Giant Panda’s and Tea Ceremony

I set the clock for 8.30 and we get up slowly, after our showers we have our breakfast in the courtyard traveller’s cafe across the road. It’s cool in there with loads of interesting things to look at such as arty photos of Chinese people and a traveller’s comments board but so smoky we decide we will try somewhere else tomorrow.

We wander up to the ATM and Ali tries out a few guitars on the way. We are thinking of buying him a new guitar and he likes having a practice on a few! We get some cash (Seems to be disappearing fast here) the currency is the Yuan and there are 15 Y to the pound. The hotel we are staying in is costing us Y522 per night (34 quid) and I will be glad to move out from Beijing and hopefully try and save a bit of money. At the moment though that seems unlikely, due to the week long Mayday celebrations train tickets are like gold dust and Saturday will be the earliest we can leave. Still, there’s loads to do here and I’m pleased we will see a lot of the sights.

We get in a taxi and ask for Beijing Zoo. All the reviews we have read of the zoo are quite awful but we really want to see the Giant Panda’s whilst we are in China. We did think about visiting the Panda Research Centre at Chengdu but as we don’t think we will have time to go there this may be our only opportunity. When we arrive, after sitting in solid traffic for half an hour we are again, astounded by the sheer numbers of people here. Getting around any of the sights of Beijing seems to be so hard and although we are getting used to all the pushing and shoving it is quite tough.

We pay up and head straight for the Giant Panda enclosure. When we finally see the panda’s we’re really pleased we have made the effort. Its great seeing them, chewing on their bamboo and despite the hundreds crowding in front of the glass, shouting, taking pictures and waving their children in the air, the panda’s seem completely oblivious to it all.

I read somewhere that the best examples of China’s “Little Emperors” can be seen here. Due to China’s One Child Policy children are often spoilt rotten and I had to resist the urge to tell one little boy to stop pushing me else I would push him back. (And hard!) We decide to give the rest of the zoo a complete miss and after getting a few photos head for the gates.

Getting a taxi is going to be an impossibility and we cross to the other side using the subway. Luckily we manage to grab a cab as the driver is dropping someone off and it turns out to be very fortuitous for us. The cabbie is, like many other people in Beijing frantically trying to learn some English in preparation for next years Olympic Games and is very friendly. We chat to him all the way back and eventually arrange for him to take us to The Great Wall tomorrow.

We have a quick drink at our hotel and then set off on foot to The Laoshe Teahouse. The Teahouse is very old and traditional and we are shown inside to a raised room, beautifully decorated with dark wood furniture and cosy sofas. We settle down and study the price list for tea ceremony. The girl encourages us to chose an oolong tea at around Y1250 but we realise this is over 80 quid and explain that we’re not paying that for a cup of tea no matter how delicate the taste. (I don’t even drink tea) We eventually settle for the cheap version for 20 quid and it’s worth every Yuan.

The tea ceremony is complex and intricate and it lovely hearing the explanation of the ceremony first in Mandarin and then in halting English. We learn how the tea is smelled and poured and how precisely to hold the tiny delicate tea cups. It takes around an hour in total and we agree we have had a great time.Ali the tea demon especially loved it!

We’re hungry now and chose a small local restaurant for dinner, hoping to save a bit of money as we have spent so much in the past few days. We have beef with ginger and onion, corns with pine nuts and pork strips with bamboo. Scrummy!

I read that China may bemuse or beguile you and so far I think for me it has done both. Although I knew Beijing would be busy I don’t think I was at all prepared for the thousands of people everywhere and it is taking a bit of getting used to. Simon and the kids seem to be thriving here though and perhaps like it more than me.

Its 9pm now and we’re all excited about visiting The Great Wall tomorrow, I’m off for a shower and then to bed.