China. At last. I was very curious to see, smell, live it, as it must be so totally different from anything I am used to. The first word to describe it, against all odds, is not crowded (though that would be the second), it is LOUD. It is almost amazing how no one in this country seems to be bother the slightest bit about a constant noise level of approximately 800 decibel. Advertisements in the metro during the entire ride, louder than on a ryanair plane (yes, that’s possible!), when people are having a conversation, they yell at each other despite standing right next to each other (personal space is also unkown here), every single toy makes a different sound and their sellers are constantly demonstrating those, on the streets, on a train, and if there are no touts around, you can be sure there is a kid nearby who already owns at least three of them.
Cars honk before, during and after an overtaking process, when they go around a corner, when they change the lane, when they stop or when they start driving. So do scooters and electric vehicles, whose drivers by the way have no problem squeezing through a lively, fully packed pedestrian walk on a summer evening. The constant background snorting of clearing one’s throat from some slime, probably produced due to the fact that everyone is smoking here, everywhere, I am already used to from Finland, luckily. The probably oddest fact is that even though you can buy all sorts of electronics and headphones and in-ear-headphones at every corner, guaranteed branded products, no one bothers to use them. You wanna watch a movie on a train or metro? Just watch it. You wanna listen to some music in the waiting hall of the airport? Just play it.
This very strong live-and-let-live attitude applies only for things they are used to. The vivid, hectic, turbulent daily life is full of oddities for us – but they are used to it and don’t bother much. But when they see a Westerner’s face, the mouths pop open, and the staring begins. Pictures are taken, secretly or with permission, once the ice is broken people might start queuing. At the summer palace, the main attraction on that sunny Saturday is Simón. Probably he has more pictures taken of himself than the Chinese tourists take of the actual premises. Other than that, the Chinese take good care of each other. If people stand in the way (which happens quite a lot in a country where a small village has 6 mio inhabitants), they are just gently moved aside. When someone needs to board a train quickly and the queue for the tickets is half an hour long (normally it is), they just cut it in the front, and everyone understands. Everything seems to work like a charm, besides the obvious chaos.
We take it easy in Beijing, Zaira and I just recovered from our food poisoning, now Tanja is sick with an infection. Traveling through Eurasia for the past two weeks has left its traces. When the train arrives more than 4 hours late on Friday, we don’t do anything but finding the apartment and eating in the conveniently located downstairs restaurant. Our Great Wall trip which was planned for Saturday is postponed to Sunday, and we sleep in for maybe the first time on this trip (if you don’t count the trains). This doesn’t become a habit, though, our driver picks us up on Sunday morning for the part of the Great Wall in Zhuandaokou at 7.30 am. We choose the right, “easier” route and have the entire wall for ourselves, no tourists at all. This is something really rare in China: Taking pictures of a sightseeing spot and not having them garnished with at least 200 Chinese tourists in the background. Even the weather is on our side: It stops raining once we start walking, and only starts again when we arrive on the other side. And: No one charges us for seeing the Wall! Another almost-impossibility in China, usually, as soon as there is something that attracts spectators, someone puts up a blockade and takes a fee. Like, a nice view from the top of the mountain – if you want to take a picture from the left bit of it, someone charges you. Crazy.
Afterwards, we accidentally end up in the Silk Market, a place where obviously fake items are sold at almost Western prices, with little room for bargaining. This is not how we imagined it. Maybe we will find the “real” market in the next city.
The evening ends with a nice surprise when we meet an old friend of Santi, Aino, a Finnish girl who decided to live permanently in Beijing. She leads us to a small street with a restaurant that offers Mexican BBQ at cheap prices (to be honest, since the food poisoning I was craving for something that is not deep fried, or steamed) and tells us stories about her life in China. It almost feels as if we have not even seen the smallest fraction of it yet, and tomorrow is already the last day of our common adventure.
Then Tanja, Zaira and Simón will fly home, and Santi and I continue alone. Even though it has been 17 days only, it feels like 20 weeks at least, with all the different time zones we traveled, and the numerous places we have seen.