Tom Cotterill reports from the first stage of the Chestnut Tree China trip to raise much needed funds for the children’s hospice.
Today has been a long and stressful ordeal. If it wasn’t the 11 hour plane ride to get to China it was the two hour wait at the airport. And if it wasn’t the two hour delay inside there, it was the horrific traffic jam we faced from Beijing Capital Airport to our hotel.
The 15-mile journey took well over an hour to complete with our covey crawling at a snail’s pace through the city’s clogged outer ring roads.
And in that time I have never seen so many frustrated drivers beeping their car horns at one another in outrage. Honestly, the roads were pandemonium at the best of times.
People may moan and groan about the A27 being the ‘car park of the south’. But if Beijing was having a game of Top Trumps on who has the most congested road system, it would win by a clear country mile!
To put things in perspective, I might have been frustrated by the regular 15-minute snarl-up (on a good day) going through Chichester or Worthing. But China’s road woes are another kettle of fish altogether.
The city is only recently getting over a five-day long traffic jam. Yes. Five days. . . Stuck in traffic. The clogged roads saw stranded motorists camping in their cars while they attempted to get into the Chinese capital.
So, in some ways we were lucky not to be stuck on the road that long.
But despite the arduous journey we faced to get here, everyone remained in high spirits, even if most of us hadn’t had a wink of sleep in well over 24 hours.
Off the roads and into the city itself, Beijing is a thriving bustling hub of activity.
And it’s easy to understand why.
It has a population in excess of 20 million people - or equivalent to that of a small country (and as our guides on our coaches told us, that isn’t even the most populated city in the country. One has upward of 30 million people, he said).
We arrived at our hotel just after 7pm local time, after arriving at the airport at about 4pm.
Inside, the surroundings are plush, with a marble floored entrance hall, complete with statues, its own fish pond and a bar.
Outside the hotel’s walls are dozens upon dozens of high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see.
Some of them light up like enormous, colourful billboards, with one particularly building catching the eye of the group of trekkers I was with in the coach.
Its outside changed from a deep red to a turquoise-blue, complete with a yellow fish which glided serenely across the face of the building from one side to the other.
While on ground level, there are a couple of street vendors selling fresh fruit and newspapers from the back of a pick-up truck or from a small stand.
Our first evening in China was relatively subdued.
It saw us meeting the team from Global Adventures who would be guiding us along the Great Wall in the days to come.
Then, after a brief introduction in the hotel lobby, we went out to have a traditional Chinese meal.
The restaurant itself was the most bizarre place I’d ever eaten in.
On the walls were a series of slap-dash paintings of Chinese men and children, all seemingly wearing a sumo wrestler-like outfit.
Honestly, I had no idea what was going on.
The eatery itself was split into several areas, a main restaurant at the front, with everything you would expect to find in such an establishment, and then a series of function rooms, with large tables.
Our room, which hosted about 11 us, was one of the most surreal places in the entire restaurant.
We all ate around a large, round wooden table with a spinning surface so we can move plates around.
That, in itself was fairly normal.
However, in the back of the room was a large desk, seemingly that of the manager, complete with used ash trays, a big bowl of apples and a large, gold and red statue.
It was totally out of place and something that was noticed by all the trekkers in the room.
The night was rounded off with a briefing about tomorrow’s exploits, which will see us tackling a three-hour trek along a small section of the wall.
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