Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Jottings from Beijing

After 36 hours in and around the capital, the double-bladed China Syndrome is starting to strike and hard. In one corner, we have the dusty, smoky air that swamps many urban areas of China. In the other corner, we have the progressive attitudes and cheap street vendors that first got me hooked on the Middle Kingdom.

So far, the latter is holding strong, and being above the smog line on the Great Wall near Mutianyu certainly helped things. Speaking of which, the Wall certainly has been tidies up in anticipation of the tourist boom, and is night and day from the crumbling bricks I climbed 12 years ago when living in Beijing for two months.

There is a line of street vendors along the approach to the chairlift up the hillside to the Wall itself. That’s right chairlift, Japanese-made and all. There is also an Italian coffeehouse adjacent to the car park.

Of course, the sightlines from the Wall are amazing, although Mr Ciao, are tour guide, informed us that this was the clearest day he had seen in a long time. Nevertheless, it was fascinating gazing towards the huge, steep, rocky mountains stretching as far the Mongolian Steppes. To think that this was built in a time predating the technology is truly amazing, a task more arduous even than that encountered by the Egyptian pyramid labourers many centuries before. Still, despite all the history behind the Wall, the most enjoyable aspect of the visit was the toboggan ride to the base of the hill. Despite a Mao-jacket behooded girl shrieking “no pikature,” it was an exhilarating way to cap off a great day, once we figured out that are legs had to be stretched out to build up speed.

So far, the trip has been amazing, and visiting a craft factory was also a lot of fun. In a few minutes, we’re leaving for a Peking Duck restaurant, and the tomorrow we visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Summer Palace before taking the overnight train to Taiyuan, meaning I’ll be away from the internet for about 24 hours. Check back then for more exciting musings, and hopefully I’ll also have had a chance to update my Flickr by then.

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