25 Jul 2011
|The last full day in Beijing got off to an ominous start with thunder, lightening and dark clouds rapidly approaching. A hurried walk to Dongsi subway station was followed by a quick trip 2 stops along Line 5 to Dongdan to then transfer to the infamous Line 1. Line 1 is Beijing's most frenetic, jam-packed and insane subway line, in other words a claustrophobic's worst nightmare! Boris and I walked through the underground at Dongdan laughing at the way the Chinese RUN from the train as fast as they can through the tunnels to get to their next train, it's amazing to watch. Until they reach a bottle neck and all of a sudden everyone is trapped like sardines in a hot, humid, low-ceilinged tunnel with thousands of other people, and there is no end in sight... That was it for me, I freaked out and pushed my way back past the surging mass of people to the nearest exit and swore I was never taking Line 1 again!
Boris was lovely about it all, even though it meant we then had to walk the next few kilometers to Tiananmen Square in torrential rain. The rain was unrelenting and, combined with heavy smog/fog cover everything looked so drab and unappealing. The only dots of colour were the teeming hordes of umbrellas filling every available open spaces and nearly taking my eye out with every step I took. Because here in China, I'm not short anymore! In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm taller than average (hence the umbrellas isn my eye).
Tiananmen Square is the focal point for the history of Communist China. This is where Chairman Mao's student enemies waved hisLittle Red Book in surges of nationalism and where dissidents faced down tanks in the summer of 1989. Today, however, it was largely the domain of Chinese families visiting and having happy snaps taken under large umbrellas.
So with Tiananmen Square the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe, the enormity of the Communist Party can be seen. The Gate of Heavenly Peace stands at the north end of the square flanks by the slogans 'long live the Peoples Republic of China' and 'long live the unity of the Peoples of the World'.
Also visible from the square is the 36m obelisk 'Monument to the Peoples Hero directly in front of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. Despite the atrocities carried out by this man (historians say he was responsible for 40 to 70 million peacetime deaths) most Chinese continue to respect and revere this leader. The official party line is that Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong in his ruling. So it's appropriate that a visit to see a glimpse of his embalmed body is about 70% solemnity and 30% absurdity. The long queues and torrential rain in conjunction with a garish a ttached gift shop that was doing a roaring trade in Chairman Mao thermometers and alarm clocks was enough for me to give this attraction a wide berth.
To the east and west of the square respectively were the China National Museum and the Great Hall of the People however both were closed.
By accident, thinking we were heading into the Forbidden City we bought tickets to the Tiananmen Tower Gate. I raced up for a quick peek and there really was a fantastic view over the whole square. Boris had been waiting down below with the bag so we could avoid yet another lengthy security check and when I went back to do the switch over I had to laugh when he told me he'd sold his ticket to a passerby and he could just look at my photos instead.
Onwards and upwards to the Forbidden City, the largest and best preserved cluster of ancient buildings in all of China. It was home to two dynasties of emperors, the Ming and the Qing, who rarely strayed from this pleasure dome, although it was off limits to everyone else (hence the name). The palace is huge, over 70 hectares and comprises over 1000. Entry is only through the south gate and exit at the north, about 2km as the crow flies. To be honest it wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be, however to be fair, it could have had something to do with the fact that the water was up to my ankles in parts and the courtyards looked like brightly colored a sea of umbrellas. For some reason we couldn't find ANY open buildings so could only wander through the one areas.
Seeing as we couldn't use Line 1 on the subway anymore do to my irrational belief I'd be suffocated by a blanket of Beijing bodies, we caught a taxi to Chongwenmen and finally located our outgoing rail tickets to Mongolia. This was duly celebrated by a multiple course meal that lasted through the lunch turn over of at least a couple of Chinese families, including one enormous guy who had freed his stomach from the tyranny of his shirt and had it on display for all to see. It was so awful I couldn't stop looking.
We went to an acrobatic show later that evening which got off to a shaky start but their skill and level of timing definitely improved as the night went on. It was a combination of athletic prowess, flexibility , precision, strength and ... of course... motor bike riding.