Musings - Day 16
Day 16 – 11th January 2020
Thanks again for the messages, wonderful support. Good on you all! Keep the messages coming please. Special thank you to Alessandro who I met for the first time yesterday, and today I notice that he has donated $50 - Thank you so much.
I had made an arrangement this morning to be picked up by James (not real name) to give me a lift to the nearest metro for me to start to explore Beijing. He turned up, as agreed at 7:30AM. Believing that I would be getting in a car for my lift, imagine my surprise when he turns up on an electric scooter complete with chafrin. (No I didn’t know either) A chafrin is a purposeful single duvet type piece, folded double with holes (mittens) for your hands. It is attached to the inside front cowling of the scooter or moped, so that your hands fit in and can operate the handlebars. The rest sits very snuggly on your knees, and is designed to keep you warm when riding in the sub-zero temperatures of Beijing. Please note that you can also use it in other cities, because stitched to its hem is a disclaimer. So James beckons me to get aboard. Point one – My leg hasn’t been that high since ballet classes. Point two – neither James nor I lend ourselves to abstinence in any form. Point three – Its electric so with us two chunks aboard the top speed is around 2mph. So fifty minutes later when we arrive at the station six hundred yards away, the scooter is the best pleased of the three of us, when I get off.
I start the more speedy section of the day at ZHANGZIZHONGLU subway / metro station. This system seems virtually new, meticulously clean, and easy to manoeuvre. The lines are all numbered and colour coded. So off I go with my map and highlighter pen with all the relevant stations marked out for me by the helpful hotel receptionist, in order to meet up with a tour bus.
Tiananmen: So the famous square – seen on so many TV screens throughout the world. My information guide tells me that it is 880 metres long by 490 metres wide, making it the largest city square in the world. I have to agree that its huge, and it includes two roads that run parallel either side of the square, that are closed off and used during military parades. The east west sides are flanked by Congress hall and the national museum, both very impressive colossal structures, designed I expect to be intimidating to the outside world. In the centre is the mausoleum that holds Chairman Mao’s open coffin some forty years after his death, such is the national reverence of the man. Over the road or a ten minute walk underneath it, stands the mighty Forbidden City.
Or you might prefer......
As its name suggests no one unless ordered by the Emperor could go inside. In the days of the Mings (you remember them 14th – 17th century) the palace at any one time would hold 2057 people. Only ever increased for court business or banquets. There was the Emperor, his Empress (wife) their family and servants. Oh, I nearly forgot – and 2000 concubines! Now let's explore this concubine business – there was no profile, or photo’s, or in fact CV’s as such. These were all daughters of the gentry as it were, and it was considered at the time to be a very worthy position. It was also a job for life. (hmmnh – no actual number of years as such, just a position of dignity until the Emperor decided, that they were beyond their prime shall we say.) The ladies had to be put forward, approved and thereby employed as such. One in one out as long as the numbers remained two thousand. The number, I believe was something that indicated his prowess maybe. This was all with the wife’s approval by the way.(I suppose that one point of view would be that it saved her a job!) So just let's take this down to the maths – It’s around five and a half a day. What do you do for the half? (Okay yeah – silly question) This Emperor fellow gets my admiration if only for his stamina alone.
Now let me explain another thing about the Emperor. The Mings felt that the number 9 was superior to all other numbers and that yellow represented the sun and thereby was the most revered colour, worthy only of the Emperor wearing it. So in the days before the cell phone anyone turning up for a royal court appearance or ceremony wearing yellow was in for it! No matter who you were. Apparently the favourite method of despatch was pickling. You would be thrown into huge glass vials or jars for want of a better expression. You would drown in front of the Emperor and then slowly pickle over the coming years. Almost puts you off onions and gherkins in a way. After buying the entrance ticket, all visitors are made to walk south to north in order to go through the various courtyards and temples etc. Finally ending up in the garden of heaven. It was really fascinating, but after a time it became a little bit of a cultural overload, so I was glad to find the end some ninety minutes later.
