China Travelogue 8: Lanzhou to Beijing

This Post: Lanzhou --> Beijing

Hi All,

I don't suppose any of you missed me very much...grin...all those long emails jamming up your accounts (heh heh heh)...okay okay...the journey is nearly over. Queenie and I are now in Nanking and have had a wonderful time in Beijing. Before we get to Beijing though there were two things I forgot to mention in the last post.

The first was when we were in Xiahe, at the Labrang monastry, a young, 16-y/o Tibetan Buddhist monk asked Queenie where she is from. Now in China this is a loaded question because soon as she says Taiwan then there is usually a long detailed telling of why Queenie is actually Chinese and to not raise the ire of others we usually have to just be silent and accept what they say or settle down for a long argument that gets nowhere. Anyway, the young guy asked where in China Queenie came from she said that she came from Taipei he immediately said that she is not Chinese but Taiwanese. We nearly fell over with shock! I then asked him if Tibetans are Chinese and his emphatic response was "NO" they are Tibetans! It was a really refreshing point of view.

The second point that is worth mentioning happened in Lanzhou on last week Saturday morning. When we went to be on the Friday evening it was a clear sky but when we woke up in the morning the city was covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. We were on one of the higher floors in the building so we had a really good view of the snow falling down and the snow covered rooftops and streets. What a pleasant and magical vision! Lanzhou is a dirty city but the snow seemed to make it as pure a place as any.

Okay, so onto Beijing! On the morning we left for the Lanzhou airport we met a really interesting driver who was only too interested to describe to us the thinking of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The guy though that politically Mao was one hundered percent spot on but economically he was 30% wrong (the wrong cost 30 - 40 million lives in the great leap forward). He told us that in the hearts of the Chinese Mao the most revered leader of all time. In fact, our driver who took us to the great wall on Wednesday, told us that the Chinese think of Mao as a God, but more of that conversation later!

We flew into Beijing on last week Sunday afternoon and we have spent one of the coldest but wonderful weeks of my whole life. When we landed the temperature was about -5C! After arriving at the hotel, we decided to go to Tianamen square but we thought we would walk! BIG MISTAKE. The first part of the walk was bearable but then we turned onto the mainroad that leads past Tianamen square and a huge wind hit us. We immediately froze! Coupled with the wind and the cold, Queenie wasn't feeling well! Despite all adversities we soldiered on until we finally got oppostie the square where some young are students invited us into a gallery to view their artwork and to try abd sell some of it! We immediately went in and started to feel our noses and ears again! We never bought any paintings and we never got into Tianamen square on that day! Too bad, we thought we would try again the next day! We also later learned that the temperature had actually dropped to -9C!

In fact, according to the weather report on the TV the weather had dropped all around the country because of a Siberian cold front that came in from the north. Those cold fronts are no friends of mine!

On Monday morning, after a MacDonalds breakfast, the first fast food in an eon, we dared to get to the square again. Well, we decided to do it by Taxi this time! WE MADE IT! Now the square itself I thought was fairly unimpressive but the weight of its history was upon our shoulders (as wall as the arctic wind) so it was a fairly moving experience to be standing in the square with Mao's mausaleum in the back and his portrait in the front. But, after standing in the square for about 15-minutes we dashed into the nearest restaurant (another MacDonalds) to get warm. After that we thought, "to hell with the weather," and went to one of the premier shopping malls in Beijing, the oriental plaza, and spent the day there where we watched two movies (Harry Potter, again, and Perhaps Love, a new Chinese film).

The following day, Tuesday, we went over to the Studio Classroom offices in Beijing (who used to supply me with English learning materials for the school I used to run) and met Bruce and Sarah, who are both absolutely fantastic people. In the evening we went to the English training of the Beijing Olympic Games Orginizing Committee and that too was a fantastic experience. Afterwards we met with Sarah and her husband who have similar worldviews to me and had a fantastic discussion about their bigger family in China, it was an excellent evening!

