The contrasts couldn’t be more stark as we return to Beijing. After boarding the plane in Tashkent we immediately nodded off to sleep and before we knew it China Southern were offering us a breakfast of a bread roll and a packet of peanuts and we were due to land in 45 mins. After taking over 30 days to travel this far the return journey couldn’t have been easier.
We are no longer celebrities alas. It’s a rarity when some-one gets up to offer us their seats on the train, no one waves to us from across the road or engages us in animated conversation. No one’s face lights up when we tell them we come from Australia. In short no one notices us at all. Here they are too interested in their phones, their friends and themselves to care about two foreign 60 somethings . That’s if they’re awake, there’s a lot of yawning going on here. It’s all good preparation for our return to Australia in five days.
The sky is hazy, the sun is obscured and it’s a humid 35. The air pollution index reads unhealthy but there are two categories above this!! Then on our final day as we emerged from the Forbidden City a miracle occurred. A pollution dispersing wind whipped up, the sky was blue, the sun visible. What a great day for the people of Beijing!
We are staying in a lively hutong area. A mix of residential and modern restaurants, craftsmen, and up and coming fashion designers.......oh and lots of temples.
We visited the Temple of Heaven via the extensive subway system which runs under a city which comprises the equivalent of the entire population of Australia. It’s a happy place. Lots of groups of sixty somethings engaged in communal singing accompanied by a piano accordion. Men fly kites almost out of sight tethered to huge reels. Older people in animated groups play cards and mahjong. Children ride scooters and the elderly exercise on the communal park equipment. There are lots of grandparent /grandchild combinations out enjoying time together. It’s all manicured lawns and light forest. Conifers, ginkos, sycamores. Lucky they have this escape as some of the living conditions in the surrounding areas are pretty grim.
We have never seen such a heightened level of security which the people accept as normal. Body scans and bag checks every time you enter a subway station. All the tourist attractions surrounded by fortifications and bollards and entry is funnelled through a tiny area. Chinese or foreigner, its unwise to walk the streets of Beijing without ID. We saw people being hassled behind buildings and in underpasses. Jim would have not seen the Forbidden city at all because he had left his passport in the hotel then we remembered we had an image on the iPad and he was in. It’s all one way entry and exit and there are rolling barriers everywhere. While no where near as high alert as Kashgar it’s certainly a much higher level of intrusion than we would like to see or accept at home.
The Temple of Earth is our favourite. A combination of Temple and animal sacrifice courtyard set in stunning gardens of carefully clipped trees, shrubs of every shade of green, peonies of course, but the major draw card for us is the blooming lotuses in large pots of water. Stunning. The Summer Palace is also awash with bursting lotuses, this time around the margin of the West Lake. While at the Temple of Earth we observe how the elderly, 60+, denied the right to drive a car, have got around this with the tiny car. Many of these are three wheelers or a small step up from our mobility scooters, steered with handlebars, not steering wheels. We saw a number of grandparents using them for school pick up then some exercise at the park.
Near the Temple of Earth is a great local restaurant. Four storeys and festooned with red lanterns, we’re impressed that the waiters are all wearing transparent spit guards. Credit cards are not well regarded here. Instead the Chinese have We Chat Pay. A little symbol that you point your phone at to settle your bill. At our restaurant you fill out an order sheet, the waiter transfers it to a mobile phone and when the meal is finished your bill is waiting on the table in the We Chat Pay symbol. We order refreshing drinks comprising lime juice, soda water and ice, topped off with lime slices and a sprig of rosemary. It’s very thirsty weather here.
The subway has been fantastic. Six days of hop on hop off for both of us for 170 yuan. That’s. AU $20 each for all our transport. Lots of stairs and standing though. Lucky we’re still young.