After arriving back from 3 weeks away with much excitement I celebrated my 1 year on the road anniversary (if I can still call it being 'on the road') with a walk along the Great Wall of China with Cecily, an experience that is among the few to manage to live up to my expectations and an incredible way to mark the 366th day since I cycled away from home in Eastbourne!
Que more lazy days in coffee shops and quandaries about what to do from day 389 onwards...
In the meantime, I survived an evening out in the firework-and-debris strewn Beijing streets, when regulation and sense are left behind for the last legal opportunity to set off fireworks in the city. The Lantern Festival falls on the first full moon of the new lunar year and marks the end of China's, and much of Asia's, mammoth 15-day New Year festivities.
Close your eyes and you could be in a war zone. Open them and you still could be.
The firework displays I'm used to involve a couple of trained pyrotechnicians in a 200-metre exclusion zone. These are boring. My new favourite firework displays involve a guy who had 150 yuan in his pocket and a cigarette (the firework lighter of choice). Plonk the jumbo box down in the middle of the road without fanfare, light the fuse (is it lit? maybe? better check...) and retreat to the safe distance of 3 or 4 feet. People nearby? They'll be gone once the first one explodes. Part fear, part awe, everyone then stands for the next 60 seconds and watches the fireworks explode into the neighbouring buildings, sparks returning to earth unextinguished, stray non-vertical eruptions threatening us all but, in a Russian Roulette kind of way, that is part of the fun. And it was fun; I couldn't stop laughing with excitement the first time I saw it on my way to the shops. Whaaaaat?! It's a great example of the lack of rules and regulations, but the aftermath is all you need to realise why the rules and regulations exist. Every year at this time those that forget to close their windows find their apartments gutted - this year's toll: 194 fires (in Beijing), 388 injuries (in the first 6 days), 40 deaths (nationally), and 5,945 fires nationwide in 32 hours.
Cecily is currently visiting one of 'the world's most polluted places' for her work so I have finally managed to leave Beijing behind for a few days in Xi'an, the city at the end of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Warriors. Shrouded in the eponymous Chinese haze that has been noticeably absent for most of my time in Beijing, Xi'an is crowded and polluted and historically significant, an ancient capital and political, economic and cultural centre of China.
I'll have to post a mammoth photo update of the Great Wall and the Warriors once I'm free of the bounds of China's internet control, which will come with my visa expiring on March 9th, as, like the Great Wall, describing them in words is a pointless exercise.