Saturday, January 5, 2013

North to Beijing

I suppose if I am ever going to write again on my blog, Beijing is a good place to begin.  When I last wrote, I left things hanging in the banlieue of Shanghai.  Thanks to my notes, which were much better than I remembered, I can share actual details of my trip.  My problem is that I have an overwhelming memory of Beijing that now colors my view of the city...more on that later.

We took the high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing.  Let me just say--it is AWESOME.  Amazingly clean station, beautiful train, easy trip.  At 300 km/hr, the trip takes about five hours.  We got the benefit of watching the countryside roll past as we spent the morning on the train.  I think I will quote from my notebook here:
"Past unbelievable number of cities, cranes everywhere, building.  Every place has 8+ cranes, never just one.  Complexes of apartments, not single buildings, but...

"Where does the food come from?  The construction materials?  Where do they work?

"Also passed thousands of acres of fields--rice paddies in the south, corn further north.  All hand-harvested.  We saw one (ox? yak?) farm animal, a herd of goats in a field, one dairy farm with no apparent pasture.

Over Charlie's shoulder you can see the speed:  304 km/h!
"The scale is mind-boggling.  Enormous poverty, dirt roads, brand new multi-lane highways that seem to lead to nowhere [and, I might note, were completely empty].  A country out of thin air, made of instant cities."

So there you have it.  We didn't see small towns, or even big towns.  Just irregular, hand-tended fields or enormous cities that you have never heard of.

Once we arrived in Beijing, I finally had that "A HA!  I'm in China" feeling I missed in Shanghai.  It was only accentuated when we walked down Wangfujing Street, a main shopping district that happened to be right around the corner from our hotel.  Check out what one of the street vendors was selling:
Not exactly McDonald's...

We ate lunch nearby, but had dumplings instead of seahorses and starfish in a pretty typical dumpling shop:
Not exactly McDonald's, either...
Then we walked a couple of blocks to perhaps the most famous place in all of China:

Can you find all the security cameras?

This is Tiananmen, the heart of communist China.  I have many thoughts about this place, but for now, I will share what I wrote that night:
"Walked through [a] city park (Jinshan) and around through park to entrance to Forbidden City, walked through Tiananmen.  Awful--in that it feels oppressive, just being there.  Cops, soldiers, plainclothes officers everywhere, and cameras.  Charlie [Bill's business partner] was visibly uncomfortable.  The disconnect with American freedom is profound.  The worst place I've ever been."

This is the entrance to the Forbidden City.  Mao's picture faces Tiananmen and his mausoleum.  The two buildings that flank Tiananmen Square are the People's Congress and the Museum of the People's History.
One of the People's Buildings.  They look exactly alike.
Mao's mausoleum, which stands directly opposite Mao's portrait at the Forbidden City.
We ate dinner in a mall that night, steps from Mao's portrait. The mall was glittering, clean, and full of shoppers.  We could have been anywhere in the world.

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