Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square

In the morning, having had too little sleep as usual, we stagger up, and Leo checks out. No doubt the executive floor staff think there was plenty of man-love going on last night given how tired we both look! Before leaving, I can’t miss the chance to use his clean sit-down toilet, only squatters in mine, enough to make you hold it in! We take a taxi to Tiananmen – Leo wants to go to Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum and I’m tubing it from there. Unfortunately because of the CCP Congress, they’ve sealed the whole area off again, so we can’t get anywhere near the square.

So I’m going to the Great Wall. In all honesty I don’t particularly want to, but it’s one of the seven new Great Wonders of the World, and I’ve done all the others bar Petrus, so would be a shame to miss out on the set because I didn’t go. So, tube to Jishuitan station, where it’s a short walk to Dongshenmen Gate, where the tourist buses leave from.

Walking to the bus, I pass a small Sichuanese eatery. I can’t resist, and pop in for fish-tasting (it doesn’t) chicken, a spicy chicken dish basically. Plenty of stares from everyone inside.

The bus takes an expressway out to Badaling, the most accessible part of the wall from Beijing, and hence the most touristy. It really is quite pleasant weather today, sunny, blue skies and a gentle breeze. As we approach the hills surrounding the city, I get my first glimpse of the wall snaking along the ridges.

Visible from space? No, that was rubbish, and it’s obvious why – it may be long, but it’s only about 6-10 metres wide, so how on earth would you see it?

Anyway, I’m quite excited as the bus arrives, and I see the long lines of coaches parked up! There must be a lot of people here! I walk up and buy a ticket.

It’s not obvious where we start, and I nearly end up on the cable car seated thing. Finally I work it out, and head up, past a small chap with camel and horse, who doesn’t let us take photos. He’s quite short.

On to the wall itself, I walk up. There’s quite a reasonable stretch here to be walked, but I don’t have time to do it all.

I climb along up to guard tower, admiring the view of the wall snaking into the distance.

It’s actually very steep in parts, I’m quite surprised! Did It have steps originally? If this were wet with my Crocs it would be hopeless, I’d have to just take a photo from the bottom and turn back. As it is, I can pull myself up using the rail, but I’m feeling very unsteady.

Further on, I’m running out of time so turn around and head back through the control tower and down. There are lots of tat sellers in the control tower, a shame given how iconic this site is for China.

There are so many Chinese tourists, which is good. I get in the obligatory self shot!

Hello again!

So many buses

Back, on my public bus again, I snooze on way into town. I’m cutting it very fine for the Forbidden City, but stressing isn’t going to make the bus go any faster.

Tian’an Men Square
Where the bus finishes, I hop on the metro back to Tiananmen, resisting the urge to have more Sichuan food as I pass the place where I enjoyed lunch. Tiananmen is famous for one thing – the brutal put down (hundreds were killed) of pro-democracy protests ordered by Deng Xiaoping and carried out by the army with tanks and troops here in 1989 (incidentally, if you google even the date of the massacre, 3rd June 1989, you will get no matches!). The square is the centre of the Chinese universe, and is laid out in a similar style to the Forbidden City, surrounded by grand Soviet-style buildings. It’s a wonderful space, filled with tourists taking photos, kite-fliers, and undercover police.

Approaching the Gate of Heavenly Peace

The gate is adorned with an enormous portrait of Mao. The gate was built in the 15th century and restored in the 17th.

The Great Hall of the People is across the street. This is where the People’s Congress is occurring now, which is the Chinese equivalent of a parliament session, happening every 5 years to set the direction of the country. Inside:

And Mr Hu, currently in charge of China:

There are seven bridges crossing the stream here. The central one was only for the emperor’s use.

I rush into via a bridge for peasants, dashing for the Forbidden City which stops issuing tickets at 4pm.

All the buildings are very grand. One annoyance – people often start chatting to you, practising their English or perhaps leading on to some scam. The one I get is a pretty girl but I’ve no time, there’s a palace to see!

The Meridien Gate, and main entrance to the Forbidden City

I’m too late. What’s especially frustrating is that tour groups are still going in. I trudge back out, and use the time before sunset to see Tiananmen Square.

Mao Zedong

The Dear Leader

Doesn’t feel like world’s largest square, perhaps because it has several monuments in it, and Mao’s own mausoleum.

Monument to the Peoples’ Heroes

Dead Mao

Great Hall of the People

Move along please

Unfortunately, there are no signs indicating where the famous events took place here. Anyway, the massacres of protesters actually took place elsewhere, in Muxidi, not in this square, where as LP points out, bicycles are not allowed, but apparently tanks are!

The National Museum

It’s a grand place, and is full of happy Chinese people, which is nice.

I’m interested to note that the police here have cameras, and photograph suspects before moving in to demand ID. They’re not observant enough to notice me doing the same to them, though no doubt the Chinese spy satellites were watching my every move!

Police with digicams

It occurs to me that I’ve drunk nothing all day, so happily glug down reasonably priced water from a drinks stand in the square. It occurs to me that the reason it’s probably not extortionate is because we’re in a communist country. Capitalism hasn’t completely taken over here!

Standing firm

There are plenty of Olympic references about, from a countdown (there are similar clocks in many places):

Olympics countdown floral displays of the Olympic flame:

..and even the Great Wall!:

Fountains are well-guarded, I assume because of the risk of protest given the Congress on.

The red flag:

Obligatory in Tiananmen shot requested by Meng Meng

Right, that’s enough tourism for one day. I head back to mine.

I search online for Starbucks. I haven’t seen one single branch, but apparently there are about 60 stores! The secret is that they’re all tucked away in malls rather than sitting on high streets.

So I head to the Oriental Plaza on WangFuJing street, which is supposed to have one. Out on the main street, the taxi almost refuses me as this street is one way and not the right direction. I persuade him to just drive anyway and accept the extra money. He’s reluctant but agrees.

In the mall, there are lots of food options too. A couple of young girls giggle and come up to me to ask me about my hair. You get lots of people wanting to practice their English with you. I head to ‘Bucks, and instead of updating my blog, end up chatting with Zac.

On my way out, I’m going to try a food court place Leo suggested, when a couple of girls come up to me who recognise me from Sanlitun a couple of days previously. So I meet Shirley and her cousin, and we end up going for beers and dumplings.

When I finally get home, I can’t sleep, so go to the airport just as the tiredness sets in. I enjoy an interesting breakfast in the airport before my flight to Shanghai:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.