For the second time in one week I’ve arrived back in China’s sprawling capital, Beijing. I spent last weekend (and the days either side) in the coastal city of Qingdao (pronounced Ch’ing-tao) eating good food, walking many miles, and generally enjoying the local environs 🙂 With a population similar to London (around 7 million) this is however not a typical coastal city.
Having been occupied by both German and Japanese forces in the last decade of the 20th Century the city feels less Chinese in some respects with clear evidence of European architectural influences and a more international population with a large Korean community (probably due to the city being a center of electronics manufacture).
Famous around the world for being the home of Tsingtao beer, the city will also get a boost next year when it hosts the Olympic sailing competitions which will take place along the shoreline directly offshore from the city. By any standards the beaches are impressive, even more so I would imagine in the summer season.
Curiously whilst visiting the vast German underground fort (in the middle of a mountain!) we came across a film crew shooting some sort of Chinese drama with a bunch of American extras acting the part of colonial aggressors (or so it looked). We stayed to watch for a short time – things clearly weren’t going too well as at one point the Chinese director slammed down the script and started shouting at people. We bid our farewells!
Last, but certainly not least; In the former German rulers mansion I *actually touched* the bed where our dear leader Mao slept during his summer holidays there in 1957!! Felt almost like a religions experience – wow 😉
One of the best parts of my visit to Nanjing was seeing the center of the city at night. As can be seen throughout Asia neon lights adorn nearly all shop/restaurant fronts creating a multi-layered array of colour which is quite a spectacle to behold (think Blade Runner without the flying cars!).
On the night I took these photos there were apparently approx. 40,000 people wandering the streets around the Confucius Temple due to the New Year and a special lantern festival. That evening I ate some traditional fried Chinese dumplings with “chi dou yuan xiao” (a thick soup of rice glue balls with small red beans) in a small restaurant crammed with locals. I’ve just about got used to being stared at constantly but it’s still rather disconcerting when you’re trying to eat (Note to self: avoid dropping dumpling in soup in future!).
At the beginning of the New Year festivities I had the good fortune to spend 3 days in Nanjing, one of the earliest established cities in southern China (about 2 hours from Beijing by air). Whilst the weather was overcast and gloomy I had a great time there and saw some impressive sites, both historical and modern.
I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment as I’m working today and will fly out to Qingdao tomorrow morning – once I’ve finished “jet-setting” around next week I’ll update this post with more details 😉
Saturday night was probably the closest I will ever come to experiencing life in Baghdad (figuratively speaking!). With the Chinese New Year festivities upon us again it seems that every man, woman and child were out setting of fireworks; on the streets, out of windows, and more worryingly at each other! With the government ban on fireworks in Beijing being lifted only 2 years ago it seems everyone was in some sort of fever to set off as many as they could and they certainly succeeded. Throughout the city it sounded as if gun battles were taking place with loud bangers ricocheting of every wall, throughout the day and night, reaching a crescendo at midnight with apocalyptic magnitude!
Here’s another 15 second taster:
It’s now 4 days later and there are still a few going off in the evenings although things have calmed down now somewhat. I dread to imagine how many people lost fingers/eyes over the past week!
Update (22/2): It’s now the fifth day of the new year which I’ve been informed = more fireworks. Will these people ever stop!!
One of Beijing’s lesser know historical attractions are it’s Hutongs surrounding the Forbidden City which I visited (when lost) on my way to Beihai Park. These fascinating ancient residential areas are made up of narrow alleyways with traditional buildings arranged in closely packed quadrangles. As if looking through a window on to a lost world you get the feeling of stepping back in time here (even the locals look authentically old!), but still within sight of the icons of modernity which dominate Beijing’s skyline.
