Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Beijing 03.04.10 - 06.04.10

Walking Street south of Tiananmen Square
Soong Chingling's garden (She was the wife of Sun Yatsen, the first revolutionary leader in post-imperialist China)

Bell Tower/ roof of Drum Tower
Beijing could not be more different to the places we've just been visiting. First of all, in terms of climate, we've gone right down to the bottom end of the scale. It feels like winter here, a cold wind blows and the sun is the only warmth at the highest point during the day. The city itself seems very wintery in its cold coloured apartment blocks, which are very non-descript and the spindly trees which are only just starting to grow leaves. It's all very much like a Lowry painting- people in winter clothes silhouetted against vast white and grey built up landscapes. We take a shuttle bus to downtown from the airport. We tried the underground but were refused entry on their security check because Greg's carrying two knives in his luggage and they showed up on the xray. At the entrance to every subway station, Tiananmen Square and every government building there are security checks. Our hostel is an old traditional Hutong building which used to be a restaurant. It's built round an inner courtyard that's open to the elements, as necessitated by Feng Shui and the room doors lead off this. It's odd to us that we need central heating now as we're so used to bumping up the air conditioning in every place we stay. One of the first things we do is purchase a puffer ski jacket each to keep cosy. There's a walking street (it's pedestrianised) nearby which leads up to the South Gate of Tiananmen Square. The Square, Mao's mausoleum and the sacred Forbidden City all line up exactly on a north to south axis in the centre of the city. The walking street was designed and built for the Olympic Games in 2008 to present a pleasant place to sightsee and shop surrounded by traditional style specially designed buildings. It feels like Christmas to us wandering up and down as Christmas in the UK is the only time to see many people out and about on the streets in the evening buying last minute presents- and it's freezing cold. Beijing has many places to visit. The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Olympic stadium not to mention all the special emperor's gardens and museums in the centre of downtown. We spend our first full day on a self guided walking tour and we soon realise the distances on the map are a lot further than we think. The city is very easy to navigate though with its wide streets and all the street signs are translated into English also. We grow to really like the airiness and prettiness of the place with it's well tended gardens and long tree lined boulevards. The pavements are well looked after and there is very little litter. If someone does drop something there'll be soon enough a street sweeper along to pick it up. We find the population to be not as controlled as we expected however. It's not like Hong Kong where there are signs warning you not to do sit, stand, litter, spit, lie down etc. In Beijing we witness men fishing out of the city's manmade lakes where people are out promenading or paddling round in tourist boats. There are many police and security guards present but they turn a blind eye to such things. And, with our sensitive British constitutions, we're a bit taken aback by the gutteral noises of everyone clearing their throats and then spitting on the ground anywhere and everywhere. And the unusual design of toddlers' pants and trousers where the crotch has been cut out in order that their mums can hoist their legs up wherever they are to do their business on the ground. I guess it's more environmentally friendly by not using nappies but most probably it's just cheaper and it lets the babys' bums breathe (no nappy rash!).
We find the younger generation a lot more contemporary in their styles and attitudes than in previous East Asian countries we've visited and more open to holding hands and showing affection in public. A lot of the young guys have adopted big hair with long fringes and sharp angles, teamed with shiny coloured bomber jackets, skinny jeans and white sneakers. The girls can be very feminine with their trends towards doll like accessories, little bow clips in their hair and lacy froo froo dresses with button details. Some young people act like they've never seen a white person with blond hair before and insist on taking pictures of us and posing with us. This is a compliment to begin with but after we've been followed around an art gallery while we're trying to look at paintings, it gets a bit much. To defend myself I take out my big SLR camera and point straight back at them hoping that it'll give them the message. It often doesn't!