Sunday, March 04, 2007

Looky, looky and Lazy Susans.

Despite my concerns about Air China I'm safely cocooned back in Hiroshima. What an adventure! Since we were with a Japanese tour group (and therefore the source of much intrigue) we packed into four days what most people would normally do in six, wake up calls were received at 6 each morning and meals were wolfed down at frenetic speed from round a Lazy Susan. I will never be able to look at a Lazy Susan again without thinking of China and the scrum we endured at every meal just to get a morsel of food inside our mouths. For the rest of the tour group round our table you would have thought they'd never seen food before and then when you tried to whizz the lazy susan your way they'd put their finger on it and hog it for ages! In fact, there was enough Lazy Susan whizzing to give anyone a dizzy head.

The weather was pretty grim so all my photos seem to be engulfed in a grey haze but hey ho I still made it to the Great Wall of China...

and when I got to the top there was a camel...

and a roller coaster too. How odd I thought.

Not as odd as the Starbucks slap, bang in the middle of the Forbidden City though. I wonder what Mao would say about that.They had to remove the huge Starbucks sign from outside the store as they thought it wasn't complimentary to the surroundings. You think?

The surroundings were mighty impressive though.

Tiananmen Square is just across the road from the Forbidden City, it's vast and foreboding.

After that it was back on the bus and up to the Temple of Heaven.

I have to say that the driving in Beijing was crazy and way worse then anything I have ever seen in Italy (well almost, I saw a man drive over the top of a roundabout in Naples). Sometimes it looked like there were five lanes of traffic in a road meant for three and there were hundreds of cyclists darting in and around this craziness. We drove past an incident involving a bus and in the absence of traffic cones they had used a fire extinquisher to alert oncoming traffic. Let's hope no one drove into the fire extinquisher.

Whenever we arrived at our destinations we would always be greeted by hoards of people trying to sell us something and poking at you saying "looky, looky". When you thought you'd escaped the worst of it you'd see a fake Fendi or the like being shoved through a fence accompanied by the familiar call of "looky, looky". There are many beggars too and coupled with the desperation of the people trying to sell you stuff it is really quite sad but I guess that the people living in Beijing have it a little better than those in the country. There is an obvious sense that things are changing very quickly and there is building work everywhere in Beijing. There are also swathes of rubble from where the old hutongs have been torn down in advance of the Olympics. Hutongs are traditional narrow lanes with houses in the form of quadrangles on both sides where close knit communities of families live. We were lucky to have a peek around some of them.

Like the man in the last picture I was pretty wrecked at the end of my adventure but had a great time all the same. It was interesting to see glimpses of the old and new China and I was really impressed by how eager people are to speak English. I was even approached by a waitress in a cafe with a pen and paper who wanted me to give her a quick English lesson. After a few minutes of writing and talking I left and she seem so chuffed with her piece of paper and the new English phrases she'd learned that she said "cup of tea don't money" - she was very sweet.

After this mammoth post I'm off to make a cup of tea myself.

Ps. Apologies to anyone who was eagerly anticipating Martin's blog post. It was clearly just a rumour and he was too busy eating sushi to put fingers to keyboards.


Amanda said...

great photos! I don't remember a starbucks in the forbidden city, but it was a few years ago now.

Martin and Therese said...

Thanks Amanda. Here's a better picture of the starbucks before they took the big sign down.