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Beijing: Part One

Beijing Travel Blog

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Worshipping Mao

It's slightly unnerving here in Beijing. I've been reading 'Wild Swans' by Jung Chang and looking at the history of China a little bit. The book has been a bit of an eye opener, I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about Communism before I came here, and what I have read is really scary. Walking into Tiananmen Square and being searched, and watching as all the soldiers march up and down with their red Communist armbands on kind of frightens me.

Tiananmen Square
I won't take the book out of the hostel anymore, as I heard it is banned in China and I suspect they would actually arrest me if they knew I had it. Many people have even covered up the front of their guidebooks as border control have been known to remove them in case the history casts them in an unfavourable light. Apparantly 10% of websites in Beijing are blocked by the government for displaying information 'against public interest', this includes the BBC news website (although I have to say that on the laptop we have had no problems). We went down to the square this evening, to see it at night and it was completely shut off, with many guards blocking all possible entrances. I suppose it is because it is easier to form a protest under the cover of dark, I'm not sure. I have certainly read than as recently as 1999 people showing the first signs of protest have been taken to jail and alegedly tortured.
Tiananmen square at night


A much less important point, but very annoying on a day to day basis is the staring we are getting. In Shanghai we sort of got used to people asking for their pictures taken with us, although it definatly got tedious. Here however I have been very aware of people just standing and staring at us. Not subtly, no no, but stopping, in their tracks and just STARING. It really is (to be unarticulate about it) doing my flamin' head in. I don't know what it is going to be like in a months time when the Olympics start and tourists start flocking, no one is going to get any work done. It is reassuring to hear from other people that it is not just US they are staring at, but still, doesn't help the paranoia!!


Speaking of the Olympics, I am not altogether sure that the city will be ready in time.

Being stared at in the station
There is so much building work going on, the small street that our hostel was on was practically a building site. Tiannenmen square has more scaffolding each day, and they were even building mini pagodas on the street!! Plus, note to anyone planning on entering Beijing by train, the metro attached to the train station plans to be shut until after the Olympics. Yes thats right, one of the the biggest world events to hit the city and they close the most important metro station. We suspected it was a ploy to get everyone into inflated price cabs (us cynical??).


On Sunday we went to one of the weekend markets to practise our bartering skills. I think I'm getting quite good, and we have developed a 'good cop bad cop' routine where I really want it, but Lisa says it's too expensive and makes us walk away! We bought a nice wooden chopstick set for 1/3 of the initial price and some fans.

The street with our hostel on it, still being built!!
There was a large book section too, full of Communist memorobilia and Mao propoganda, I can't believe how much he is still revered here.


In the spirit of investigating Communism we visited the mauseleum in Tiananmen square. We had to get up pretty early as it closed at midday and we had to queue and get searched before we went in. The most shocking part was seeing people buying flowers and laying them in a room before the coffin, hundreds and hundreds of flowers. It is absolute madness. Well, I say the most shocking part, but I guess seeing the preserved corpse of Chairman Mao is not something you do everyday! We filed past, then into the shop, selling all manner of Mao souveniers. So if you get a lifesize Mao statue as a present, look appreciative!!


We have thought a lot about this (this paragraph mainly consists of ramblings), and how the Chinese can still hold him in such high regard.

Weekend Market
The current government's official position is that he was 70% right and 30% wrong. I wonder how much the young people today even know about what he did? Given the internet lock down surrounding Chinese history, and the bias of information, the young Chinese may still be taught that he was a wonderful man. It's crazy.


Our train to Xi'an was not til the evening so we spent our last day on 'Silk Street' in the markets. Wow our bargainning skills are fanTAStic. Among other things we bought a painting for 40Y (3 pounds) when she started at 250Y (18.50 pounds!!) We actually walked off twice and she shouted at us to come back with lower and lower offers until we looked at each other and agreed!! We were bidding on things we didn't even really want just to see how low we could get them – SO much fun!!

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Worshipping Mao
Worshipping Mao
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen square at night
Tiananmen square at night
Being stared at in the station
Being stared at in the station
The street with our hostel on it, …
The street with our hostel on it,…
Weekend Market
Weekend Market
Beijing
photo by: Deats