Beijing

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Does a few glasses of Great Wall red wine help or hinder when using Chinese toilets in the middle of the night whilst the bogies are being changed on the train at the Mongolia border? The jury is out, although the second bottle was definitely better than the first shared with a couple from Perth in the restaurant car.

It was the night the bogies change went badly as it was 3 extra hours of whistle blowing, fiddling with the bogies and the train going back and forth before we finally crossed the border into Mongolia at Zamyn-Uud in the wee small hours.

We left behind the country where they talk like they're singing and write like they're painting. The Forbidden City in Beijing and the many treasures over 800 palaces held included beautiful scrolls, some as ancient as 260 AD.

Across the jam packed 12 lane road (that I talked my uncle out of an attempt at hurdling the barrier and jaywalking) where luxury European cars jostled with bicycles and the odd rickshaw, at Tiananmen Square everything was massive in scale. The surrounding buildings of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, and the Monument to the People's Heroes made less of a political statement at night when lit up and filled by families strolling the warm, humid night and flying kites.

The stern faces of guards posted outside heavily secured government buildings contrasted with the smiling faces and young lovers embracing on the wide wide pavements. A dozen people astride plus the odd motorbike and car were accommodated on the pavements of the huge city blocks that took many minutes to walk.

The streets and the impressively clean and English signposted subway were filled with the young and the fashionable many of them able to speak English to some degree.

However, when labouring up the steep path to the Great Wall at Simitai, it was a tiny, wizened 62 year old farmer who gently took my hand for the treacherous parts (that our guide had told us several tourists had plummeted off the side), and fanned me with an ornate fan - that naturally he tried to sell to me.

Beijing was a beguiling mix of the new and young China with its rich cultural heritage, whilst also the showpiece of Mao.

The old and bleak poor farming areas of China were visible from the train yesterday as were several kilometres of the Great Wall (but no rabbits).

Today the vast, desolate plains of the Gobi Desert with the odd small group of camels, goats, sheep and ponies pass by the restaurant car window.
I'm enjoying the local Mongolian Lager under a very serious bow and arrow set that decorates the wall of our restaurant car.

Onto to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia!