rt2k6 - Korea to Britain the hard way

2006-03-02 15:46

I'll have a half-measure of Longevity, please

After yet more hijinks in and around Beijing, we finally managed to meet up with Stu and Toni, and promptly fail to meet them again for a trip to the Summer Palace in Northwestern Beijing. It's a mammoth place, and even in darkest winter it's clear why an emperor would make this his summer residence - an enormous lake surrounded with pavilions, temples, bridges, sculpture, trees, theatres and gardens. It takes about two hours at a decent pace to walk around, and about four at a lazy taking-hundreds-of-photos pace like Deb's.

Still no photos from me, since I took my camera in to a shop in Qianmen hutong, and the kid said he could fix it for 900 kwai, about US$100, but when I went back to get it, he hadn't been able to. But he didn't charge me, or try to rip me off, and seemed genuinely befuddled by it. Considering taking it into a proper Nikon store in Shanghai.

Feb 28th at 22:25 saw us on a train to Tai'an, seven hours south of Beijing, and the town at the base of Tai Shan, the mountain atop which the Jade Emperor supposedly keeps his court. Even at 6,663 steps, it's the most-climbed moutain in the world; if you get all the way to the top you'll live to be 100 years old. The train got us into the freezing, hazy town of Tai'an at about 05:30, and upon booking our return tickets (no up-front return bookings in China), we were overjoyed to find that the return train that night had only five available places - two soft sleeper berths and three hard seats. So much for the quiet season.

Seeing no noodles upon which to dine, we got a cab to bot bottom of the mountain and proceeded climbing in the chilly predawn. Even at this hour, there were plenty of people on the mountain - running up and down, fetching water, all of that. there's a temple and a few restaurants, a carpark and a cable car at halfway. Silly me thought that the heat from climbing would last, and that the brilliant sun would be warm, so we sat outside and I took off two jackets. Within moments (less time than it takes to read a menu), the icy wind was cutting us to the bone. Rearry. It was fucking polar. We rapidly moved inside and dined about 08:45 on "fry rabbit", "noodle beef (soupy)", "noodle with fry vegetable" and "frizzled little fishes from stream on Mt. Tai" which tasted exactly like the sediment you sometimes get if you drink stream water. And green tea which was cold by the time you got it to your lips.

Toni was very keen to walk all the way to the top. Stu and Deb just flat-out said no, and I was 50/50 until I felt the cold, and saw the sheerness of the second stage. The first part was the easy part, and it genuinely looked like the second stage would take the rest of the day. Nobody else was climbing it. So we took the cable car to the almost-top. In Korea there's a drink called Baekseju - hundred year wine - which, if you drink it daily, will pickle you until you're 100. When mixed 50/50 with soju, the result is Oshipseju - 50-year wine, and if you imbibe that daily you'll only live to be 50. I rather hope that a half-measure of Longevity doesn't restrict us to a half-century.

A bus down into Tai'an and it was decided we had time to go to nearby Qufu, birthplace of our man Confucius. Some blokes at the tour bus stop offered to take us for 20 kwai per person, but we figured that was daylight robbery since it was only an hour trip, and since the bus stop looked pretty close on the map, we figured we could get there and buy a local bus ticket for about 5 kwai each. Silly whitey! We walked about an hour to the bus station, and the local bus was 16 kwai each. Got to Qufu about 16:00, booked tix back ... last bus at 17:00. Yay. Decided to go for it anyway - and the entrance ticket was 105 kwai per person. 105 kwai! That's about 12 US dollars - to put things in perspective, we paid 200 kwai each to sleep on (and fall off) the Great Wall last year; you can get a full three-course Beijing Duck in Beijing for 80-150 kwai. But pay we did, and go very fast we did, and get hassled by street vendors and eejits we most assuredly did. The best and most interesting stuff was out back, in what was presumably the site of the actual house where the man lived before they built a castle and temple complex around it - original Han and Qin reliefs and inscriptions. That's BC we're talking, folks. All stored in plain old wooden sheds, no lights, signs, no real sense that people might be interested in them.

A mad rush to the bus, and then four hours to kill in Tai'an, during which we got hassled some more by eejits, ate awesome chicken steamed in a lotus leaf, and had coffee and ice-cream in Mian Tien Coffee Language (rearry, language), a terribly swank joint which with only a little modification might work in Wellington.

S&T took the soft berths home, which was only sane since they're getting on 14 hours of planes a few hours after the train was to pull in. The hard seat wasn't too bad, but it was insanely cramped, and I'd developed a miserable cold from the icy wind, so it was basically 7 hours of hell on earth. A 0600 shower and straight to bed until lunchtime, followed by a day of doing more or less fuck-all was the only cure, and that's exactly what I've had. Oh, and strange Chinese throat lozenges which are like LifeSavers, and pills made of human placenta, among other things. Don't tell a chemist you have a cold in China, folks. They overreact.

Tomorrow we're going to the Peking Man site, and to stay with Paulie in Tianjin, then on to Qingdao for the German-built railway station, brewery tour, Beatles museum cafe, and a chance to see snow on beaches.