9 Sep 2004
|Leaving town, so what to do, choice between dead Mao, the temple of Heaven in photogenic sunlight rather than torrential rain, or the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple - Yonghe Gong. or Lama Temple - outside of Tibet, that happens to be on the Circle line as well. So off we go.
People buying bag fulls of incense, and lighting it 30 sticks at a time, though I later found out this was lightweight city folk when it came to incense burning. A very nice temple indeed. I musdt say I prefer Tibetan buddhist ones to others, something about the colours, the monks, and some of the mad-looking demons they have. And a magnificent 70 foot sandalwood Buddha, and an incredible big mandala made of coloured sand.
The only jarring note was in the Museum, talking about (in the only bit in English) how the Dalai Lama asked Mao to liberate Tibet, though from what wasn't exactly clear. And lots of pictures of the Chinese 'puppet' Panchen Lama, as opposed to the real one who hasn't been seen since the Chinese took him away when he was 6. Doesn't look 10% as nice a bloke as the Dalai Lama either.
I thought I might have enough time before my train, so I whipped down to Tiananmen Square to see dead Mao, but there were enormous queues so I went shopping instead and bought Shea some Chinese type T-shirts for Xmas (and it means I don't have to do my laundry so often - he won't mind).
And then what I hope is my last expereince of traveling the lowest class ('hard seat') on the trains. On the plus side, one of the older guide books talks about the Chinese habit of gobbing everywhere, including on the floors of trains and restaurants. Thankfully, I have seen no evidence of this, perhaps because of SARS, though they still do it outside. Walking around here there is the constant noise of violent and rigorous hawking and clearing of the throat. Also thankfully, smoking is banned in a lot of places, including public parks (a fire risk).
Nevertheless, despite people's friendliness, and their delight in proving they all had better mobiles and walkman than I did (and they all do), it was a bit hellish. It was extremely hot, for five hours, and for some reason the fans were only switched on when we stopped at some stations (but not others). And it was very crowded, though not half as crowded as Beijing Main Railway station, which was bedlam, and hard work for someone who started with 25 kilos of luggage.
Anyway, turns out I have booked myself in to rather a posh (albeit Soviet-style-and-proud-of-it hotel). It even has towels - though the bar shut at 8.30 while I was out having dinner, and even there they were turning the lights out and waiting for me to go. And this was Friday night. They don't really know how to have fun yet in a lot of China.
Dinner was really good fun though. There was a little gas ring in the middle of my table and some spicy soup boiling on it, and then the idea was I put raw spinach, thinly sliced lamb, and noodles in, and then pulled them out again after they cooked, and ate them. It was very tasty, and good fun, especially with the waitresses, who seemed to enjoy teaching me this.
And then to a very smelly teenage internet cafe, that is full of people like my children, even playing Counterstrike and other similar games. A curious feature of most internet cafes here is that many have the keyboards almost totally worn out, so that is my excuse for any bad spelling above.
And then I found it this morning I couldn't avoid going back through Beijing, so I may see dead Mao yet.