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.
Mary Chen

Dear Lisa ,
I miss you very much.


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