We decided to visit the Museum of China as we were not required to meet with our fellow travellers until later in the afternoon. As we were preparing to leave we met up with Peter a lovely, laid back Australian chap who was also with the Odyssey party. He asked if he could join us on our excursion and off we went! A taxi took us to Tiananman Square and we we emerged from its air conditioned loveliness to the blanket of heat and teeming humanity that was the centre of Beijing on a warm school holiday day in July. Phew!
We found the direction of travel required and headed up the side of the Square with the Forbidden City ahead. There were lots of police and military types about, far more than I remember when I was last hear nearly 20 years ago to walk the Wall. Far more people too. Thousands of Chinese tourists – a real sign of changing times! There is a feeling of good times about – nearly everyone we saw looked affluent and well dressed and heavily laden with all sorts of technical looking equipment.
The Museum of China is housed in a new massive building that takes up about half one side of the square. The British Museum would eat its heart out for the queues of people waiting to get in. However, it was all very efficient and after about half an hour of shuffling we were swallowed up into the building like our fellow ‘queuers’ and we hardly touched the sides! Entry was free on presenting our passport and what a hoard of riches were on display. It is all beautifully set out. We enjoyed the Ancient China in the basement that included artefacts from the Silk Road and ancient maps that showed China as the centre of the world. Indications that the 16th century missionaries who drew them were keen to play to their commissioners! I guess it was a healthy way to keep your head on your shoulders!
It is quite amusing to have rarity value! Several times older family members were seen encouraging their embarrassed offspring to come and demonstrate their ability to say ‘hello’ to us and others were found to be surreptitiously taking photographs with us in them! There is no accounting for taste!
We returned to the hotel to gather ourselves for the inaugural meeting of our travel group. There are 11 of us. Australian Peter, already mentioned, an old friend of his called Helen from Alice Springs, two other ladies, Wendy and Sarah (originally from Whitstable!) from Sydney, Diane from New Zealand and Barry, Ken and Elizabeth from Canada. Our two crew, a couple called Emma and Simon, from the UK and for the Chinese section (about 5 weeks) Jason our Chinese guide. We met in a nearby restaurant and after all the ‘who are you’ stuff and some basics about the trip (we have been advised that it is not a holiday!) we tucked into an excellent meal chosen by Jason and got to know each other a little better. I will save the pen pictures until I have had the opportunity to know them more, but suffice it to say that all of the travellers are of about the same age with many thousands of travelling miles under their belts. Elizabeth and Ken are considerably younger.
We adjourned to a bar and sat outside drinking beer and exchanging tales and then went to bed content that there were going to be interesting times ahead.
And then a major storm started which rumbled around most of the night. Apparently now is the time of the year for the majority of the rainfall to occur and they had a good helping over night!