Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Tuesday 23 September
Then we were allowed into the Forbidden City - along with what seemed like the entire population of Beijing, who have sharp elbows, don't know how to queue, and have no compunction in barging anyone aside.
Oops - dinner calls - more sometime later ...
Beijing rush hour
Bribery, so Kent tells us, is very common.
A night at the Beijing Opera
Well, yes, it IS culture - but it's actually a HOOT! I sniggered in my beard when it started, but then I realised it was meant to be funny, so I laughed properly instead ..
First of all, we could see the artistes and their maquillage in the outer foyer - pretending they couldn't see us, as they painted thick stylised faces - lots of white base, black and red eye makeup. Then into the theatre. Chinese opera is a total mix - mime, juggling, acrobatics, farce, bit of high pitched singing, lots of shouting, accompanied by gongs, drums, cymbals, rather in the style of the old organ players for the silent movies.
Ok then - three short pieces - I rather suspect cut down for the tourist market - barely a Chinese face in the audience.
1) Our hero turns up at a villainous inn and suspects his wildly leaping landlord to be (rightly) a murdering brigand. With all the lights shining brightly on the stage, and with just a table as a prop, they stalk each other in the blacked-out inn, swiping with swords, tumbling under and over the table. We can see them, but they can't see each other. The timing is outstanding and totally hilarious - I can't describe this well enough. The hero wins, of course ..
2) Young high-pitched nun, dressed most inappropriately in highly embroidered and bejewelled silk clothing, summons the old boatman to take her down the river to chase after her beloved, a student. A few liberties taken with the story, I believe, both here and to our western eyes ... The boatman, armed only with a long pole and an imaginary boat, teases her, takes her on board. They rock up and down and side to side alternately to simulate the boat on the water. Incongruous - she in her silks playing farce... I loved it.
3) Another young girl is searching for an immortal herb - to steal it - fie on her. She ends up fighting off a small army of young men, by virtue of tossing canes at them with her feet, which slay them temporarily, but they come back to life, and toss the canes around to each other and back at her. Fab fast juggling.
You had to be there and infinitely much better than I thought it would be - slick, shiny and very talented.
Some people were dining during the performance. So unlike our own dear stuffiness.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Still on the coach trying to get to the GW ..
We pass massive electricity pylons and a massive reservoir, which serves Beijing. Aesthetics have a low priority at the moment, but the main roads and motorways are excellent - I guess the Olympics have given them a big boost.
Small farms - mainly maize and fruit trees - are hacked out of the lumpy landscape.
And here we are in the car park for the GW, and only a short time after a pretty large breakfast (energy for the Wall), we're presented with lunch of a massive plate of noodles. Actually, they're fairly grim, and no-one can eat much. The Chinese family on the table behind me are tucking into a feast including a whole large fish, which I eye greedily.. We got given the menu with English on it, which included fried nice ...
Then on to the communal loos, with French footprints and a stable door to the outside world, so you can wave to your audience.
And now for the fun bit - the Wall itself. It is quite impossible to describe, and the photo I sent from there gives you much more of an idea. It's been built up and over the highest, most craggiest mountains around - it's the product of paranoia and megalomania (the first Emperor) to keep out the Mongol hordes. The amount of work done by the 'common people' (phrase used by Kent, so that's alright then) and the effort and undoubted huge numbers of deaths can barely be imagined.
Now I know my limits, and I took the cute little cable car to Tower 8. The cars are tiny, with little roofs, open to the air. Very peaceful - all I heard were the crickets zing-zinging, and the creak of the cars as they lurched over the supports. And all the way up the mountain someone has planted little fir trees in individual circular stone terraces.
Once I reach the top cable car station, I have to get on this near-vertical funicular railway - wooo - and the view outward is endless mountains. I'm used to the flat lands of East Anglia, or rounded glaciated hills. This is all sharp, biting the sky.
Then it's a steep zigzag walk up very rocky very uneven steps to Tower 8 itself, during which time Tina and I are adopted by a couple of local women, who obligingly fan under my hair, when I hesitate even slightly. We cannot shake them off... and obviously they're not doing it for the good of my health.
So - views and photos out of Tower 8 over what was once Mongolia to the north, but nowadays belongs to China. It's so mountainous, I can't imagine anyone thinking attacking here would be a good idea - far too much like hard work. Then Tina and I start descending.
Steps are rough, uneven and made for small Chinese feet. With our big western plates of meat, we're going slowly, grabbed by our new best friends from time to time. And what we never even thought about - the wind, blustery, gusting, and very scary .. So after a while, like two elderly infirm old ladies, we're helped down endless endless steps by now grateful for the help we formerly spurned. Neither of us want photos taken of us like this ...
Eventually we get to Tower 2, where we can leave to amble down to the car park. Although it was a bit unnerving, I wouldn't have missed it. Apparently, there is a bit of wall nearer Beijing, but it's more crowded, so I'm glad we came here.
