OK, so other than just becoming random economo-political creatures, we also actually did/saw stuff in Beijing. Like:
– Tiananmen Square. Famous/ infamous for the Tiananmen Square massacres in 1989 (although apparently most of the actual massacring went on outside of the square but hey ho) and the third largest city square in the world. It’s so big that I initially thought that about a quarter of it was the whole thing. You can’t just look down through the square from one end to the other as Hua Guofeng (Mao’s successor) saw it fit to contain Mao’s embalmed remains in a Soviet-bloc style mausoleum right in the centre of the Square. We duly queued up with hundreds of flower-bearing Chinese folk to pay our respects/ gawp at the Great Helmsman’s preserved corpse, waved along impatiently by severe looking guards in white gloves. I’m not convinced that that was his actual corpse – unless he was made of rubber and permanently emitted an orange glow from his head…
-The Forbidden City. Which was amazing. Sadly it’s impossible to get a decent picture of it as it is pretty much the size of a small city, so you can only capture bits of its awesomely preserved beauty and mystique. It was incredible to think that it was off-limits to the public for 500 years until the last 50 years (or thereabouts). I could have stayed for weeks. Each building had a function and a history that’s just so far removed from anything I’m familiar with and the legends and rituals that surround each ornate corner of it breathe such mystery into the place. Even the name sounds all magic and mystical, for Pete’s sake..
– Temple of Heaven Park. Even more other-worldly than the Forbidden City, but on a less impressive scale. Still immense – and immensely impressive, however. As it seems with most religious sites in Asia, there isn’t just one building, but a whole complex of temples and other religious structures. While we were in the complex the sky turned purple and orange and a sudden thunderstorm came out of nowhere, which only added to the general transcendental surreality of the whole place. We ended up heading out of the park and ducking for cover under an umbrella on the pavement, shared by 2 nice Chinese boys who owned an adjacent shop and duly supplied us with cans of Tsingtao to keep our spirits up. Dan tried to challenge them to a game of Chinese chequers, but, as usual, communication difficulties got in the way. So we just found each other mutually amusing instead.
– The Great Wall. Which really is a great wall. in size and general awesomeness. I’m not the kind of person who is very good at just going and looking at famous landmarks. This is an iconic structure that you can actually clamber all over (and with surprisingly steep parts, you do end up doing exactly this at times…) Its surroundings are also pretty amazing, so every photo looks iconic. We were ‘befriended’ for a while by a couple of Chinese ladies until we came clean and admitted that we probably weren’t going to be buying anything they were selling, at which point they promptly left us alone.
Other than that, we spent a lot of time just cycling around (definitely the best way to get around Beijing) and eating spectacular food of monstrous proportions. Apparently the Beijingers are notorious for their generosity/ over-catering, and as food is their way of socialising they have little concept of only cooking enough for 1 or 2. On our last night we had to treat ourselves to some legendary Peking duck, as we tried to grapple with twisting the duck, spring onions and sauce into wafer-thin pancakes with chopsticks. It’s harder than it looks. Anyway, it was a fittingly fulfilling end to a fantastic week in a totally fascinating city. Sorry for all the ‘f’s. That was not intentional.
From here, South East Asia beckons – which will take up the bulk of our time in this awesome continent. And, as it turns out, provide us with a suitable bulk of extraordinary memories. But, for now, to the world’s most populous and 2nd largest country we must say 再见.