Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Day 12 - Beijing

Today I did the touristy thing. I took a taxi to the Summer Palace which as the name explains was the summer residence of the latter emperors of china. Its a very nice place with a large lake in the middle, with several palaces on an island in the middle of the lake. The other temples and palaces are on the side of the lake. Apparently the funding for the construction of this palace was taken from funds that were supposed to go to the building of a modern Chinese Navy in the late 19th century. The empress, who embezzled the funds did however construct one ship, albeit one that doesn't float, built out of marble on the lakeside.

The Summer Palace was flooded by waddling Chinese tourist groups in their cute matching hats following a guide carrying an umbrella. Once in a while there were groups of confused middle-aged European wearing matching name tags. To make the story short, there was lots of staring by the provincial tourists at the strange white person walking around.

The Summer Palace looks very nice, but the biggest complex is unfortunately under construction. Once again my enjoyment of a Chinese cultural place has been damaged by preparations for the Olympic games. Speaking of which, there is plenty of memorabilia for the 2008 Olympics already floating around, including official stuff sold at ridiculous prices, and black market stuff at a tenth of the price.

From the Summer Palace I went down to the Lama Temple, which is supposed to be the second most important Tibetan temple next to the one in Tibet. Its nice and suprisingly peacefull considering that right outside its walls is a bustling and polluted intersection. Chinese people come in and light up their incense and do their bows... The monks are walking around in their orange-red robes... very authentic..

After getting some pictures of the Lama temple I went down to look for an internet cafe at the China World Trade Center. This is a very modern looking complex housing a spiffy mall with all the famous designer names. Unfortunately they closed down the internet cafe just to spite me so I had to go down to the internet cafe I knew on Tianamen Square where I browsed the web a bit, and then did a bit of browsing around the general tianamen area. There are many shops open and a bustling trade in all kinds of kitschy Mao souvenirs... The stores and the roads are not on the same level as those in Hong Kong though, all looking dirty and dejected.

From here I decided to go check out the pub area at Sanlitun. I got lost in the hutong again, so I had to take a cab down to that area. The pub area consists of one street with pubs on one side of the street. The sidewalk is full of Chinese offering various not-so-legal services. The area is patrolled by threesomes of Chinese police walking back and forth though strangely doing nothing about all the Chinese hawkers.

Among the Chinese there was the curious presence of a black guy from somewhere in Africa. He walked alongside me and offered me hash. I went down to one of the pubs recommended by the Rough Guide, had a beer and left. I tried to find the other area where pubs were recommended, but that street seems to have been largely torn down. There was just one pub which seemed to almost be a cultural center for the Afro-Chinese community. Here i was once again offered some drugs. I left his area and walked downtown. On the way I passed many franchises including McDonalds, Outback Steakhouse, KFC, 7-11 and many others...

I took the subway back to the hotel, though the bus service was no longer running. I hence had to walk back to the hostel using a map and a compass.

Back at the hotel I turned on the TV to watch the Chinese news in English. They spoke of a visit of Chinese president ? to south China where he met with local representatives and promoted 'harmonious socialist society' with communist characteristics. Included in the coverage was an interview with a woman who said everything was getting better because of 'the party's people-first policy'. Watching Chinese news was an interesting experience in itself. Interesting the weather was done by a weird looking white guy.

Another interesting thing is the demonstrations going on against Japan. They are all staged by the government. It seems to be part of a campaign against Japanese membership in the UNSC. The same day I saw the 'China Daily' newspaper where conveniently Japanese gas bombs were discovered the same day as demonstrations were going on. Its all staged and stage-managed by the party. China might not be economically a 'communist' country, but its still a one-party dictatorship and if anybody believes that a spontaneous demonstration can be organized without the support of the government, they are insane. Someone somewhere must grant permission for the gathering to occur in some particular place. There is no freedom of speech and assembly in China, remember? Just like these demonstrations start they will be (quitely) stopped once the Chinese government is satisfied.

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