On Wednesday we also hooked up with the Taipei Language Institute (TLI) (who provided the Mandarin programs for the school we ran in Shenzhen) and had a great time meeting with them too. We even got invited to their Christmas party on Friday night which was a lot of fun.
Over the next few days we visited a bunch of the historical sites in Beijing: the Hutongs (old traditional Beijing houses), the Forbidden City, The Great Wall (which should not be climbed too fast), Beihai park, the Ming Dynasty Tombs and the old residence of Mei Song Ling (Sun Yat Sen's wife). The one thing that impacted me walking in Beijing was the full weight of history this city has. This is a city of emperors and empresses, of uprisings and some of the center of some of the greatest turmoil and strife of the 20th Century. The history in this city is amazing and we never did get to see all the sites! Unfortunately many of the places were partially closed so we couldn't see a lot, but we saw enough to satisfy.

The Hutongs are something that I found immensley interesting. These residences (or perhaps types of residences) have been in existence for over 700 years and the government, in an attempt to modernize the city for the 2008 Olympic games, are destroying about 10,000 homes a year. They are paying the residents compensation but despite this there seems to be a lot of nostalgic regret about the loss of these homes. I found this really surprising! Sure the Hutongs have a developed a subculture within them but according to our cyclo rider they do not come with central heating or bathrooms and 15 families will live in the smallest of places. No bathroom or shower! Imagine that it is -9C in the middle of the night and you really have to go? Who wants to run out to the public bathroom! Also, because they do not have showers in the home the residents have to use public showers to keep clean and apparently, according to our guide, this is not done very often. Now, I know I am an outsider and probably understand very little, but putting these people in different, modern homes will surely help their quality of life improve! Who am I to speak? The government does intend to keep a 5KM2 area open for tourists to visit and so the old Hutongs will not be forgotten!

Speaking of the cyclo driver, the poor guy is 70 years old and still riding people around on his bike because he has no retirement fund! He said he used to be an architect but that stopped a long time ago. His parents belonged to the Kuominngtang and they were both executed during the cultural revolution! Our driver to the great wall also told us that his uncle was excecuted during the cultural revolution and that his parents were forced to go work on farms in the country. In fact, our driver to the great wall used to be in the secret police. He was driver and his job was to tail suspects in Beijing! He was not allowed to lose the target so he really new how to drive well. He lost his job in 1989 as part of the fallout of the student protests in Tianamen square! When I asked him about the cultural revolution he said that it was no Mao's fault and that it was the result of a power struggle amongst the people. This guy was also full of insights into Chinese History and culture and had a really good understanding of modern China. It was really surprising and interesting!

On Wednesday Queenie and I went to the Forbidden City were I saw a copy of "From Emperor to Citizen" the autobiography of Pu Yi, the last emperor in China. The rhetoric in the book was really amazing: my favorite passage was the one that described China as a democratic-dictatorship. What does that mean! If you are interested you would have to pick up the book yourself but I really did feel sorry for this person who was a victim of history and lineage! But there are many like him I suppose.

So what is there to say about Beijing? A lot I suppose, the city is very clean and it is a place in which I could live. Queenie and I enjoyed the parks, culture and history associated with the city. One can live a fantastic life here and, if there were ever an opportunity to work here, I would seriously consider it. There are certain things I would not like e.g. the weather, the traffic and the lack of certain freedoms (but this is endemic accross China).

So last night was our last night in the Capital and went out to buy some late night snacks where I was approached by some prostitutes. They spent about 10-minutes telling me their story and their journey to Beijing from the far reaches of the country and how, if they could, they would like to find a new job. They earn about RMB3000 a month and are forced to give half their earnings over to their pimp. It is really a sad life for them I really wished I could help them but there was nothing much I could do, so, after a while, I said my goodbyes and went back to the hotel to eat. It was kind of a low note to end this part of the trip on but it was still enlightening to discuss the strife and the troubles of a very marginalized community in China!

