Wednesday 19 September 2007

China: the Summer Palace and Wangfujing St.

Our flight back to Oman was scheduled to leave just after midnight, hence we had a whole day in which to take in a few more sites.
We drove very slowly, thanks to extremely heavy traffic, for two hours to the Summer Palace, northwest of the Forbidden City, where the imperial court would go to escape the intense summer heat. Hundreds of tour group leaders battled for audio supremacy as we weaved our way around the lake into various building for shade from the heat. 

In a distinct culinary decline, lunch was taken slumped over a Chinese pot noodle (of which I am not proud), while Mrs M nibbled on a couple of cakes, before we completed an exhausting circuit of temples and houses accompanied by flocks of multinational sheep in funny hats. 

With time to spare, our driver, who was in permanent communication with base camp, took us to the Olympic Stadium which will host the opening ceremony next year. Cars were stopping in all sorts of silly places in order for the occupants to take photos and get back in before being struck by another vehicle. We were no exception, as we narrowly missed a couple taking snaps for some reason in the opposite direction to the stadium. It is a most impressive structure, but given the length of time it had taken to travel the 10 km from the Summer Palace, I wondered what these streets might look like with an extra 100,000 visitors.

After a further period of traffic jamming, we spent our last few hours in the city in Wangfujing Street, Beijing's Oxford Street. Just about anything can be purchased in and around this seven hundred-year-old commercial district. There are fashionable boutiques, chop stick emporiums, restaurants, small shops, stalls and mini markets. Mrs M's cheeks glistened with delight in the state-run silk shop, unable to resist the temptation to buy something which will end up in a drawer. The street also includes one of the best book shops in the city, the Foreign Language Bookstore, which needed much longer to explore. 
Sadly, we rendezvoused with our driver at the allotted time and crawled to the airport at a snail's pace. We checked in and went in search of the restaurants which were plentiful in the main terminal but absent on air side. Well, actually there was one restaurant open until 11.30 pm, but the shelves contained models of the 'international' cuisine based on fried eggs, sausages and chips. After spying a table loaded with bowls of rice and noodles, I enquired about the location of the Chinese food. 'We stop serving Chinese [proper food (my words)] at 8 pm….sorry.' The culinary decline could not have got worse……but it did. The only place to eat was Starbucks, where two soggy chicken focaccias wrapped in sweaty cling film were consumed with disdain.  

All was not lost. My cheeky request during check-in for an upgrade resulted in two business class seats for the flight back to Dubai. The culinary dip took an upturn as dinner was served. After what seemed like a few minutes (but was in fact five hours), we raised our fully reclinable seats to the upright position for breakfast. Aah. 

Dubai was a zoo with people lying around like refugees. Mrs M made enquiries about the duty free bag she left on the plane. I toured the twinlky electronic department of Duty Free which lured me in as I walked past. Meanwhile Mrs M paced up and down as the flight was beginning to board. Forty minutes later, we plopped onto the runway at Seeb.

One happy and one very grumpy cat later, we sipped tea, utterly exhausted.

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