I had some time on my hands, so what better way (I hear you say) to fill your time seeing a herbalist and getting a free foot massage. Of course as we all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. I am sitting next to Alessandro, from Italy (Milan) but lives in Okinawa Japan. As we are sitting next to each other with our extremities dangling into a hot tub of water to relax our feet, it seems only natural to chat. Before this however, a herbal doctor ( reputedly with thirty seven letters after his name) and a translator, come and sit by the pair of us. Mr Doo (the doctor) feels the three pressure points on each wrist. He places a finger on my neck and then inspects my tongue. He then gives me a full diagnosis of what is wrong with my internal organs. Two minutes later they come with the prescription of herbal medicines that will cure my liver and circulation problems. What a pile of pants! I said an emphatic no. I made the offer to rearrange the thirty seven letters after his name, into an appropriate sentence. Alessandro did exactly the same but in Italian. All things aside, the foot massage that followed was heavenly. It took me to places where my feet had never been before, and they are fairly well travelled. The creams, oils and general thumping around my heels, arches and toes was an experience that I would recommend to anyone.
Alessandro and I both then went to the Summer palace by bus, finding it hard to compute the Summer palaces distance. It was where the Emperor and goodness knows how many of the two thousand went for three months. You see it is still within the city limits, albeit, it may well have been a couple of days travel back then. Always in July, August and September of every year as tradition bade. The first thing that we came across was the huge frozen lake. I don’t know how many hectares it covered but I was told that it was around six kilometres around the circumference. The engrossing thing was the spectacle of literally thousands of people under ticketing supervision ,venturing out onto it, without skates. Just their ordinary footwear, slip sliding all the way into the middle of this vast body of frozen water. To our left was an arched bridge leading to an island in the lake. The arches numbered seventeen, indicating the middle and largest one being number nine. (Very important) On the bridge looking over you could see very clearly two things. Firstly that the lake depth at this point looked nothing more than a metre or so, and secondly, that the ice around the bridge had melted. Surely that had dangerous implications for the rest of the frozen lake? The long line of people willing to pay to get onto the ice, had not diminished. Presumably it was not viewed as a threat or a precursor to consequential mass drownings.
Before I leave tomorrow I think because this is the second large city that I have visited for more than a day, I should perhaps start to impart some opinion. I believe I like China. It is undoubtedly fascinating, huge in its land mass and cultural heritage, but also in its content. It is not capitalist and yet from within it sort of feels it. It is a saving nation as opposed to a spending or borrowing one. It is the largest international lender of money in the world, in addition, it has an input to the IMF of over 6.8%. I had to go into a bank to change currency. The practise there is to take a ticket and wait your turn. I maybe had to wait for twenty or so people to go in front of me. Most, and I mean upwards of 90% of those, were openly in possession of either pass or bank books in their hands. Everyone of those people had a wad of pink notes, (Pink note = RMB 100 Yuan – around £11 or $14 US) ready to pay in. I did not see one person in the system take money out of the bank. Backing up, albeit in a very small survey, that they are a nation of savers. The modern technology within the city indicates to me that it is advanced in its thinking and operation. There seems to be very little crime, as I understand it, probably because the punishments are so severe. That aside I did not get any sense of joy or ordinary happiness within Beijing, and by definition of the intrinsic features of the Oriental face it does possess a natural sadness about it. In the three days, and maybe fifty miles in any direction, I never saw one house. There are hundreds upon hundreds of uniform apartment tower blocks, lining all the entrances to the city. At night there is enough neon to suggest they invented it. But I still come back to the feeling that I liked it. Maybe ask me in a year’s time.
Position: 30°37'55” N 104°08'31”E – Miles completed: 07771
Location: Chengdu, China. 22:34 - 12th January 2020 - Journey 16 days 19 hours