AM - Tian'anmen Square - Steve

When we left the hostel this morning we found that Beijing had been transformed overnight. A clear blue sky was above with only a hint of haze at the horizon and, for the first time since we had left Canada, there was no humidity. Perfect weather for strolling. Our first stroll took us to the bank to change money and play with the electric money counting machines. Next we needed to purchase flights back to Tokyo from Shanghai which we managed to do at the hostels' in-house travel agency for several hundred dollars less than we were expecting. This meant we could splurge on ice-creams. With the laundry marathon now also completed we were finally free to explore.

Tian'anmen Square is apparently the largest public square in the world, the size of 90 football pitches - but to me it seemed smaller than the Zocalo in Mexico City. This may be because Chairman Mao's mausoleum sits right in the middle of it, and it has huge roads all the way around. It is certainly an impressive sight with Soviet inspired buildings flanking each side and ancient Chinese gates at either end. The Northern-most gate sports the famous portrait of Mao which had paint-filled eggs thrown at it during the pro-democracy demonstrations here in 1989. It's very hard to know how many died in the subsequent crackdown - but it seems likely that more than 2000 perished, most of them in the streets immediately surrounding the square. However, this tragedy somewhat pales into insignificance when compared to Mao's excesses during The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution.

It seems a curious phenomenon that Mao as a figure still seems to garner much respect and admiration. All the Chinese tourists wanted to have their picture taken with him (some even wanted beautiful Rachel in the shot too!)and the queue to file past his body snakes around the block each morning. The official line from today's leaders is that Mao was "70% right, 30% wrong". Jung Chang, the author of 'Wild Swans' (which we've both been reading on the trip) compares him to Hitler and Stalin - and the book contains much compelling evidence of his atrocities. In fact, the White Swans is still banned in China today, and you are not supposed to bring it through customs, although we had no trouble.

It was with these thoughts in our minds that we strolled around in the sunshine, watching the tourists relaxing around us where once millions of youthful Red Guards had screamed their undying devotion to the great leader. It seems almost miraculous how much the country has been transformed in the past four decades.

We passed through the gate under the portrait and approached the gates of the Forbidden City - but the sun was starting to go down and those delights will have to wait until tomorrow. We returned to watch the lowering of the flag in the square at sunset and is was interesting to watch the troops marching in perfect unison across the road to perform the ceremony. With the flag neatly folded we wandered home, fending off hawkers left right and centre. Even Rachel is starting to become a little brusque with them...

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