Lesley launched this week's activities with a reception at the Great Hall of the People. The Hall is the same age as the PR China, built with a strong Russian influence. It was wonderful to walk on the red carpet and listen to the military band, though the reception itself was like a wedding without a bride and groom.
Today got off to a sticky start when Ali arrived at Kunming airport to discover Freda and Edie had tickets but he didn’t. It seems that in some pre-departure changes in Simao Ali’s booking was cancelled. Fortunately people are realising it’s not a good time to be travelling to Beijing and the flights are very quiet. From tomorrow some of the main tourist attractions will be closed in the run-up to the National Day celebrations so unless one of the lucky ones with a special pass – THAT’S US!!! -  you might as well stay at home and watch TV.

Lesley visited the VSO office and spent the day arranging childminders for Freda and Edie over the next few days. They will be living it up in the hotel. Believe me, that’s a luxury. Our suite is more luxurious than our Simao flat and the meals. Well, let’s just say the tailor was wise allowing an extra inch in our newly made clothes!

The programme for the next few days is:


a.m. “Expository Meeting” – apparently a speech from the Bureau (not sure which), probably all the rules and restrictions for the coming days.

p.m. Friendship Award Ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square

eve. Photos back at hotel with Freda and Edie!


a.m. Free (to recover from the fabulous breakfast of cereal, croissants, bacon, fresh fruit juice, real coffee etc etc

p.m. State Leaders meet Friendship Award winners and spouses at the Great Hall of the People, followed by National Day Banquet, same venue


a.m. Military parade on Tiananmen Square with State Leaders

p.m. Some other even on Tiananmen Square (all very secret at the moment; ‘no need to know’ basis)

eve. National Day Evening Party on Tiananmen

Offering us help with Freda and Edie are some VSO friends – Kruti, who works as a volunteer in the VSO Programme Office; Eilidh (from Kingussie!), who works as a volunteer with a small human rights organisation in Beijing; Wang Yanhui, the VSO Programme Support Officer for Basic Education. Thanks to their support Ali and I can take part in this special programme of events to celebrate 60 years of the People’s Republic of China. Whatever one’s political orientations, this is an historical moment.
Lesley getting through her ironing for the week in our small apartment on the 10th floor of the Beijing Foreign Experts' Mansion, a stone's throw from the Olympic Plaza.
Not content with 10 hours cycling this week, I joined Tina for a trip round Xi Ma Reservoir, ending up at the new College campus North of town. There's still a lot of work to be done but with a 1,000 strong building team they are optimistic that the bulk of it will be completed by the 1st of November. That's when the Grade 3 students come back from their teaching practice and move in to the new dormitories and classrooms.

As we were wandering around in the mud we met two friendly site supervisors who whisked us off to observe the European centre-piece, a 43 metre high clock tower. The battery hasn't been put in yet but it looks grand. I asked what strength of earthquake the buildings were build to withstand. Mr Duan [left] said, "Any". I was surprised and responded, "Really? Even magnitude 10?" "Yes, no problem" was his confident conclusion.

ELF with their 'Western' breakfast
JINGHONG Our pre-term backpacking trip started in Jinghong, where we 'lived it up' for twenty-four hours in the Banna Hotel. The main draw was the swimming pool [pictured below] but it turned out the room rate included a 'Western breakfast'. As well as having a waitress-served menu including toast, bacon, eggs, coffe and fruit juice (well, orange squash), we were seated at a small table in the corner while the rest of the (Chinese) guests were crammed into a buffet area. By the time we finished our silver service indulgence the rest of the dining room had cleared. Not bad for 200 RMB - that's for four of us!

LEAF at the Crown Hotel swimming pool.
We enjoyed Jinghong much more this time, perhaps because we know our way around and can find everything we need - supermarket, tasty food and swimming pools. What's more, we've found a string of sparkling new hotels with cheap twin rooms (40 RMB) that are clean and central. We'll be heading down for regular weekend retreats. Although it's less than a couple of hours by bus, it feels very different to Simao - more tropical with a strong South-East Asian (and Dai) influence. There are even traveller-types sitting around drinking milkshakes in Western cafes. All a bit surreal coming from Simao.
Lesley and Marissa, Baoshan temple.
BAOSHAN As time was short we flew from Jinghong right up to Xiaguan (Dali City) to leave us with just a 2-hour bus ride to Baoshan. We spent a night there, but squeezed in some sightseeing with Marissa and one of her school friends. The best part was exploring Baoshan's old city park, which covers a hillside on the west edge of town. This temple had been spruced up more than any other I've visited in China. Unfortunately the main prayer hall was shut because the monks, all women with beautifully done-up hair, were out front arguing with builders about pathwork underway. From the temple we even managed to spy on some new army recruits having marching and Kung Fu lessons on an adjacent military exercise ground.

It was in Baoshan that we discovered the first of the holiday's culinary delights - rice noodles with green bean mush. It doesn't sound very good but we lived off this this local delicacy for two days!

On a recent cycle up tea mountain I met this chap, Mr Tang, who was selling handcrafted wooden items from a makeshift craft stall. We got chatting and promised to make a trip out to their wood yard one day. True to our promise we travelled to San Jia Cun, a small village on the outskirts of Simao that's slowly being gobbled up by tower blocks. After a tour of the woodwork studio, kilns and art studio we rummaged through the reject piles, returning with a few boxes and tea caddies. After hanging about the house these rainy days it was great to get out of town and have a small wander. Needless to say, San Jia Cun has changed a lot since we were last there. Half the older red brick houses have been replaced by white-tiled, concrete monstrosities double the size. I understand people want larger, newer houses, but why not build larger brick ones, and just stay off the ceramics? There's no accounting for taste I suppose.

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.