Eventually morning came with another hotel breakfast and yet more packing. Packing and hotel breakfasts are two of the unavoidable downsides of travel. Cooler, overcast and much clearer today which is a real win for our programme.
Rather touchingly Ling Ling had a small pendant as a gift for us, with the ideograph for peace on one side and happiness on the reverse. She has been an excellent guide and we have thoughily enjoyed her sense of humour and knowledge. Se have promised to send her some photos.
First stop today were the Hutongs, the small lanes of Beijing. Mostly it looked like building work as preparations for the Olympics move to fever pitch. The lake in the middle is surrounded by bars of one sort or another and would be a great venue for a few drinks. Our Hutong guide Wagh (spelling is a guess) was good fun and that and the rickshaw ride were were very worth while.
The highlight of the Hutongs was a visit to a typical family home. In our case the residents were retired and have developed a useful sideline in hosting visitors. We sat with Madame in her lounge and had an interesting chat (interpreted by Ling Ling and Wagh) about life in the Hutongs where she has lived for over 40 years, specifically the shared sanitation, financial issues and our shared absence of grandchildren. Apparently a Hutong will cost three times the cost of an apartment which seems unbelievable but you get your own bit of private outdoor space which is worth more than money.
The Beijing Zoo on a Sunday, especially 'childrens day' should be avoided. Trust me here, there are a lot of children and their parents and they all want to see the pandas. I had trouble deciding if it were us or the pandas who were in the cages. Pandas while very cute are not very animated so you may not be too impressed.
Lunch was a tourist cafe and really rather dreary. Lots of fat foreigners eating Chinese style French Fries. We were stuck with it due to the large numbers of locals taking their little darlings out for a treat on 'childrens day'. 14 million people make quite an impression on the environment.
Last though the Summer Palace just goes to show the wealth and power of the emperors. Again most of the structures and indeed the gardens are re-constructions of the originals but no less impressive for that. The boat trip over the lake and entry into the palace, if that's what it was, were well worth while extras (approx $NZ 2 each). Mike and Sue (and maman) were waiting to get onto our ferry as we disembarked.
That was the end of Beijing tour and we were whisked off to the airport with a mere four and a half hours to spare before a flight. We were able to stretch a cup of tea out to an hour which was pushing it. Dinner was a kind of Chinese Burger King; Tasty Tang. It was ok.
The flight was predictably late but we were met at Taiyuan by our new guide, the improbably named David. The Shanxi World Trade Hotel was essentially a bed for the night but was very comfortable if a little tired. Our room on the 25th floor was fine but gave us a good view of the concrete jungle that is Taiyuan.