I foolishly got hooked on Katie Melua‘s excellent album Piece by Piece just before going away on my round-the-world trip. Foolishly, I say, because when I got to Beijing I couldn’t stop thinking about the song about nine million bicycles (extract here).
Still, it’s better than the time a few years ago when Rose and I watched The Sound of Music just before visiting Austria. It’s embarrassing to realise you’ve been wandering around a shop humming to yourself about edelweiss or lonely goatherds…
There’s a whole range of transport options in Beijing other than just bicycles, though. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing such a variety of vehicles anywhere else. Here are a couple I quite liked:
At one point we even overtook a tree going down the highway at speed…
I think there was a vehicle under there somewhere.
I really stopped in Beijing to visit some long-lost friends, rather than because I’d ever had a great yearning to see the place. But I found myself enjoying it greatly. There are some downsides – the air pollution, combined with the dust that comes in off the desert, is pretty appalling, and best illustrated by this photo of my friends’ muddy windscreen:
This was the view after a rain shower had passed over the stationary car. The car had been nice and clean beforehand.
Another downside, for those not used to them, are the Chinese lavatory facilities. In some spots, the Tourist Board has started indicating their suitability for visitors with a star-rating system.
Even four stars doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a seat!
But, these things aside, it’s a fascinating place.
I visited the Temple of Heaven and admired the trees in the surrounding park.
I visited Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, where it’s apparently good luck to rub the brass studs on the enormous doors.
Young volunteers within the walls tell you how privileged they feel to be able to work there, and how they hope you’ll come back, and bring your friends, and see the Olympics. Their upcoming hosting of the games is hugely important to China. Personally, I have minimal interest in the Olympics, and some mild objection to the fact that my taxes are going to fund London’s decision to embrace the huge financial loss which hosting them always entails for the country concerned. But here the symbolic importance is huge and all around the city you see evidence of how things are being prepared, built, tidied up, covered up, so that the city will look presentable for the foreign visitors and the TV cameras.
I think the high point for me (in more ways than one) was the Great Wall. I had expected to be impressed by the scale, but I hadn’t expected it to be so beautiful. It was a bright, clear (and very hot) day, and we took a cable-car up to the wall, then walked along it as it snaked along the mountain ridges through the lush vegetation.
How dull it would have been if it had been straight and flat! That’s probably what the Romans would have done.
There was relief from the heat inside the towers.
And some opportunities to gather extra material for my collection of notices from around the world.
The food was superb, my friends James and Annabelle were great hosts, the prices were just unbelievable and the people were friendly.
Pity about the government.
And now I’m back in Cambridge, and it’s cold and rainy. Which, after the dust and mid-30s temperatures of Beijing, is actually rather nice.