Unfortunately some Hutongs were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but luckily many are now designated protected areas. Still, as seems to be the general case in China: out with the old, in with the new…
Days 8-12 basically consisted of work work work so I wont bore you with the details there… leading us to Saturday 11th, my 13th day on the other side of the world! Today I went to Beihai Park, an imperial garden northwest of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Containing a huge man-made lake with an island in the centre and landscaped gardens, the park contains some interesting Buddhist artifacts, an impressive dragon screen (to ward off evil spirits) and an assortment of older people doing Thai Chi and practicing calligraphy on the pavement!
All in all, a nice place for a leisurely stroll! More photos here.
No pictures but instead a curious bit of Chinese history:
“For a man to think forwards he must first look from where he came“, or so wrote the renowned philosopher Da Wei (literal translation: “Hungry Stomach”) in his letter to the forth Emperor of the Wang Dynasty (A.D. 1279-1368). In his letter Da Wei lays out a controversial new theory of cognitive thought, later to become the foundation of neo-classical culture in China. Whilst it was not unusual for the royal family to consult established members of intelligentsia this was almost exclusively a one-way process – they went to you, you never went to them.
Enraged by his indiscretion the Emperor Yan declared the work as “Foreign Devilry” and ordered her imperial guard to assassinate Da Wei. This select detachment of cavalry officers consisted of around 400 guards but of real note were the 4000 specially trained dogs which terrorized the local population during this period; hence the proverb “Killing the dog does not heal the bite“. Forewarned by Hmong-Mien sympathizers (an ethnic minority) of the impending ambush Da Wei fled Nanjing (the former capital of China) to what is now Beijing.
After pursing Da Wei for over 900km the dogs were said to become weary and many died of exhaustion. At this point the trail goes cold and Da Wei disappears into the fog of history. Later rumors report that he became a Buddhist monk whilst others suggest that he lost his mind and spent the rest of his days wandering the Mentougou Mountains incoherently muttering to himself. Whatever the truth of his demise escaping 4000 killer canines was quite a feat!
On our way back from the Great Wall we stopped of at the Ming Dynasty Tombs. After entering through the “Great Red Gate” (housing a giant stone turtle!) you are led down a tranquil avenue called the “Spirit Way” lined with large stone statues of animals and figures. It’s a really nice place to get away from the craziness of the city centre but I imagine it would be even better when the tress are in blossom!
The photo above shows a carving of a writhing dragon atop a stone column. These mythical beasts called hou were thought to report to the emperor. Even today there is a strange air about the place of power and mystery stopped in hundreds of years history!
More photos here.
As if visiting one World Heritage Site in a weekend wasn’t enough on Sunday myself and some colleagues headed for the Great Wall of China. No introduction needed here; if you don’t know what it is then it’s probably time to go back to school!
We went to the restored Badaling section of the wall which is not far from Beijing – here you can walk in either direction. Upon arrival we were mugged a rather lively mob of Chinese school girls who proceeded to insist on taking a million photos with us – I guess this is what it feels like to be a minor celebrity (or in this case just white!). After escaping them we proceeded along the wall which amazingly weaves it always along seemingly impossible ridges – how they every built it is a real marvel. In many places you are practically climbing up/down the stone walkways at some fair perilous inclines, one false step here and it’ll be the last you ever make!
Both young and old could be seen making the pillgrimage along the wall and it was refreshing not to be restricted by any rediculous health & safety laws which would most certainly make this impossible in the UK without ruining the experience.
Lots more photos here 🙂
I arrived back to my hotel tonight to a barrage of fireworks directly outside the main entrance. These weren’t orderly controlled fireworks but a bunch of the hotel staff randomly throwing them on the pavement outside… on a busy road… with lots of people walking past! These weren’t your run of the mill garden fireworks either, they were louder than anything I’ve heard before – my ears are still ringing two hours later (probably didn’t do them any good either)! I watched for a while standing outside strategically behind a group of bystanders and was frankly amazed that nobody lost an eye!
Here’s a short video I took (with mobile) of some of the standing fireworks, what you don’t see are the crazy huge bangers in long strings which came later! Hopefully there should be some more around the city as it gets closer to the Spring Festival next week.