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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



May 3. BEIJING  We had decided to make our own way to Simatai on Sunday (the following day) and took the opportunity to seek out a local pharmacy to load up on necessary antibiotics for our trip to Western China.  The pharmacy wasn't far from our hotel and was a free-for-all of antibiotics.  We purchased eight prescriptions for a measly US$30, very glad that we hadn't bought them in the US before we left!

Rob found us a new lunch spot near the Friendship Store, a western restaurant called "Mother's.  It was run by an American woman who had spent years teaching English in Sichuan and Tibet before opening her first restaurant in Chengdu.  The Beijing location was new but already extremely popular with the expat community.  We hardly saw a Chinese person in the whole place. Of course, the fact that the prices were not far behind US prices was probably a big reason for that.  Rob had a cheese steak sandwich and lemonade.  I had a big salad and a banana milkshake.  Were we really in China?

That was pretty much it for our daily outing.  We returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon getting the first version of this website ready to upload.

May 4. BEIJING "Getting Lost going to the Great Wall" Our trip to the Great Wall didn't seem like such a challenging endeavor when we set out at 7am but we little did we know that were in for a long wild goose chase.  Our first stop was at a minibus station that was meant to have direct service to Simatai for tourists.  It wasn't running so we caught the subway around to the northeast corner of the city and looked for a regular bus from the long distance bus station to Miyun where we would have to transfer to another bus to get up to Simatai.

The bus to Miyun wasn't very crowded and only took about an hour and a half.  Of course, when you down an orange juice before getting on a long bus ride an hour and half can seem amazingly long!  After the bus reached Miyun it wove back and forth across the city several times before finally stopping at the long distance bus station.  It was a brand-spanking new town that was so crisp and clean looking that it almost didn't seem real.  Unlike some of China's less attractive white tile with blue window style architecture that had populated far too many places around the country, Miyun was a pretty nice city even if it lacked much that seemed Chinese to us.  The ice creamy Euro-style buildings with domes and white trim were a bit much though.  

 At Miyun Station no one seemed to be able to point us in the direction of the Simatai bus until one man frantically waived down a bus that had just pulled out of the station.   He pointed to the bus and said Simatai so we went running.  After we settled ourselves in the front of the bus and it started on its way we found out that the bus was not actually bound for Simatai.  It was one of those situations where your phrasebook doesn't really go quite far enough.  After some sign language and frantic attempts and communication we understood that we were going somewhere else but to a place not far from Simatai.  It seemed a bit fishy but we went with it. It seemed pretty unlikely that they were playing a joke on us so we hoped that this was an alternative to the normal Simatai buses that were strangely absent.     

The bus was a local bus so it wound back and forth across the main highway hitting the little villages on either side.  All the way from Beijing we could see makeshift barricades had been erected by many small villages to keep people from entering.  This was their way to protect themselves from the deadly SARS virus.  It was a big concern that the disease would spread to the more rural areas where health care was lacking.  After another hour or so on the bus we pulled up to a hill in the middle of nowhere.  On the hill were the characters that the ticket lady had written on a piece of paper for us.  She motioned for us to get off but we clearly saw no onward connection from there to the Great Wall.  Again we pointed at the characters on our notepad that said "Simatai Great Wall" but she just flailed her arms and pointed to the hill.  Bravely or stupidly we got off the bus.

After the bus pulled away it dawn on us that we were effectively in the middle of nowhere with no idea when the next bus would pass by.  The "attraction" that we had been taken to was certainly not the Great Wall but we approached the ticket window to see if there was something that we were missing.  The ticket window was deserted and the only sign of life was a angry German Shepard that was chained up at the gate.  The gate was open but the whole thing seemed just too uninviting for us.  Frustrated, we started to walk down the road back the direction that the bus had come.  There was some small relief when we saw the same bus number go by again in the same direction we had ridden out. We hoped that meant there would probably be a bus in the opposite direction in the near future.  

After walking about a kilometer we spotted the return bus and waived it down.  Not far back down the road, where we had pulled off of the highway, Rob had seen a sign for Simatai that pointed directly up the highway so we planned to just get a cab and go there directly.  The people on the bus seemed very amused to find a couple of foreigners wandering around in the middle of nowhere.  One man came from the head of the bus with a bunch of Chinese scribbled on a piece of paper.  I guess he figured somehow we might read Chinese even if we didn't understand it.  Fortunately, I could make out a couple of characters. He wanted to know where we were from but beyond that we had no idea what he was talking about.   

We were back at the highway within a few minutes and jumped off the bus at the first sign of a taxi.  It turned out the be out of service but the driver was rousted from his home and more than willing to take a fare all the way to Simatai and then back to Miyun.  In a car we whizzed up the highway and arrived at a big turn off for Simatai in about 10 minutes. All of the buses not going to Simatai that day immediately made sense.  The Great Wall at Simatai was closed!  That had not occurred to us.  It seemed likely that buses had been reduced since the number of tourists had dropped dramatically but finding the wall closed was very unexpected.  There were a few other cars stopped outside the gate that appeared to be waiting for the guards to change their minds and let them into the road.  It looked like they had already been there a while.  Very disappointed we got back in our cab and had him take us back to Miyun.  It had been an interesting little adventure but ultimately very anti-climatic.

The north eastern long distance bus station in Beijing was in the corner of town where many embassies were congregated so we decided to stroll down one of the major embassy rows and have lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe.  It was more interesting than we expected.  We came across the Australian and Canadian embassies snuggled up against one another, both looked quite new.   Guards stood in front of all of the embassies but these two looked particularly well guarded.  They eyed us closely as we walked by, waiving at us if we happened to stagger to close to their dotted line - just in case we were planning to defect or something.  A small group of soldiers were making their way around the block in formation.  A plain clothes military man brought up the rear.  This was an amusing sight.  The plain clothes men were all over Beijing and stuck out like sore thumbs.  With SARS they were all equipped with masks and white gloves and even with their lack of a uniform their darting eyes totally gave them away.  

It was a long walk to the Hard Rock Cafe and we passed a good dozen embassies along just one side of the road.  The restaurant was totally empty.  We were THE only people there.  I added a pin to my ever growing collection and we sat down for an all-American meal.  Ironically I ordered a Chinese Chicken Salad but as I ate it I thought there was very little about that salad that was Chinese except the sesame and soy in the dressing.  It was Chinese inspired American food.   And, after a week in Beijing I was really beginning to appreciate the good and cheap Chinese food that we had back at home.  

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30