August 14, 2007

The Adventure Begins

Yesterday, in what in retrospect may appear to be a rather drastic move, I left my home of two years in Karatsu, Japan, and launched myself into the beginning of an eight-week trek through Asia and Africa. After saying my last goodbyes and sitting on a China Air flight for two and a half hours, touched down mid-afternoon in China's capital city of Beijing.

The pollution has, thus far, not been as bad as I was initially dreading (I gather it's worst in the winter, when everyone turns on the heaters). 2008 Olympics ads are everywhere and there's plenty of construction and demolition going on all around. My hostel is a bit of a backpacker trap but is located down a relatively authentic-looking hutong so there's a bit of character to the area, if not necessarily the place itself.

My time in Beijing is limited -- just two full days, really -- so I'm getting a much abbreviated look at it and "Chinese" China; today I joined the throng to see Tianenmen and the Forbidden City, and baked myself on the cobblestones while taking pictures of Mao's portrait and old imperial roofing tiles. I don't think I'm going to be able to upload those pictures till I get back (I'm shooting RAW format, which usually requires post-processing before I can upload it to Flickr; there is a photo CD-burning place across the seat so I might check that out tomorrow). The palaces were also not too different from similar edifices I've viewed in Japan, Korea, or Mongolia; of course, this is where all those architectural designs originated from, so I'd say it was worth seeing. I did not manage to see Mao's body on display.

I have yet to eat any actual Chinese food (unless you count a self-heating chicken-and-rice box for lunch today), having dined out for two nights in a row at two different Uyghur restaurants in the area. Both were good (and spicy) so I think I'll do fine in terms of finding things to eat when I head west on Thursday. The language barrier, on the other hand, is still relatively daunting. I've sort of learnt some numbers, but haven't really been forced to muddle through yet, as I've only been to the touristy places. Of course, when I reach Xinjiang, I'll have to pack away the Mandarin phrasebook and break out the Uyghur one anyhow.

Tomorrow I am taking a hike along the Great Wall through a tour company a friend of mine recommended; it should be a small group and we should be going to a pretty remote (unreconstructed and uncrowded) section of the wall. Hopefully should be a good way to celebrate my 24th birthday.

Internet service at the hostel here is free as long as you can stand the impatient murmurings of the people queued up waiting to use it after you. I've probably abused my priveleges for long enough so I'll check back again next time.

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