Beijing to London 2002: « Great Wall: Simatai   Summer palace »

Wednesday, July 10th, 2002 | 39°48' N, 119°27' E
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In my second week in China, the department was organising a three day trip to Qinhuangdao, 200 miles from Beijing on the coast of the Yellow Sea. It was partly a mini-conference and partly just a holiday, and as well as most of the department from PKU there were also some people from Shanghai Astrophysical Observatory. We left Beijing at 7am on the Monday morning, and had a pleasant four hour journey through fields and mountains to the sea.

We arrived at about midday, and the first priority was lunch. The emphasis was on sea food and I had all sorts of things I hadn’t tried before, like jelly fish. After lunch I went to the beach to play football with the other students, having an extraordinarily strenuous game in 40°C heat. After twenty minutes of getting burnt from all directions – sun above, sand cooking our feet below – we decided today wasn’t the day for football, and just relaxed on the beach instead.

On the Tuesday we had three hours of talks in the morning. Most of them were given in Chinese, so I didn’t take a whole lot away from them. I gave a talk but spoke much too quickly and so many of my audience probably didn’t take a whole lot away from mine either. After that fair exchange, the work part of the trip was over, and we headed back to the beach for more games of football in the stunning heat. Later in the evening I went for a walk with a few of the students to a nearby night market, and then we sat on the beach and relaxed under the stars until late. It was my 24th birthday.

The next day we went on an excursion to Shanhaiguan, where the Great Wall meets the sea. It was staggeringly full of tourists, so that it was quite difficult to move around, so I found the end of the wall more impressive in concept than reality. I hoped one day I’d visit the other end at Jiayuguan, over a thousand miles inland from here.

On the way back to Beijing, I was dozing in the bus when I became aware that we’d developed a vibration. A regular, rapid thudding had started, and it was gradually getting worse. After half an hour or so it was becoming intolerable, and then suddenly, the tyre right below where I was sitting exploded. We careered along the motorway and slid to a halt. Luckily all the passengers were intact, and the only damage was to the bus. The head of the department made some calls, and we waited on the hard shoulder. About an hour later, a minibus arrived, and ferried us to a nearby service station. We got some dinner there, and then about an hour after that, another bus arrived to take us back to Beijing. We got back safely at midnight, seven hours after we’d left the coast.