Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Christmas Journey Part IV: China: Part II!

On Tuesday, me and Claire jumped on the train from Tianjin to Beijing to take a look around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Obviously in our foreign ignorance, we had not a clue where we were heading and almost headed home thinking we’d seen Tiananmen Square when we hadn’t even set foot inside it. We’d looked around the Forbidden City for a while, posed for our picture in front of Mao’s portrait, laughed at the guard’s War-era Germany-style uniforms, and were just heading off to lunch to ponder why the world’s biggest public square (Tiananmen) seemed underwhelmingly small, when it dawned on us. Looking across the street, the penny dropped.  “Shit, that’s Tiananmen Square”. Some would say degrading, but we got there in the end.

Sunset at the Forbidden City

Christmas Day itself was much more difficult than I envisioned it being. Having spent the past twenty Christmases with my family in England, it just didn’t even feel like Christmas being so far away from home. I haven’t really felt much homesickness in the past five months (how has it been FIVE months?) – I mean, obviously I miss my family and friends a tonne, but that’s kind of been overshadowed by all the new and exciting experiences I’ve been having. Either way, I certainly felt homesick on Christmas Day. A Skype call home to the family, and some pretty big news from my brother, was enough to bring the tears. Thankfully, all of their presents arrived on time and everyone seemed pretty chuffed with their new Japanese wares. But looking through the Skype window into my living room thousands of miles away, full of family, was tougher than I thought it was going to be, for sure.

Still, there wasn’t much time to be sad! Let’s just say a year ago I didn’t imagine I’d be spending my Christmas getting down at an African students’ party, winning the Christmas raffle. We’d been handed our raffle tickets when we first sat down, but, being the inquisitive type, I hadn’t taken the two seconds to check my number. So, when number 100 was called, I didn’t even realise it was us. Before I’d even had a chance to put the verbal full stop on my sentence saying how funny it would be if we won, one glance at my ticket showed that we had, in fact, done just that, that very second. Too funny. So I’m now the owner of a delicious bottle of women’s perfume. What’s more, there’s a photo of me accepting my prize soon to be put in some African Students’ publication. Internationalisation or what?

After Christmas passed, it definitely felt like an invisible burden had been lifted and both me and Claire got a new lease of life to explore some more of China’s most famous sights. And where more famous than the Great Wall? Whereas, or perhaps because, Tiananmen Square had crept upon us as something of a slightly underwhelming surprise, expectations for the Wall itself were low. Reports from friends had been that it was overrated as a tourist attraction, and that in the winter months in particular we’d struggle to make much fun of it. Well, I’m glad we stuck to our guns and went anyway, because we had a great time!


The sights from the Wall were really pretty extraordinary and it wasn’t so busy that they were impossible to appreciate. After we’d made our way to the top, we then made our way back down to do some omiyage shopping for some of my JTEs and Japanese friends. It was my first experience haggling with a shopkeeper over the price of their goods and I fucking loved it. Apprentice candidates eat your heart out. I know some of my Japanese friends read this, so I don’t want to give away what I ended up buying them, but let’s just say we negotiated hard and walked away with some quality bargains! Perhaps most impressively, me and Claire saw two panda hats we liked and after having initially been offered one for Y180, we ended up walking away with two for Y100. Win.

Understandably, the sight of what appeared to be a foreign couple wandering around Beijing in matching panda hats was apparently too much for some passersby to take. We were definitely feeling smug at how cute we knew we looked. And when our cuteness caused one particularly intrigued Chinese man to stare so hard he seemingly forgot how to walk and fell down the subway stairs, our smugness was vindicated.

So, after two weeks of travelling, it was time to pack up my panda hat and jump on a plane back to Japan! Travelling straight from the club to the airport at 5AM probably wasn't the wisest idea I've ever had, but my journey home ended up being a relatively smooth one... smooth, but LONG, clocking in at a grand total of 26.5 HOURS. Wow. I eventually arrived back in Johen at 7.30AM this morning. Not bothering to unpack, I jumped straight into bed for a quick nap. ...only to awake ten hours later, dazed and confused at 5.30PM. I knew I was tired, but that's a new record, for sure!

Well then, after four rambling entries, that's it for my Christmas Journey of 2011! Megu's coming to pick me up early tomorrow morning to head to Matsuyama for some post-Christmas sales shopping, so I should grab a (relatively) early night... as if I need more sleep! I want to write a post reflecting on 2011 as a whole/what I hope for 2012 sometime soon, but I'll save it for another day. For now... Happy New Year and good night!

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