Checking in for the flight back to Beijing was pretty relaxed, everything moving along with the extremely courteous efficiency that we had come to know and love during our brief time in Japan. A (relatively) short flight later and we were back in Beijing airport, scene of our previous stress-a-thon on the outward journey.
Things weren’t about to get much better.
China has recently changed its stance on tourist visas. It used to be that in order to visit you were required to apply in advance (sometimes in person), go through a fairly extensive and lengthy application process and pay a substantial chunk of cash in order to get through immigration. Although this regime is still in effect there is now the ability to enter China without a visa as long as your time in country is less than 72 hours.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the immigration officer that dealt with us didn’t like this system very much and wanted to ensure anyone who tried to use it once would never try again. We joined the back of a queue of around 20 people, and 3 short(!) hours later we were through. We had to fill out forms, hand over our passports, add additional information to the forms that was not originally requested, duplicate other bits of information into parts of the form without space for said information and jump through what felt like a thousand other flaming hoops of pointless bureaucracy.
Once we were through immigration we walked out of the airport into the city smog (the only time we had any problems with it) and drove the short distance through the mercifully light evening traffic to our hotel for the next few days. We dropped the bags in our room and headed out in search of food.
This is where we ended up – it was a small restaurant about 5 minute’s walk from the hotel and had everything I love in a food joint when we’re travelling; it was full of locals, the waiting staff spoke not a word of English and the menus were all in Chinese. Also, the main entrance was via the Kitchen and for reasons that never became clear there were Christmas decorations up everywhere. Aces.
There were a few moments of confusion when I wasn’t clear with the teenage waitress that it was only Mrs A who is vegetarian and then went on to order a beef dish, the number of beers we wanted and at the end of the meal I thought I was asking for the bill but ended up being given a notepad and pencil by our long-suffering and bemused waitress, but overall we got fed and the food was good.
The next day we hit the tourist trail with a vengeance, visiting Tianemen Square, The Forbidden City and Wanfujing Street in the evening (where even I wouldn’t eat), complete with live scorpions, snakes and bats on skewers. It was pretty ropey. Feeling pretty knackered we caught the subway back to our digs and flaked out for the night.
An early start the next day meant that we were able to get out of the city and up to the Great Wall before things got too manic. We were headed to the Badaling portion of the wall which is, I think, probably the most touristy part but still very impressive – seeing the ribbon of stonework snake off across the heavily wooded mountainsides was pretty awe inspiring. The perceived threat by those who built it must have been enormous, as a feat of construction it is huge by any standards. Sitting on a wall and contemplating the enormity of it all Mrs A and I were joined by a Chinese woman who wanted her photo taken with us. Clearly with a specific composition in mind, she pushed in between Mrs A and I with enough oomph to almost knock me off the wall, before dragging me back in for the photo using a grip around my shoulder that Hulk Hogan would have been pleased with. Her slightly nervous looking husband took the photo, she smiled at us and then carried on her way, without a word being spoken. It was all very efficient.
On our way back to the city we stopped off at the Olympic park which kind of left me a little unimpressed as I’m not a huge sports fan, and then rounded the day off with a stroll along the Sacred Way, a footpath leading to the Ming tombs. Another comedy meal of unknown things in a restaurant with a striking green colourscheme and entrance via the kitchen again (is this a local thing?) finished off our last day in Beijing.
The following morning was a battle through the Beijing traffic, back to the airport for our flight home. China was a blast and again I’d recommend it – just make sure you keep Google Translate on your phone and you’ll be fine.