I asked my guide about the lack of safety walls each side of the steps and slopes and she said the Japanese knocked them down. There's little love lost between the Chinese and the Japanese, so I was surprised to see a Japanese restaurant in Beijing.
At Tower 2 came the hard sell. I wanted to give my guide something for her undoubted help, but she looked rather cross and wanted to sell me a souvenir. I settled for a packet of chopstick in brocade covers for about 10 pounds sterling, paid in yuan, but I refused her other offerings. This is a short version of the bargaining .. she'd told me if I paid her, and didn't buy something she wouldn't be allowed to work the following day. Hm somehow I didn't quite believe her. But she had helped me an awful lot, and knocked a biting millipede out of my way when I sat on a wall (not THE wall).
The loos at Tower 2 were portapottis - with a lo-ong green plastic liner containing all the contents .. mm nice job emptying that.
Then I went down on the zip wire across the river - fantastic!! Long and slow - so good, if I could have walked up the road again, I'd have done it all over again! Crossed the river in a little yellow boat with some noisy Americans, then met up with Tina again in the car park.
So my walk along the Great Wall was fairly inglorious, but I had a go at all the methods of transport up and down, and I did walk for part of the way ..
The Great Wall
I saw a sign saying 'ecological scenery', adorned with a panorama of luscious greenery, in front of scratty single storey brick shacks. Product placement not good... some of the roofs have bricks laid on top of them to keep them down. It's rather utilitarian and very shabby, unlike the smarter parts of Beijing. It's easy to see this is a country which is trying to improve itself, but there's a long way to go. That sounds so awful, that last sentence. I hope you know what I'm trying to say, without sounding condescending ... shades of empire linger on...
Kent tells us in his dry way how government dictat and interference with farming meant that as the farmers got nothing out of communal food production, they didn't bother working, so lots of people starved to death. This in the 50s, I think, maybe later, too. Now they can sell their surpluses, so they have an incentive. And I must say, the fruit looks delicious - but we only get tinned stuff at breakfast, with some melon.
Sorry - the Great Wall will have to wait. I have to go.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sorry, notes - dashing off in a minute
Continuing my programme of self harm, I fell down the sodden cardboard on the steps from the little restaurant Kent, our guide, took us to, taking the 'watch out, wet steps' sign with me ... my right buttock is now one bruise ... This is now known as the Great Fall of China.
Beijing is massive. Tower blocks studded with aircon units. The roads jam packed with traffic. And spotted from the tour bus - KFC, McD, B&Q, Ikea, Carrefour, Starbux .. it all feels so foreign.
There are still lots of bikes, carrying two up, the lady sitting sidesaddle on the parcel shelf behind her sweating swain. But lots of people have electric bikes these days. I've seen furniture tied on to bikes, and the biggest loads of cardboard. It all feels very lively - probably because people are doing things on the streets - mending cars, selling piles of brightly coloured fruit, holding their small children up so they can wee and poo through their split trousers.
Kent tells us about property prices - there's a strong feeling of familiarity. Apparently lots of people hold of buying till the prices drop.
There are also areas of single storey hutongs - some rather shanty looking, but the rickshaw ride went through a great little area with open fronted cafes with sofas overlooking a lake. Sadly, it was overcast, but when the sun shines, this must be a fab place to hang out. Oh, as ever, no time, no time...
The pollution lessened on the second day, and disappeared on the third day, so we could see the hills beyond the city from the hotel 10th floor.
Because there are so many people, and I guess wages are pretty low, everywhere is labour intensive, which means the city, though shabby, is very clean, and the municipal flower and shrub beds are neatly trimmed. Lots of the signs are in both Chinese and English. It feels foreign, but not unfamiliar. I'm not sure I'd want to try the metro, or the buses quite yet, though - it took me years in England, and I still don't know how to use London buses ...
The Chinese symbol for 'lady' is headless, with her legs crossed ..
Lots of shiny red lanterns and weeping willows.
I waved to some Chinese people in a tour bus which drew alongside, and they waved and grinned back. They're very cheery and friendly, but VERY LOUD!! They shout all the time, so you're never quite sure whether they're having an argument or merely talking to each other. It's not very inscrutable..
Breakfast in the hotel includes gratinated peas - baked beans al dente to you and me.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
China on my mind
I got a taxi outside the terminal, having had the name of the hotel written in Mandarin on my joining instructions. The pollution is pretty dreadful - I had the window open because it was very warm and humid, and it was like breathing sulphur. There are massive tower blocks everywhere, looming out of the gray atmosphere, quite a few still being built, with cranes on top of them.
