Cops 'n' Dumplings.
âOooof!ââŚ bang, thwack, crashâŚ âYIPES!ââŚ craaack, smack, wallopâŚ âooooh-ouch!ââŚ bish, bosh, BASH!âŚ âJeez thatâs gotta hurt!â. Seriously, nobody should have to suffer an attempt to have a dumpling steaming tray to be forcibly inserted into that part of their body! âSH*T! That smarts!â. Itâs 7.30am. Morning two in Beijing. And the Dumpling Wars of Da Zha Lan have just kicked off.
I have just stepped outside the confines of Leo Hostel for a breath of âŚum?âŚ âfreshâ air?âŚ when aaall Hell breaks loose! The whole street from next door down has just erupted in the most monumental of spontaneous street brawls.
There must be 20 or more people involved. Fists and feet are flying. Faces and bodies are being repeatedly battered. Heavily. There is screaming, shouting, bawling and calling and blood curdling expletives being cast to the skies. I donât speak Chinese but I know
those are expletives. You can tell by the colour these violent execrations are turning the air about. What on earth is going on? Itâs women on men. Men on women. Women on women. Itâs all against all. An indistinguishable tangle of violence and hatred. âSheesh! These Beijingese have got some tempers on âem!â.
I mean seriously, all available implements are being used to cause damage. Metal litter tongs, brooms, cooking implements (even comedy value enhancing frying pans) and being as Da Zha Lan street is one giant building site right now there is an unfortunate abundance of metal piping and long planks of wood with nails in that are being commandeered to inflict misery on ones foes.
Jingshan Park pagoda (detail)
There is blood everywhere. Pints of it. Streaming down faces and clothes âtil literally the white aprons and garb of the dumpling chefs (for this ultimately is a feud between two dumpling restaurants that face each other across the street and compete very
enthusiastically for customers) are a totality of bright scarlet dye.
Iâve never witnessed anything like this before! So much visceral violence. The women are particularly enthusiastic today, laying in and reigniting the festivities any number of times by launching at one of their male antagonisers. âAmyâ from Leo eventually is able to break the hypnotically voyeuristic spell cast by observing such episodes long enough to call the local cops who 15 minutes later arrive and start to break things up.
Dressing up for the cameras, Jingshan Park.
But itâs a mess. Dumpling stands and steaming towers wrecked upon the ground (there goes my breakfast!). Men with deep livid red gashes on their cheeks and above their eyes. Women with blood verily caked into their matted, clotted banshee-dishevelled black-red waterfalls of hair. Yâallâve seen that scene from âCarrieâ
with the bucket of pigs blood right? I stroll to the far end of Da Zha Lan and find a âpacifistâ dumpling (baozi) shop for breaky. As I sit and chew and muse the cops show up. All street side food in this neck of the woods will now be off the menu today and the proprietors have to bring in their steaming towers and tools.
Hey, tempers are bound to flare sometimes I guess. Itâs a big city.
"Made her look a little like a military man..." :)
A hot city. The capital city. A lot of people. Boys and Girls, ladies and gents, I mean a lot
of people! I am in Beijing for four days and it is this first true immersion into the presence, the hubbub of Chinaâs modern masses; amidst Maoâs Millions that will be the defining experience that I endure and take away from the capital. Not until I had arrived here had I begun to have any genuine concept of the scale of Chinaâs legendarily large population. 1.36 billion people and rising. One fifth of the worldâs estimated population. You are not alone.
And unfortunately, for there can be no helping these things sometimes, two of my days here fall on the weekend when everyone comes to town, Beijing goes hyper and the sights become absolutely swamped.
More of which shortly.
I had a mini walking tour yesterday after having the pleasure of catching up with my former travel partners Nick and Emmy in the few hours before they caught their train to Hong Kong. I climbed up the hill in Jingshan Park to look back over the yellow-tiled roofs of the Forbidden City but did not a lot else on day one. Yesterday, as with today, was hot but the sun totally suffocated beneath the infamous white-grey pall mixture of humid steam and pollution that blights Beijingâs skies and robs what great views and architectural structures it has of much of their power to impress on more days than it donât. Which is a shame. The Forbidden City does not impress under such drab duress. A tear gas haze mutes the life of Tiananmen Square once more? The famous âBirdâs Nestâ Olympic stadium whilst undoubtedly a virtuoso architectural performance, looks old and tired and dirty already; depressed, its aspirational sheen somewhat snuffed out by the greyness that swallows Beijingâs scenery to invisibility some days within 2 kilometres of vision in any direction.
One of the viewing pagodas, Jingshan Park.
