Ali and the girls with Lisa, Howard's driver.
After a lazy morning around the flat we were treated to Howard's driver, Lisa, to take us on a few errands, involving visits to China Eastern airline office and Beijing railway station again. This time we were refunding our rail tickets and are now returning to Simao the day after tomorrow. Complex decision-making processes - don't ask!

Although initially reluctant to be driven around the city we soon appreciated the advantages - an air conditioned, comfortable, effortless, door-to-door service in a hot, bustling city. We did relieve Lisa of her services, nevertheless, ahead of schedule. She dropped us at a small stretch of restored Ming Dynasty city wall, where we viewed a small exhibition of paintings, sculpture and photograhps of historic Beijing. 

Lesley and the girls on the city wall
This small section of the wall, about 15m high was restored in 2002 and runs for about 2km. Along the side of the wall is a small park with soft, lush green grass, unlike anything we get in South Yunnan. After visiting the wall and museum we wandered back through the park to pick up the Metro back to Wangfujing, where we met Noreen and a fellow hosteller, Steinove.

EAF with Noreen and Stein.
As we left the Metro the heavens opened and the rest of the evening was spent sheltering from rain. The thunder and lightening were spectacular, the worst passing as we ate noodles in an indoor food market off Wangfujing road. The Lonely Planet describes this area as, "a bright and cheery corner of restaurants and stalls overhung with colourful banners and bursting with character and flavour, fronted by an ornate archway." The archway was there, but the ambience was somewhat lacking. Probably better on a DRY summer evening.

Noreen and the Wonder Donkey in Beijing's Dongyue Temple
After a jet-lagged night I slept in for my 10 am rendezvous with Noreen, fellow VSO volunteer now working in Gansu, on our first morning back in China. Dongyue Temple was the perfect place to sit and chat, in the shade of the cyprus trees. It was also reassuring to discover, thanks to the ticket inspector's handy gadget, that I haven't developed a fever, these days taken to be indicative of swine flu. I was allowed to enter.

After a couple of hours of catching up and hatching a travel plan, Noreen stroked the Wonder Donkey for good health and fortune, and we left.
Lesley and Edie standing in line for tickets at Beijing Central railway station
We've decided to head over to visit the eastern end of the Great Wall, at Shanhaiguan (literally translated as 'mountain sea pass'), where it apparently snakes into the sea. I'm not sure if buckets and spades will be in order but we're looking forward to exploring a new area. It's three years since our visit to the Great Wall at Jiayuguan, in the sparsely populated desert of North-west Gansu. As Beijingers head to the seaside for the weekend I think we're in for an altogether different experience.

With Noreen and Edie there for moral support, ticket-buying was a doddle. We opted for the male vendor in the end, after an off-putting first and second interaction with a woman who refused to make eye contact as she barked the train information out over her personal, loud, tannoy. In our experience of bus and railway stations, the men are more patient and friendly. Today was no exception. We leave Beijing on the 14:08 express train the day after tomorrow. Any earlier and it would be standing room only - not a pretty sight.

Ali and Freda paid a visit to a local deli this afternoon, purchasing ingredients to cook an Italian meal at Howard and Lin's flat. Although we all climbed into bed at a fairly normal hour, it was a strange night - Freda talking in her sleep ("No mummy, it's too embarassing to do it here.") and some kind of explosion that shook the building at 2:30 in the morning. That's slightly alarming when one's on the 25th floor.

Time to brave the heat and head out for some breakfast ingredients. With the heavy smog and lack of direct sunshine it's apparently cooler these days. I'm already missing the fresh air of Scotland and the clear skies of Yunnan.