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The next day we met our new group properly with an exhausting walking tour of the forbidden city and Tiananmen square. Everyone in the group seems really nice, and its a much wider range of ages this time, even if the core of the group is English (7 of 15) one nice Canadian lady had bought her 15 year old son and 11 year old girl. I respect that in a big way! Imagine travelling with kids in China! Also along were team Germany (three of them) team Norway (or Anders as he is known, a team of one) and us English.

Anywho Tiananmen square is very busy most of the time, and not particularly awe inspiring. It’s more the reputation which is impressive, but we didn’t really cover that over much.

After that we went to the palace and its bloody enormous. The fact it was 35 degrees out didn’t help crossing the three huge squares. The sun beat down remorselessly but you couldn’t help but admire the scale. The goal was to overawe enemies and friends alike and in this it was more than successful. One of the blonde girls, Annie, kept getting approached by people to have a photo. I laughed as it was a bit embarrassing, little did I realise what was in store.

I should note I feel like a giant here, it’s not as bad as when I wandered alone in Japan, as the group is a buffer, but even so I can see all the exhibits, no worries.

From there we had Peking duck pancake done properly (one of my mother’s favourites…) It was exquisite, who knew the original would be the best…

Finally after a break we went to see a production called the legend of Kung Fu. It was a very impressive blend of stagecraft and forms, with each person knowing their weapons intimately (well hopefully not too intimately). There was an element of physical dance as well. The story made no sense,but the display was great, with sticks broken over people, spikes in stomachs, and general activities that would kill the unprepared. Worth a visit definitely.

The next day was all about the great  wall. We got to a good stretch of it and were offered a chair lift for 100 yuan, or the steps. We took the steps. I regretted that. The steps took 30 minutes and must have been 50 flights of stone winding steps. We were all sweating by the time we got to the top, so badly that it looked like we had just got out of a pool. Humid was not the word. The wall is not flat though and the steps are uneven with variation pace by pace. Some of the gaps were huge, with people having to climb by hand as well as foot, others so shallow that even Jo’s with stunted little legs could do three at a time. It was gruelling work but the views off the side were great, both into Mongolia (stupid Mongolians) and into China.

The feat of engineering is well worth the wall being a wonder. Thousands of Kms of wall, all towering above the plain, and with watchtowers every few hundred meters. An awe inspiring spectacle.

We tobogganed down, which was great fun as you could get pretty fast. Then ewe bumped into our two Aussie chums from the first trip, Michael and Pete, before having lunch and catching a flight into Xian. A flight which was delayed by two hours. Hohum.

Bed at 11, up at 6:15 for the carnival which was randomly playing music outside the window. Then to the pannacotta army. (I’m sorry to ruin your illusions, it upset me too. They aren’t full of delicious panacotta, they are hollow. I don’t even know why they call it the panacotta army at all. Massive rip off.)

Anyyywwwaaayyyy. These were impressive but not awe inspiring. The story behind them is actually better than the viewing. A crazy emperor got thousands of soldiers to build his tomb for thirty years, burying thousands of clay soldiers to serve him in his afterlife. They lost the location for two thousand years and three farmers found it by chance a few decades back. Very impressive.

Except, and not being entirely negative it is a selection of partially shattered and restored clay statues. There are lots of them, but when compared with the great wall I can’t help feeling that it wasn’t quite as impressive as all that. Sure it was cool, but worth flying to? At least it was on the way, some people travel for ten hours by coach to get there. I guess some people might find it astounding. I just thought it was kind of cool. Sorry cultural heritage of China…

A few of the details are a little fishey in my eyes though. One is that it’s not the actual tomb it’s located a mile away from the location in a unknown (before they found it) area. The tomb itself has been a known location for years but has never been excavated so they can preserve it without looking in (so the excuse was). That doesn’t ring true with archaeology anywhere, as they always dig it up and try and preserve it.

Also one of the swords is chrome plated and chrome was only discovered in 1930’s Germany. Maybe the Chinese discovered it 2000 years before, but I’m not sure myself as to the process and how likely this is.

We left the terracotta army for some food. Did you know it Chinese food? Shocker. It’s like a week of takeaway or as its otherwise known being a student when the student loan comes in.

From there we went to the hotel, picked up our kit and got a 16 hour sleeper train. Now this isn’t my first overnight train, so it was interesting to compare it with both the Russian transiberian and the Indian cow permitting train.

Plus, it had a kind of room.
Negative, that room had no door
Plus, the beds were longer (almost long enough for me)
Negative there were six stacked in a room with no ladder. Two at the bottom, two middle, two top, with limited head room in each, like our own mini coffins.
Plus, there were no beds in the corridor,
Negative, the toilet doors didn’t lock and they were holes which flushed onto the track (note, I timed my ablutions with great care and didn’t dishonour myself)

So it was a mixed bag, but not too bad, better than India, (no three hour cow on track delay) worse than Russia.

We all survived and rather riper than normal, booked into our hotel for an hour before exploring the delights of Suzhou

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