Thursday, 25 October 2007

Another brick in the wall

Well, after flying back in from Brissie and doing a London trip, it was off to Beijing for the first time for me. I was so excited about the prospect of seeing the Great Wall of China that I couldn't sleep before the flight!

Not to worry, we all rocked up and found out that there were NO PASSENGERS travelling in either first or business class! Right, so what exactly did that mean for me? I envisaged being shafted down to the hell dimension to help out, but our help wasn't needed. Due to some recent dramas with crew inappropriately resting publicly on board (thanks, you WANKERS) we had to stand around like shags on rocks for the next 7 hours. Finally we arrived, had our passports stamped and began the journey to the hotel. We were all absolutely stuffed, but again I was too excited to sleep when I found out that we had FREE 24-hour internet access! Woot woot! So, plugged in and propped up in bed with some yoghurt from Dubai that had almost popped in my cabin bag, I was ready for some serious facebooking time. Much to the fear of all cabin crew, facebook hasn't been working properly in Dubai for a while - some ABSOLUTE RUBBISH about it being illegal or some such crap. Same goes for myspace. Periodically they shut down but are up at the moment.

I finally slept and woke up to a rather gloomy, cold looking day and discovered I'd only packed shorts and a shirt. I really must learn to pack more accordingly. That reminded me of the time I took my half packed suitcase from a London trip (think sub-arctic, but with no snow) to Johannesburg because I was too lazy to unpack it between flights. Joburg has approximately the same climate as Brisbane, so you can only imagine what I had to wear on safari to the Lion Park. Jeans, shirt (thankfully I had jeans) and KNEE HIGH BEIGE SUEDE BOOTS!!! It'd been raining and we got bogged, so we had to get out and push.......not my finest moment pushing a battered van in my boots.

Never fear, it turned out to be quite muggy outside in Beijing and only looked cold due to the hideously high pollution levels. God knows how that city is planning to pull off the next Olympics, what with the pollution, filthy buildings and streets and locals who are under the impression it's socially acceptable to hack up and SPIT huge globs of phlegm all over the place. Charming.

After a rough and tumble hour long ride to the great wall, we finally arrived and got our first glimpse of the wonder snaking its way up and over the hills above us. It was still a little foggy up there, but what we could see was incredible. We eagerly fought our way through the hordes of locals selling everything from cameras to memory sticks and binoculars and lined up for tickets, which came with a mini disc (no doubt on the history of the wall). I must find it and watch it sometime.....

To get there we had to take an open-air chair lift and I was paired with a Lebanese girl who was deathly afraid of heights. I'm the type who used to enjoy rocking the chair lift at the Ekka as a kid, so was struggling to stay still while she hopped around and almost made me loose one of my thongs into the bush below.

After a brief collision as we got off the lift, we straightened ourselves out and waited for the rest of the crew. Blood had returned to fearful-of-height's face and off we went. It was major picture time and I was surprised that we had to really pay attention to our footing as we wandered along. I had heard that the steps were very uneven, ranging from 10cm high to about 60cm, but was stunned to see it was true. At some stages we felt we weren't moving at all, climbing up ridiculously tiny steps and at others felt our legs couldn't possibly lift that high AGAIN.

It was so stunningly beautiful up there with all the lookouts and turrets and canons I wanted to set up camp and stay in the cool breeze forever. We took some great happy snaps and then decided it was time to turn back after an hour of trekking. When we looked back at how far we'd walked (or not walked) we were surprised to see that where we started looked remarkable close to us. As the crow flies, we were very close, but with all the winding and arduous ups and downs we'd travelled quite a distance.

So, sweating like pigs, we turned back and made our way towards the lift and contemplated catching the toboggan down. That's right, TOBOGGANING on the Great Wall of China. While it looked fun, there appeared to be some traffic jams in the shute, so we all opted with the more sedate, longer and view-appreciative option of the chair lift. Needless to say, I sat with a different partner that time!

Once at the bottom, we were set upon by locals selling their wares at the makeshift market. My "one day house" popped into my head and I set about collecting a few things I'm SURE I'll really need one day...... like hand stitched butterfly and dragon hangings, a pink and white lace parasol and a few cute little traditionally dressed Chinese girl dolls. We dragged our sweaty selves back onto the bus and were hotel bound.

Darren from Malta and I decided to hit the Silk Market, a large building of about 5 floors full of the greatest stuff imaginable. I bought jewellery, fake Mac makeup, beautiful silk dressing gowns, a red Max Mara trench coat (I was then talked into buying a second coat with black and white polka dots!) and all sorts of goodies. I was carrying so many bags and they were so heavy that they were cutting into my arms by the time I staggered outside to find Darren calmly sucking down a cigarette as though his life depended on it.

We made our way back to the hotel, where I indulged in some more facebook time and then had a little snooze before our pickup. Once at the airport we were told that we had 8 passengers to entertain for the next 9 hours and that only THREE of them were eating, thanks to Ramadan (the fasting month for Muslims). Great, another trip to be spent trying not to fall asleep on containers in the galley. We found a surprising number of things to talk about, from parents who embark on international trips and forget to supervise their kids DURING the flight to the way some of the crew can be so culturally insensitive to AUSTRALIANS. Rather interesting to be able to vent about what ticks us whities off. I hope some mental notes were taken.

We flew over the heavily snow-capped Himalayas which were so incredibly beautiful I sat mesmerised by the window. We passed a mountain so massive that it arced up through the clouds and was almost at the height of the plane, but was off to the side about 1000-2000 feet away. From the sheer size of it, I thought it had to be Mt Everest, but it turned out to be the tallest part of K2, the second peak of the Karakoram range. Typically, I'd packed my camera in my suitcase, as I've got so much crap stored in my work handbag that there wasn't space for it. So, when the beautiful mountains came into view we all rushed for our phones and attempted to take pictures from the windows on our crappy little 2 mega pixel camera phones. They turned out ok, but I seem to lack the technical expertise to transfer them from my phone to the computer, so for illustrative purposes I've ripped some great pictures off Wikipedia.

After a what seemed like one of the longest flights in history, we finally landed and it was back to my apartment where I threw down my super heavy suitcase, laden with exciting goodies that I was too tired to even look at until after a serious nap.

Next stop: HOLIDAYS!!!

Ash, Jena and I have masterminded a fabulous girls only week-long trip to......none other than my favourite city in the world......