Beijing to Xi’an

Ah I do love hotel life. My dark, dingy room in the hazy suburb of Delhi seems a million miles away from here. Sorry Kapoors, if you’re reading this it’s not that I don’t like our cosy place in Gurgaon, I had just forgotten what it was like to have a freshly made bed, AC, running water and electricity. Reality check; we have just arrived at the New Henderson Hotel in Xi’an after a day of sightseeing in the city. I could get used to this.

It’s not all luxury. Last night we caught the hard sleeper from Beijing to Xi’an, trying to obtain some form of sleep with blaring Chinese pop music in the background. I shouldn’t complain, I got some good hours in once the music stopped and it was luxury compared to the sleeper train I got in India a few weekends ago.

There are drawbacks too. We were too busy sitting around in hotels organising conferences to see much of Beijing. We could have been in any city in the world. But I am grateful for the opportunity to meet such thought-provoking people and have genuine conversations about topics that are rarely discussed at home and among peers.

So after an evening in Beijing on Thursday, I took my last opportunity to explore on Friday morning by getting up early and revisiting Tian’anmen Square, a half hour walk from the hostel. A very misty, wet and miserable day, but I enjoyed being back in the centre on familiar ground. Then I rushed back to the hostel to check-out and made my way to meet Leon and Michael, SUCHEN’s backer. Friday afternoon was spent meeting the Beijing conference team and the other expeditioners. Saturday was the day of the conference so we were up early and making the necessary preparations at the conference hotel. We stayed in place a little out of town so it was good to see a bit of the city as we drove through.

The conference went smoothly, about 100 people showed up. A good lineup of speakers too. As a surprise last minute thing the organisers managed to persuade Maurice Strong to give a short speech, a key figure in climate change circles and known as the father of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, when world leaders first started taking notice of the issue. Other notable speakers included John Liu, an expert on the Loess Plateau Rehabilitation project, nobel laureate Sir John Houghton the former co-chair of the IPCC, Andrew Jones director of the sustainability institute and Michael Nayler, SUCHEN’s principal sponsor and advisor to the Prince’s Rainforest Trust. Interspersed between the talks were ten minute intervals during which the delegates mingled and exchanged ideas. A very interesting collection of people from all over and a fair representation of expatriates working in sustainable business fields in Beijing.

Sunday was our sightseeing day in Beijing, although we didn’t manage to see much due to time restrictions and the Great Wall being closed. Nevertheless, we had a productive morning in the hotel talking to a guy who founded a carbon credit trading company in Beijing. Some interesting insights. Then to the Temple of Heaven, a popular tourist magnet. And finally, after reorganising our things and condensing the conference equipment, to the station to catch our sleeper train to Xi’an.

This morning we rocked up in Xi’an and found our driver to take us on a whirl wind tour of the city. First stop, a large temple in the city centre. Second stop, the Terra-cotta Army, a fair drive out of the city. Its an impressive sight, some estimated 8,000 model warriors standing in situ across three pits. I hadn’t realised just how much excavation work is still going on, although some parts of the pits are being filled back in again for preservation. Tonight we meet the Xi’an conference team to discuss arrangements for the conference on Wednesday. Tomorrow we visit the Loess Plateau to study the ecosystem rehabilitation project that John Liu spoke about in Beijing. I will update again at the next opportunity.

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