So yep, itâs the weekend. Time to visit the Forbidden City. En route you stroll through the vast paved sprawl of Tiananmen Square. Mao Zedongâs mausoleum resides here amongst other structures and today the âchildrenâ of his revolution are here to visit him. In their thousands upon thousands. Itâs early morning but the queue to enter and see the former head of state in his state of funerary stasis is just inconceivably large. HUGE! The longest queue I have ever seen, for anything ever! The line of Chinese with their bright yellow and red tour group baseball caps snakes and winds and backs up along and around the Square seemingly without end. Any vague plans I had of visiting The Man and adding him to my list of âPopsicle Presidentsâ with Ho Chi Minh are instantly shelved.
Smoggy view of the Forbidden City from atop Jingshan Park.
I gawp, âclickâ
and move on.
If there is one abiding travel tip I can impart to you when considering a trip to Beijing I can only emphatically state âDO NOT GO THERE AT A WEEKEND!â. Or if ya do, set those two days aside for easy chillinâ. The place, particularly those parts youâre most likely to want to visit with your all too precious time literally swarms to insanity once Saturday comes. And I was kinda aware and forewarned of this myself. But hey, what can ya do.
The Forbidden City is a total frickinâ nightmare! I mean I am literally in shell shock following my 4 or so hours within its thronging walls. This is not a tourist destination. This is a siege! The siege of the Forbidden City.
Entrance to the Forbidden City (detail)
Youâve seen those scenes in movies such as Zhang Yimouâs âThe Curse of the Golden Flowerâ
filmed here right? Those ranked masses of soldiers have nothing
on these guys! No halberds and spears or archers and grappling hooks this time but banners are indeed held aloft by the hundred and waving in the breeze calling to arms âTour group please, follow me, follow me!â.
Near biblical floods of Chinese tourists surge through this site at the weekends. A crashing tidal wave of camera toting humanity that bursts through the confines of the iconic grand entrance with its high red wooden doors studded with circular brass knuckles and flows ever onwards along the unfortunately linear composition of the âcityâ.
The clammering and yammering and the raucous squawk of a thousand tour guide megaphones. Jostling and jolting, the so so revolting visual mush and physical crush of brightly coloured, goggle-eyed gawpers (myself counted in their number of course) pushing ever onwards, up and over the stairs and along. An indefatigable, swelling river with rip currents and undertows liable to claim the (will to live of the) weary, the p**sed off and the weak.
The stormy waters analogy works well enough. The heart-thread concourse of the Forbidden City, in keeping with architectural norms of Chinese temple and palace tradition is a long, looong linear succession of ever larger, grander âgoldâ ceramic-tile roofed pavilion structures stretching back one after the other.
Long corridor in the Forbidden City.
So many dams, one set before another, slowing but never stemming the flow of this frothing river of turbulent tourism. Wave after wave of people break against the walls and Perspex windows of each pavilion. Whoooosh âCraaaash!â.
The waters batter against wood and brick. Everybody crushed body and face against the barriers and windows through which little or nothing can be seen before they are forced to flow to one side or the other and on. Trust me itâs more than your lifeâs worth. But those photos must
be got it seems. It doesnât matter that every single one of the 23 trillion photos that will be taken of this place today will be total utter cr*p (most of mine included), arms are thrust and punched through the blob-like agglomeration of bodies squished against the pavilions or held wonkily aloft and âsnap snap snapâ
they all click away.
The Bird's Nest Olympic stadium.
If nations can be perceived to have a photographic personality (as famously once the Japanese did - but as a chap said to me the other day âWe are all Japanese now. They used to be the ones with the cameras and âsnap snap snap snapâ taking their photos by the million. But now, with digital cameras, we are all Japanese!â
) then Chinaâs is rabid. A sea of Nokia phones clutched aloft and people lugging expensive super-gun sized, penis-extension Nikons bigger than themselves along and which they just about know how to turn on. Itâs all quite a sight. Quite a fright my friends.
But I see, my memories caught up in the surge of such traumatic but amusing travel reminiscences I have been in Beijing 4 days and told you absolutely nothing and taught you even less about it.
Serene moments are possible at The Summer Palace.
I apologise. But sometimes itâs better and more fun to distil ones experiences through the focus upon just an abiding moment or two. For there will be a hundred other âhow I got there and what I ate and whenâ
Beijing blogs to be found not too many clicks from here I imagine. I did other things in Beijing of course. Strolling around the Hutong âoldâ narrow streets. Avoiding scammers. Good food. Not so good food. Parks. Some larks. Buses. More smog. Tiredness. I am getting tired now. This probably has something to do with my less that hyperbolic response to the nationâs capital to be fair. The Summer Palace. Nice enough. Some serene scenes. Busy once again, but with the possibility of side-stepping away from the madding crowds.
An addiction to the 1RMB (10p) ice pops that people sell there.
So I think Iâll leave it at that and a bit of a photographic overload (3 days snapping condensed to one, sorry!). You will join me for a stroll though along the Great Wall tomorrow wonât you? And then onwards I think. Ever flowing onwards. Humanityâs; Chinaâs great current sweeping me along.