Brief Beijing Blitz, or Tanks for the Maomories!

Posted: February 20, 2008 in Uncategorized

Whatever I said in Chinese, apparently it wasn’t “where’s the bathroom”

Two and a half days is not much to experience a completely new country, but I made the best of what time I had. The people I was working with in Beijing were particularly helpful, and tried to literally go out of their way to make sure I had a good time. While there was no trip to the Great Wall due to my visa foul-up, I did get to tour the Summer Palace and Forbidden City, and do a little souvenir shopping. Extensive walking was a bit difficult, since it was below freezing most of the time, and while I had warm clothing, it wasn’t THAT warm, with my cold weather gear all still in transit from the US, most disappointingly my gloves.

My 12-hour flight on Qantas was remarkably, well I won’t say easy, but perhaps horrible-agony-free for that long sitting in coach. Once I arrived, I worked out transportation to the hotel, which for some reason I’m always amazed I can do, regardless of where I am and what language everyone speaks. As I mentioned previously, I was greeted by the unlikely lounge duo in the Hyatt lobby bar, which I simply wasn’t prepared to cope with, so I headed straight for my room and dumped my stuff. However not long after, the siren call of being in the middle of a city that was foreign to me in every way prompted me to put on a sweater and go for a walk. Among the things I noticed on this introductory walk were the heavy presence of security guards/police at night, and that a sweater really wasn’t enough clothing. By the time I returned to my room, my jaw was aching from keeping my teeth clenched against chattering.

The next day was putting in some hours at the office, documenting the lab space and giving intro meetings, and even a lunch of some of the best Peking duck you’ll find pretty much anywhere. Not long after lunch though, two of my officemates whisked me off to the Summer Palace, which they said is nice, but not as good in the winter. From what I saw, if it’s more impressive in the summer, it’s a wonder it doesn’t melt into the ground under the weight of its own sumptuous magnificence.

This tour was followed by dinner at a blindingly decorated restaurant, complete with performances in the style of the classic “Peking Opera“, where four of us stuffed ourselves for a total of about $65 AUS. Things there are very, very cheap, especially in comparison to Sydney, where you need to spend $100 just to attract a waiter.

The following day was an equally spectacular visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, which were resplendent with a mixture of traditional Chinese empire and Maoist remnants, including the famous, massive painting of Mao over the Forbidden City front gate. The sad thing is, I have no frame of reference for what I saw at Tiananmen Square, since being on the cusp of my eleventh birthday, I remained completely unaware of any of the events so far away until much later in life, and even then strictly from passing mention in history classes. It’s things like this that make me feel woefully under-read.

The Forbidden City itself, now apparently over 500 years old, is equally as impressive as the Summer Palace. The thing I couldn’t help thinking as I spent hours walking through the endless halls and passageways, was that all this, both the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, was for one man. A man who, for hundreds of years, ruled the world. And from looking at where he lived, he knew it. Even today, human hands are rarely responsible for something so grand. Just the scale wasn’t enough; the detail and ornamentation is almost endless. The Forbidden City, still, is a remarkable symbol of absolute power.

By Saturday morning, when I was slated to leave, I’d grown a bit tired of trying to walk the mile-long city blocks while freezing my ass off, and decided to do a little close-in souvenir shopping before leaving. Sadly of all the things I bought, the small bottle of Baijiu, which i never got a chance to sample, was confiscated by airport security. On the upshot, it only cost about $1.20. With a very brief stop in Hong Kong, which I only got to gaze at wistfully over the elderly and somewhat grumpy Chinese woman sitting next to me, I made my way back back home, where I promptly came down with a cold from sitting in recycled air for fourteen hours.

  1. mantaylo says:

    Your trip sounds awesome. On day you’ll have to explain to me all that crap they throw into dialog on Firefly. Too bad though about the drink.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your trip sounds awesome. On day you’ll have to explain to me all that crap they throw into dialog on Firefly. Too bad though about the drink.

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