Arrival In Beijing
Beijing Travel Blog› entry 108 of 117 › view all entries
The overnight train to Beijing was the best yet, with no smoking, a restaurant and bar (to keep the Aussies from going insane) and even a Western-style toilet. Once on, one of the guards started giving the hard sell on some wind-up torches he had to sell. It seems they all have their own side-projects going on. I was just commenting how bad they were when pretty much the whole of our group bought one. Stone the crows.
He was a bit of a character; once I had failed in an attempt to sell him my own torch for twice the price of his, I found out via an interpreter that once he realised I didn't want one, he said I had a face better seen in the dark. I had absolutely no comeback.
In Xi'an I had bought some souvenirs, seen as I only have a couple of weeks to carry them around. I bought a painting by a local artist that I got reduced from 2,500 Yuan to 120 Yuan. I was happy with that. Then I got a Terracotta Warrior clay statue for about two quid. I left happy with the purchases. By the time I got off the train, the painting was with the lovely people at my hotel in Xi'an and the statue had not successfully negotiated the fall from the third bunk-bed tier and lay in pieces, much to the amusement of my new Geckos friends. The mongrels.
The first thing that hits you in Beijing is the pollution. The rest of China seems to be covered in a layer of smog, but the air in Beijing is horrible; I was out of breath just walking down the street.
We headed out straight away, with plenty to see. The Forbidden City was up first - so called because for 400 of its 500-year-old existance, it has been off-limits for commoners like you and, to a lesser extent, me. Beijing, and indeed China as a whole, is a country under renovation. Much of the reason is to show off the city in the 2008 Olympics. So it wasn't a massive surprise to see that the biggest and best buildings within the walls were covered in scaffolding, but a shame nonetheless. I was interested to learn that one emperor had 55 children, taken from over 50,000 concubines within the city that were at his disposal! He must have been a busy man.
The Aussies and myself then caught a taxi to check out Beijing's Hutong, the narrow, historic alleyways that are being phased out in a lot of places as China makes its leap into modernity. To be honest, someone had obviously spotted a way to make a dollar and they had all been given a lick of paint, restaurants and bars have sprouted up and persistant rickshaw drivers don't let you walk for two minutes in peace.
I find it hard to comprehend fully, but China seems like a country in denial - either that or a country still living in fear of its communist government. It seems inplausible to me - and most people in the West, I would imagine - that Chairman Mao Zedong, a man directly responsible for somewhere between 30 million and 60 million deaths as a result of the disastrous economical reform, "The Great Leap Forward," can still be treated as a hero, appear on money and have statues in every public square in the country.
That evening we went to see Chun Yi: The Legend Of Kungfu at the Red Theatre.