It was meant to be a football (soccer) trip but it very quickly transformed into an awesome experience that I will remember for a life time.
Immediately from our first meeting, I realised that we were in for a fantastic ten day trip. We were a bunch of soccer parents, ten in total who were going over to China/Beijing on a separate trip to watch our boys play seven games in ten days against Chinese squads for ACTAS ‘ACT Academy Squad’.
I would have loved to have been able to blog it daily, but unfortunately the IP addresses to facebook, twitter and the access to my blog site were blocked. Oh well, so be it, that’s the way, it is!
We left Sydney at 4.30pm, arrived in Beijing (with 3 hr stopover in Singapore) for 8am and hit the ground running. We had only just collected our baggage, made our way through customs and we were very quickly separated. The players/coaches left on the tour bus and we were standing on the footpath with our guide Miss Carol waiting our bus to arrive, only to see ‘our’ mini bus arrive tooting, swerving and pulling up smack bang in front of us spot on time with a screech…let the tour begin!
I couldn’t believe the amount of things we jammed in on our first day and this just set the tone for the remainder of the tour. Our 5 star accommodations was brilliant, the grounds were stunning and the all you could eat breakfast was a killer spread.
We had a one very funny session, we had a swim in the pool and finished off with sauna, but we decided to miss the spa as it seemed that all the men would nude up in there after swimming in the pool and we busted one guy using the spa to wash down their private parts. It’s funny though, as they are so pedantic about you wearing a swimming cap while swimming in the pool so your hair doesn’t contaminate the pool water with your hair…WHAT THE!.
Beijing is a city that never stops, it has so much history and in many parts it’s extremely run down. Often we would walk and experience the local shops and super markets in the evenings and at no time did I ever feel threatened or felt like I was a meal ticket; What an experience.
The crowds and the traffic are insane but everything seems to continually move. There are minimal traffic lights which allow the traffic to constantly move and the only rules that seem to apply is that there are no rules.
It’s total madness, it’s a constant honking, pushing and merging, but it seems to work. Hahahha the funny part is that the only accident that we witnessed occurred on a section of road that didn’t have any traffic, now go figure!
We were so lucky as our bus drive ‘Mr Whan’ who is an absolute legend took total control, he delivered us safely wherever we went and would often be double parked or even triple parked or sometimes be smack bang in the middle of a major intersection waiting for us.
The best way to describe him is that he is the Chinese equivalent of Mr ‘T’ or as Chris O (fellow parent of the tour) perfectly described him as the ‘Mongolian Road Warrior’. He was amazing and I will never forget him, he had never taken a group of parents for ten days in total as he usually does on day tours.
We all became such good friends; he was such a huge part of our tour. A true gentleman and he was so involved with the tour. He would love to kick a football with us as the boys were warming up prior to each game and very quickly become a major part of the team.
It was unreal as he would barrack for us as we played every game and often took pride of place with all the ACTAS coaches and sat directly in the forbidden coach section.
Miss Carol was our tour guide and what a superb job she did. Our days were highly organised, jammed packed and co-ordinated superbly.
It was certainly an action packed ten days and it all went seamlessly. Without Miss Carol and Mr Whan I honestly don’t think that we would have been able to successfully fit in the agenda. Her knowledge of China and its history was tremendous; she made it so informative and enjoyable at the same time. She was a lovely person and very quickly became our friend rather than a tour guide.
The history is mind boggling and the temples are phenomenal, I just can’t even fathom how they were constructed 600 plus years ago. The Forbidden City is massive and was built 600 years ago and it only took 15 years to complete. There is so much to see and experience.
We also visited the ‘Temple of Heaven’, now this was excellent. It’s a park land that leads through to the temple and it’s the hang out / meeting point for many of the retired locals. They stay here all day and socialise, whether it be cards, mah-jong, dancing, singing, Thai chi or whatever takes your fancy.
You walk your way through an amazing cultural collection on your way to the temple of heaven. I had the best time here, it was so enjoyable and the people and the atmosphere were brilliant! I could have stayed here for hours, but unfortunately we had to move on.
Another fantastic experience was a trip into the old part of Beijing where we are told that we will be having a traditional Chinese ‘Home Cooked’ lunch and that it was. Fantastic, brilliant, excellent are a few ways to describe it.
We are dropped off on the main road at the entrance of a lane way (one of many) and we began walking down this narrow laneway that is a photographers dream.
The images, the smell, the busyness of the lanes ways, the atmosphere of cars threading their way through, there were people on bikes going everywhere, we were having to squeeze against the walls to allow all of this to happen, it like we were walking through the history of Beijing.
People were staring at us, the hawkers are continually popping up, the brief case is quickly opened ….”Want to buy a watch?”
I even witnessed the local plumbers on a call out. They were on motorbikes, with a hole coring machine, ramset drill, level, tools, pipe and lagging strapped down on their bikes.
This is so unreal and I haven’t even got to lunch yet! I’m having the time of my life here; I’m loving every moment of my China experience. We arrived at an old red small double wooden door (One of millions) and over the threshold we go. Every place has a threshold (the host tells us that men use their left leg to step over and that women use their right…this is because women are always ‘Right’ (hahahah very good).