Anyway, we are now in Nanking and our next stop will be Shenzhen on Wednesday where the journey ends (sniff sniff sniff)....until the next posting, stay well everyone!

God Bless

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think.


"Trafalgar Square" (1) 798 District (1) Africa (1) Airport (1) Archive (1) Art (1) Asia Art Center (1) Aviary (1) bagpipes (1) Ban Nam Dee (1) Beihai Park (1) Beijing (5) Birds (1) Bitan (1) Boracay (2) Bozburun (1) Buddhism (1) Buddhist Temple (1) Bunny Chow (1) Cafe India (1) canopy tour (1) cat (1) China (15) Christmas (2) Colombo (3) COPE (1) curry (1) Cycling (28) Cycling in Taiwan (8) dance (3) Dog (1) Durban (3) East Rift Valley (1) Eco Lodge (1) Elephant (3) Elephant Ride (1) Ella (1) Family (6) Fire (1) Flower Market (3) Food (2) France (1) Friends (19) Fulong (1) Galle (2) Galle Face Hotel (1) Gokova (1) Guandu Nature Park (1) hiking (2) Hong Kong (5) Hot Springs (1) Hsin Tien (1) Hualien (1) Hutong (1) Ilan (2) Japan (3) Jing Shan Beach (1) Kandayan Dancers (1) Kandy (5) Kandy Lake (1) Kaohsiung (2) Karkloof (1) Kayak (1) Keelung (4) Khiva (1) kitten (1) Koh Samui (1) Laos (9) Laos COPE (1) Laos Puppies (1) Laos Travelogue (3) Leofoo Village Theme Park (2) Library (1) Lion Dance (1) Little England (1) London (13) Luang Prabang (3) Marmaris (3) Matara (3) Mimi (2) Miscellaneous (32) Monkeys (1) Moses Mabhida Stadium (1) Namtha (1) Namtha. Huay Xuay (1) New Zealand (11) Nuawara Eliya (1) Nuwara Eliya (2) Osaka (3) Our Stuff (11) Pettah Market (1) Philippines (2) Photowalk (1) Pinglin (2) Pinnawala (1) Pot Pie Cafe (1) Pudding (1) Puppies (1) Puppy (1) Restaurants (11) Shek O (2) Shihmen Reservoir (1) Singapore (1) Snake Charmer (1) Snow (1) South Africa (12) Sri Lanka (17) street performers (1) Sung River (1) Sunset (3) Ta An Park (2) Tad Sae Waterfall (1) Taipei (18) Taipei and Taiwan Travel Guide (6) Taipei Fine Arts Museum (1) Taipei Hsin-Beitou (1) Taipei Restaurant (1) Taipei Video (6) Taiwan (24) Taiwan Video (5) Tamsui (2) Tangalle (1) Tangelle (1) Temple (1) Temple Lunch (1) Tennoji (2) Thailand (1) Tissahane (1) Train (1) Travel (62) Travel Guide (1) Travelogues (7) tuk tuk (1) Turkey (11) Unawatuna (1) Unawatuna Beach (1) Urgut (1) Uzbekistan (8) Vang Vieng (4) Vang Vieng Eco Lodge (1) Victoria Park (1) Vientiane (3) Vientiane COPE (1) Wattay International Airport (1) Wedding (2) Weherahena Temple (1) Willesden Green (1) Worship Team (2) Xindian (1) Yala Nature Reserve (1) Yangmingshan (1) zip-line (2) 六福村 (2) 北京 (2) 北海公园 (1) 大安森林公園 (1) 建國花市 (1) 新店 (1) 石澳 (1) 石門水庫 (1) 碧潭 (1) 花東縱谷 (1) 衚衕 (1) 金山海灘 (1) 關渡自然公園 (1)

Popular Posts