This hotel, the Dongfang Hotel, is apparently the first Chinese hotel, built by and run by the Chinese in 1918, with a new tower block adjoining. The lobby and bar are splendiferous and the porters wear white gloves. I feel transported back to some parts of the 20s. Everyone is very friendly and helpful - and they speak English, though I'm trying out 'Thank you' in ghastly Mandarin ... I'm in the new bit, which looks say 20 years old - standard stuff, ensuite bathroom with hair dryer, toothbrushes, combs - oh, and just in case - a condom. Just the one ...
I'm sharing with Tina from North Yorkshire, who works for BT as a designer, but she said don't ask as it's boring. I think we've got lots of attitudes in common - wanting to be organised, instead of having to do the donkey work, and wanting to go on all and any trips and excursions.
I've had a beer in the bar with a couple also on this holiday, and meeting up with Kent (I love English Chinese names) the tour guide in half an hour.
Toodle ooo x
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Cambridge's Grand Arcade
The Arcade is all very brand new and modern, but it's tacked on to the old multistorey car park, where I photographed the useless sign below. Walking up the old stairs, my delicate nostrils were assaulted by the stench of P. Vile. The contrast between the swanky new building and the old impromptu latrine was striking. Why do some motorists take the P sign beyond their cars and regard it as a legal imperative the moment their feet hit a stairwell?
Edit: On further consideration, maybe the useless sign below is helpfully indicating the drain, incontinent customers for the use of?
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Trains and Technology
It's the Nene Valley Railway - lots of elderly boys playing with a giant train set, wearing uniforms, blowing whistles, clipping real card tickets .. such amazing fun! I found out I can (if I pay) get to drive a steam train and woooooo wooooooooo the train's whistle - so there's something an elderly gal can do on a boring day ...
Here's a link to their website: (this could be me ...) http://www.nvr.org.uk/
Ouch - that looks painful
Look, I really try and keep out of trouble, really I do. But sometimes I feel the need to attack radiators with my head ... check out the black eye - it's half way down my nose now, but no picture of it. The real beauty is the bit under the plaster - it poured, and I mean poured, blood all over the place - handfuls of it. Then it stopped - hooray! A dent in my head, which might improve matters .. and no need to bother A&E. Slap a quick plaster on it and on we go.
Until I drive to Peterborough, and just outside I got a drip drip drip down my face. What to do? No tissues, don't want to get covered in blood, but then a light! The car was valeted yesterday, grace a the building site on the doorstep, making me park on the road, under the trees, where birds crapped all over the car. Anyway, the valeters in Tesco carpark put the stuff in the boot on the back seat, among which was a packet of cleaning cloths.
So, fumbling with the packet on the A1, I was able to hold a cloth over my right eye, mopping blood, and steering with my other hand, I got into the services, where I was able to buy a packet of plasters. And here's one doing it's job.
Friday, September 12, 2008
My English/Spanish/Chinese speaking granddaughter
What else did I buy in London?
Thing is, am I practising, or have I got there and just didn't notice ...
"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple"
The Fascinator, or down and out in London ...
Wow! Guess what I've just done! I'm dead impressed - I sent this photo from my phone directly to my blog!! It's a bit blurry, but good, eh? (I've now edited it and lightened it in Picasa - ees betterrr...)
Last night I went to a parteee - drinkies with chums, ackshully - in London town - Soho, Shaftesbury Ave, place called Sugarreef. And I had way way too much to drink, and misbehaved like mad and I was wearing this dotty hat I'd bought earlier from a jokey fancyish dress gothicky shop in Berwick Street, of market fame. I pretended not to notice people in the street staring at this wobbly ole gal with a series of pink chickens and sequins on her head.. Fevvers? Wot fevvers?
Then it occurred to me that I hadn't really eaten since eggs benedict in a cafe for breakfast a long long time before, and maybe I should have something to soak up the alkyhol - little realising it was a bit late for that and eating should come before drinking ... so I swung into a little late night Italian snack place, slurred 'pann-ee-nee' and gobbled it up in no time. I was rather hungry, wasn't I? As I got up to go, I saw a young chap approaching, and decided he was a waiter, thrust money at him, at which he was caught - horrified at what this importuning woman might want with him, outraged at being thought to work there - so I said he could have earned his food, then paid the chap on the other side of the counter. Ha!
Sunday, September 07, 2008
The doors were opened by a young girl, who was immediately pounced on by the ravening laptop hordes, one of whom was your esteemed correspondent. Aghast, she shrank back and retreated into the treasure repository, or as she called it, the office, returning a few minutes later with four. And that was all there were. FOUR mini laptops. And a queue of 20 buyers.
I was third in the queue. Hehehe.
Home again home again jiggety jig
And Ebby preferred to come and cuddle her favourite (and only) grandma instead of going to ooooh and aaaaah over the two little baby chicks, born a week ago... As Ebbs is reading this over my shoulder, I think I ought to write something about her. And I ought to take a photo and show you all what a 'pretty little girl I am' - this is now being dictated by Ebby ...