Beijing 2009

Emboldened by my brief introductory visit of the previous year, I signed up for the China Travel Service month long Silk Road Tour. The £3,500 ($5,000) price tag seemed high but I was so used to assembling my travel arrangements from different elements that I was not accustomed to paying for everything in one bill. A substantial part of the cost (£500) was for a “single supplement” because I felt that, even if there was someone on the tour willing to share, I would be unlikely to find the convivial Aussie atmosphere of a Peregrine trip and would almost certainly come to appreciate the privacy.

I set off for Heathrow in early September with a complicated list of instructions, a reasonable selection of old clothes, plenty of medicines and my precious map of China. In the departure lounge I was approached by an unctuous older gentleman with a list who asked if I was one of his “chicks”. Now, for the foreign readers, I should explain that this term is sometimes used in the UK to signify “one of a group” and no more but one look at his overly wavy, politician’s hair and winsome twinkle told me that this was precisely the kind of tour leader who hits on mature, single lady travellers. Thankfully I was able to tell him that I was being met in Beijing and he moved on to explore new opportunities. What a lucky escape for me, a month of someone like that could have led to violent consequences.

On my arrival I was met by the adorable local CTS representative, Sophie, and introduced to the other members of the group. There were only five of them. Can you imagine? We would be travelling from one end of China to the other in a group of just six people; two couples and one other single lady, now this was starting to feel like a real adventure. I especially warmed to the others when I discovered that one couple had had to “persuade” their friend to join them otherwise the trip would have been below compliment and have to be cancelled altogether. A stress inducing piece of information that had completely passed me by.

Beijing is Beijing: a place now so frequently visited and photographed it probably has few secrets left to reveal. Anyway, In two days I didn’t get to discover any of them but I did enjoy a splendidly photogenic itinerary which it has been a great pleasure to assemble here. It shows how things have moved on in China that even a tiny group like ours was allowed to split up and take in optional sights of our choice: One couple wanted to see the Bird’s Nest Stadium, others the Hutong district and myself the National Museum. Oh, and I was also allowed to miss the pandas.

Before returning to Central Asia in a few weeks time, I intend to blog this journey all the way to Kashgar, the most westward city of China and the furthest place on the planet from the Ocean. Several thousand photographs need to be sorted and a very scanty set of notes supplemented by some actual research, so you will have to forgive me for not captioning this first “picture postcard” section.    

Categories: China, Far East

2 Comments

  • Chris says:

    Yes, definitely a lot of research to be done, the book on China’s Ethnic Minorities is on its way to you

  • Nicola Ainsworth says:

    Thank you so much, the book has arrived, sent all the way from China with a charming personalised card. It will be a great help.

    Did you see picture 87? I swear it was just around the corner from the hotel, I just couldn’t resist snapping it when I popped out to the corner shop for some shampoo (or some other necessity that I just wasn’t prepared to pay hotel foyer prices for).

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