This post is going up at the same time as the previous one because at the moment I'm writing these in my flat and posting in the office.
A full day today and I’m pleased to say that my Sunday was not spent in the department. Last night there was a huge wind that made walking anywhere almost impossible because of the brick dust blowing around. This did however have a massive effect on the weather which went from practically no visibility yesterday to a fantastically bright day today. These are photos from my window taken yesterday and today:
After a rather jet-lag effected nights sleep I went into the centre of Beijing with a Taiwanese postdoc from the department who lives in the same block as me. Not only is he a nice guy but he also speaks Mandarin fluently so though I did a bit of Chinese practice today, it was made a lot easier by his help. We took a cab to the Forbidden City where we looked around for a couple of hours. It’s strange that as I’ve been speaking to people and reading about China for the last few months it is, so far at least, exactly as expected. The Forbidden City is indeed spectacular and vast and absolutely rammed with tourists, mainly Chinese. Here are a few photos from the couple of hours we spent in the grounds:It is said to take around three days to explore fully and with 800 individual buildings, that’s no surprise. Many of them are however the same and though I will certainly go back to explore in more detail, I felt I got a pretty good idea of the place.
We then went to Tiananmen Square which is absolutely vast with Mao’s mausoleum near the centre. His tomb is built slap-bang on the intersection of the Chinese energy lines marking the centre of their universe. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t half bugger up the Feng Shui of, well, the whole universe! The tomb was closed by the time we arrived but I definitely want to go and see it at some point. Mao was embalmed by the best embalmers in the world, from Vietnam and is ‘on ice’, only being raised in his glass sarcophagus for a few hours during the day. You file past him quickly and solemnly. Smiling is strictly prohibited and I’m afraid photos are not allowed.
After not going to the tomb, we went to find some food and went to one of the many Peking duck restaurants in the area near the square. Though there were a few Westerners in the Forbidden City, I was the only one around once getting out of the grounds and we were treated with a certain amount of distain in the restaurant. After half a duck each and some vegetables, the likes of which I’d never seen, we had enough energy to explore a bit further in the area south of the square. In my guide book it talked about a famous pickle shop which we never found and we seemed to miss the natural history museum, complete with pickled people. We did however walk for a few hours just taking in the cacophony and olfactory barrage in the shopping streets.
My Taiwanese friend, Feng, was in need of a coffee which is practically impossible to find in China. We’d missed the Starbucks in the forbidden city (I kid you not) which is said to be the only place it’s possible to get a decent roast, but eventually we did find a very posh hotel which did serve coffee. When I say coffee, when Feng asked, they looked a bit sheepish and bought out a small plastic bag from under the counter with a couple of the type of coffee sachets you find in hotel rooms. This being the only option, we ended up having instant coffee in some very fine china tea cups in the middle of a swanky hotel tea lounge. It’s always nice to blend in with a foreign culture.
After a caffeine hit, we walked back North towards the opera house which is currently being built. From the projected photos it looks spectacular but at the moment it’s hard to get excited about a large dome. I suppose the brits have been let down by a large dome before, perhaps that’s why it doesn’t stir anything in me yet. I would have some photos but the batteries I bought yesterday for a great price only lasted a dozen shots.
Anyway, enough for now, I’m currently typing this wearing two fleeces in my apartment still feeling pretty chilly. Apparently they will turn on the heating in a couple of weeks so I shall have to warm my hands over the gas stove until then.