We are told the four generations of families have lived here in this small 7 bedroom original Chinese home. We enter into a central courtyard that has a few tables set out and it is packed. I think there would be 20 people in total. We are seated inside the house and the room opens onto the tiny courtyard, I think that this is their lounge room but for the time being it’s being used as a dining area. The food is the best we have had so far and the host, who is the owner / resident, is so warm and welcoming. She takes the time out to tell us about her house and its back ground, she is a real card.
Day 5 and we head for the ‘Great Wall’, I was so excited, we were about to experience one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
We had limited time so Tully, Finn and I take off and irrespective of the time limits we were so excited and in awe to be able to climb this small section of a 8300km wall.
Immediately from the start your assault is unexplainably step, I had been told by several people who have climbed it previously that it was steep, but you really don’t have any idea until you experience it yourself.
The steps are uneven, rugged and extremely warn with sections at 45 -60 degrees. This is what I have wanted to experience…this is unreal.
There are thousands of others enjoying this monumental structure at the lower level as well, so you really don’t get the idyllic serene experience, but as you begin to progress higher, the wall and traffic begins to thin.
The unimpeded views are brilliant; the history in this wall is amazing: I’m just loving everything about it. I’m only one third of the way and my legs are burning, my heart is pounding, sweat is dripping from my forehead, man I haven’t had a work out like this for years (and as ‘Get Smart’ would say ”and loving it!”).
Past halfway the stairway begins to narrow and the tower section which you pass through is excellent. The crowds have thinned now and Tully, Finn and I have all of the through sections to ourselves. We are so lucky, as today the skies are crystal blue there isn’t a cloud in the sky, its total perfection everywhere you look.
The ‘Great Wall and mountain ranges are formidable; I can’t even begin to think of the hardship that the people would have to endure during the construction of the wall, not to mention the climate. We reach top of our mini crusade and we are absolutely knackered.
The scenery and mountain ranges are stunning; we have jagged a near perfect day, blue skies, zero clouds, light winds and moderate temperatures. Our guide told us on returning that we were so blessed as it is usually blanketed in smog/pollution and the visibility is very poor. How lucky were we!
Now it time for the assent. The legs were feeling like jelly and burning, but my eyes were having the time of their lives, I just wish I could have had more time up here. The steepness of the stairway makes for a cautious decent, I would hate to think how long it would take to stop if you lost your footing and begin to tumble. I was amazed at the variety of people and what they were wearing. I saw a girl dressed up as if she was going to a five star restaurant and even had the 3 inch pump stilettos on. There were young kids 4 year old that reached the top and this old Chinese man that would have had to be in his eighties casually making his way down with his walking stick;
All totally excellent. The entire experience has been one that I will remember for a long time.
We head off to Tianjin which is the industrial shipping port of Beijing to play a Chinese super league side. No trucks are allowed in Beijing beyond the 6th ring road so our highway experience was one of total chaos. The traffic is insane, I can’t describe it you have to be here and experience it for yourself. I haven’t come across anything like it yet. Controlled chaos , 1000’s of semi trailers blended in with cars, bikes, even people walking in the dark in the wrong direction with less than half a metre of space, all weaving dropping in, merging , cutting each other off, horns are blaring the entire time. I am so glad the Mr Wan is in control!
The trip seemed to be one of survival rather than a drive in the country side. The scenery was open rural areas that had satellite cities that towered in the clusters amongst a mix of low level rural properties.
The pollution is soooooo thick here in Tianjin it is sickening. I awoke for 6am and went up to the higher levels in search of a few good vantage points from our building.
The pollution is so heavy.
I decide to go for a walk along the shipping docks for a morning photography session and wow what an experience.
I head over to the park which is opposite the hotel and watch the local ladies do their morning Thai Chi exercises; it makes for a few nice shots.
Then I meander my down the footpath trying to get the opportunity to get closer to the water front.
The sun is trying to burn through the heavy pollution haze and the industrial back ground make for a few great shots.
I come to this small section that opened out to the harbour, the sun was still low enough, the port was a mass the cranes, cargo ships and a morning buzz that just added to the atmosphere.
I jumped the 6 foot concrete wall to snap a few extra special shots and the concrete was so slippery, it is hard to explain, but the mix of water and the pollution made it fell like I was walking on slippery green moss.
After treading carefully and hoping that I wouldn’t be arrested as I was in a zone that I clearly should be (but it was well worth it). On my return I met up with the local street cleaners, snapped a few cheeky shots, had a chat with them, even tried / asked if we could have a selfie …but they wouldn’t be in it.
It was funny as one of the ladies had a dog that was in tow and decided to sit fair smack bang in the middle of this madness intersection on a pedestrian crossing. The cars were swerving around him, honking their horns and he could give too hoots, this dog who had balls of steel or one very short life span. He wouldn’t move until she moved on.
The entire trip was meant to be a football trip but quickly become a trip of memories. I had a wonderful time touring Beijing and Tianjin with a fantastic group of parents, we had brilliant guides who have become my friends and it was such a pleasure to see our boys perform so well against the Chinese teams.
There are so many moments to recall. Words can’t describe it, but pictures can:
The team played seven games in ten days and won five of those matches and only three games were against age eligible sides. The rest of the games were matched against much older competition. The team can truly hold their heads high.
My only regret if any was that I didn’t have another two weeks available to tour and see many other parts of China. Oh well there’s always a next time.
That was one cracker of tour that will remain etched in our minds forever…..just look at the smiles on our faces, it says it all.