…my stereotypes are being shattered one by one. I’m starting my annual 2 month Asian vacation in the People’s Republic of China, and enjoying every minute of it. Beijing is definitely a holiday destination I can recommend and I shall certainly be coming back again. Dangerously thick smog and a daytime temperature of -8C was forecast. and my air b’n’b host had a facemask for me but I didn’t really need it.
The apartment was too hot and there was no way of turning the temperature down as the whole 30 story block was connected to the same heating system. The landings were full of parked bikes and scooters, and every time I used the lift I shared it with various pedigree pooches being taken out to do their thing. Beijing is full of trees and small parks so the dogs are happy. The scooters most people seem to ride are mostly electric: good for air pollution but bad for pedestrians because you can’t hear them coming and they don’t put their lights on. Free enterprise is alive and kicking ~ I got my hair cut by a woman on the pavement with just a stool and a pair of clippers. She charged me 5 yuan imstead of the standard barbershop rate of 28 yuan. On the tube/subway people dress just like in London, with the same logos visible. At one count 19 out of 20 people were using mobile devices. Nine out of ten cars are non~Chinese brands, and here in the capital nine out of ten cars are BIG saloons. Businessmen/Nomenklatura? Who knows. All the Western brands and fast food outlets have come to town (except Google). I saw no evidence of a Christian presence here, but snowmen and Christmas trees are everywhere with the odd Father Xmas thrown in for good measure. I guess Christmas is mainly a consumer festival like in England. There is one hill in town: I walked to the top to see the view. There I found a gold Buddha in a pagoda looking down benignly over the Forbidden City. There was a recorded chanting, and a handful of devotees were lighting incense sticks. There was a sign saying No Photos but not one saying No Shoes. The table in the corner selling religious bits and bobs was overlooked by a portrait of Mao Tse Tung who as I recall used a statuette of the Buddha to hang his coat on, thus displaying his low opinion of Buddhism!
In Tien An Men square, Mao’s gigantic portrait looks down ~ it’s not a good likeness. Eight enormous red flags move slowly in the wind. This is quite an emotional moment for me. I’ve followed the activities of the Chinese Communist Party almost back to the days of the Long March. No one attempted social engineering on such a huge scale. Today things are more relaxed yet John Pilger is predicting war on China (New Internationalist, current issue). Lots of officials everywhere ~ I can’t leave the airport because I can’t give my hotel’s phone number; I can’t visit the Forbidden City because I haven’t got my passport on me. The voice on the escalator tells passengers in English to “Please stand firm and hold the handrail”. I love these slight infelicities with the English language. ” Stand Firm” used to be part of Chinese cold war rhetoric, as in “Stand firm against Paper Tigers” and “Stand firm against Running Dogs of Imperialism”.
I see fewer beggars than in London. One old crone bent over her walking stick is studiously ignored by passengers on the train. I’d love to interview her, I bet she’s seen a few things! Prostitutes advertise their phone numbers on stickers on lampposts. Trains here have some things London could copy. Each carriage has live maps with coloured lights showing where the train is on the line and its direction of travel. Each station name sign also tells you the name of the next station. Besides TVs on the walls, ads are also beamed onto the carriage windows in the tunnels. Very clever! Most underground stations have toilets, another thing London should copy. And while we’re on the subject of loo’s, did you know that Chinese toilet paper doesn’t have a cardboard tube at its centre ~ it’s solid paper all the way in?
I was looking forward to tasting genuine Chinese food in Beijing, but was somewhat taken aback when the first restaurant I found with an english menu in the window advertised “Ducks’ webs and blood”, a little outside my comfort zone. I found a foodcourt in a mall with a choice of meals on display, and settled for delicious dishes from Hunan province. The vendors had little plastic chin guards so their spittle wouldn’t touch the food in the display cases as they lent over to talk to customers – very hygienic! A shop selling only fruit had the most scrumptious-looking displays I have ever seen; the fruit was just yelling “Buy me” it was so fresh. One jokey item there was shelled coconuts with ring-pulls on them – how do they do that?
Two months on, I’m due back in China tomorrow and the air pollution was BAD in my absence; I hope it’s ebbed somewhat. London (day after tomorrow) is also bad I hear and there’s no coal and steel plants there. What’s their excuse? I must dig out that facemask from the bottom of my rucksack; I think I’ve still got it somewhere, and it sounds like I’m going to need it at home in London.
Normal Zingcreed service will be resumed as soon as possible!
(Written by stubby fingers on a tiny tablet, to be edited on a decent keyboard later. Limited access to Zingcreed in China because there’s no Google Chrome, and other browsers have never been much good. My laptop in London has 2 articles I didn’t have time to publish before I left, a letter to the pope and a review of a book kindly sent to me by Polebridge Press in California. Something to re-read in February when I return. I have only got one post planned between then and now, and that’s a piece on my 4 favourite colours in Asia. Of course other ideas may occur to me along the way. Wishing all Zingcreed readers a merry Xmas, etc. In solidarity, Peter Turner.)
In his latest book American philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky writes:
“Whatever we read about China, whenever people go to China, they are shocked because it is a totally different country from what they imagined from reading Western reports. It is totally different from what we are being told….”
‘On Western Terrorism’ by Chomsky and Andre Vltchek, Pluto Press (2017) p.47