China

What a fantastic country! Random, crazy and rather strange, but it’s been a place I’ve wanted to visit for years.

We first landed in Beijing, but flew straight up to Shenyang, which is just north of North Korea. It’s a bit of a random place to go, but my sister’s best mate Kevin lives there. He’s lived in China for nine years, so if there’s someone who can show you what it’s really like to live there, it’s him.

Shenyang was cold. Very cold. Outside, inside, everywhere was freezing. This is how cold it was:

That is seriously cold.

The reason it was so cold inside, is because it’s up to the government when to put the heating on. They usually put it on at the beginning of November, so because it was only the end of October, the heating had not been switched on yet.

Then it started to snow. And still there was no heating.

There are some very strange customs that we noticed in the cold. Firstly, some places have a kind of team building exercise at the beginning of the day:

After gathering outside their place of work, they are then all forced to do something that looks vaguely like the Macarena.

Rather than team building, the only thing that really seemed to be building was hyperthermia.

Unlike the poor workers, we were able to go inside and warm up. Or get less cold. At first we were disappointed with the size of the beer:

 But soon found we could fill them up as often as we liked!

Now if I’m honest, there’s not really a great deal to do in Shenyang. In fact one of the only things is to go to the Imperial Palace. Oddly, once you’re in there, you get the chance to dress up in traditional clothes.Yes, the clothes were rather odd, but actually many of the clothes that I saw in the shops were rather peculiar as well. This was probably the strangest jumper that I saw, but it was a close run race:

Chinese people also had a strange habit of wearing glasses without lenses in. The height of fashion at the moment seems to be really big and round, so we tried some on for size:

After a few days of freezing fun, it was time to leave Kevin and head south. First stop was at the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.

Rows and rows of warriors protecting an Emperor on his journey to the next world. They really were vast and impressive. In the museum though, it mentioned that they also buried live horses with the warriors as well. I don’t think I wanted to know that.

I made a new friend,

and then it was time to hit the road – to the hot springs:

These were stunning, and just at the back there’s a cable car, which takes you up to the top of the mountain.

Then it was back to the airport and to Chongqing (pronounced Chong-ching), which was where the cruise down the Yangtze departed.

We didn’t board the boat until about 6pm, so in the morning we went to the zoo to see the pandas.
The pandas seemed quite well looked after, but the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the animals. There were loads of people feeding all the animals, despite the signs saying not to. Even when the whole fencing was glass, with just a small region with bars at the top for ventilation, people were still throwing things up through the bars and into the animal’s cage. No one was there to stop them.

Then, on the baboon’s cage, the zoo staff were welding the cage together. Sparks were raining down into the cage below and the two little baboons were visibly frightened and flinching, but no one cared.

If you look closely you can see the sparks on the right of the picture, and the baboons covering on the left, with no where to go.At this point I had to leave.

That evening we boarded the cruise. It was rather a regimented affair, with tannoys telling you when you should be getting up, and having breakfast or whatever, but the scenery was stunning:

If you go on a cruise down the Yangtze, don’t go on the first shore excursion to the Ghost Temple – it’s awful. Yes, I’ll come off the fence and tell you what I really think. It’s supposed to be about 500 years old, but only about 5 stones seem to be. The rest is only a few years old and it looks like Disney Land.

Don’t do that, but DO make sure that your cruise goes to the Lesser Three Gorges as they’re absolutely stunning:

One other thing to note, is that when the cruise drops you off at Yichang, you won’t be able to get a taxi from there. They don’t let taxis into the port area and there’s a really steep climb up to the main road, so make sure you arrange a transfer. Unlike we did. Ooops.

Anyway, next stop was Shanghai, which was fabulous. On one side of the river were these amazing Dubai-like buildings and on the other were fantastic historic buildings from the 1920s. There’s a tunnel, called a sightseeing tunnel, that will take you under the water from one side to the other. Why it’s called ‘sightseeing’ I have no idea. It’s completely random in a Chinese way…

If you go to Shanghai, a great place to stay is the Astor House Hotel. It’s certainly not short of history, and it’s not a million pounds either:

Then after a few days in Shanghai, we hopped back to Beijing.

Of all the sights I saw on this trip, the Great Wall was the most breath-taking. It was incredible.

We didn’t go to the most popular part at Badaling, we went to the slightly more remote Mutianyu. There were only a few tourists on the wall, a couple of people selling water and beer, and we were really lucky with the weather. The leaves were turning russets, whilst the skies were bright and blue. It was incredible.

What I didn’t realise was that the top of the wall isn’t flat, it’s made up of 4 million steps. We walked for about 3 hours up on that wall, and it was exhausting!

Please don’t run or chase in the Great Wall Tourism Area

The best thing about Mutianyu there was a cable car to take you up to the wall and a tobogan to take you all the way back down again!

And then it was time to fly back to Doha, happy in the knowledge that I’d avoided eating anything random like chicken feet or pig’s snouts. But it was probably about time I left…I was beginning to get quite attached to those glasses…

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About Steff Gaulter

Al Jazeera English's Senior Weather Presenter
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