The contrasts of Beijing

We decided to go into town the first day and visit Tiananmen Square. We went 5 days after the 25th anniversary of the massacre.   Took the airport train.  Quite impressed by how easy and modern it all was, thanks mostly to the Olympics.  Then took the subway. Ridiculously cheap and crowded.  Airport style security checks each time you enter. People pushing you everywhere. Only stroller in sight, only foreigners in sight and only children in sight.  Hmm… feeling we probably should have taken a taxi.

We arrive at the station and head to Tiananmen square.  Massive!  One of the biggest squares in the world (880 m by 500 m). No western tourists anywhere, no shops, no hotels, just a big open space. Huge image of Chairman Mao and screen showing images of China.  Security checks to enter by very serious soldiers. In fact, soldiers everywhere watching you.  Very intimidating atmosphere. Should we even be here? Google is blocked so no reassurance.  The sun is beaming and the only shade comes from an ice cream van and we head there as Dylan is asleep.  Within seconds we have hoards of Chinese women and some men surrounding us. They speak among themselves, point at us, take pics of the kids, keep speaking to me despite the fact I am absolutely clueless!  A man tries to sell Mark a Chairman Mao watch and gets annoyed as we didn’t want it, and even more annoyed when he takes a photo of it.

We head off to Silk Street. This is where they sell the knock-offs sold in the China towns around the world.  Gucci, Rolex, Ralph Lauren, etc. We had no energy to negotiate for anything so just had a look around.  Went back to the Golden Phoenix for some chicken and rice and off to bed confused and humbled by this country. Completely underestimated the culture shock.

After this experience I was intrigued to see modern China.  Everyone talks of the new rich Chinese taking over the world. Who are they and where do they go then?  We ended up at Sanlitun Village which is the “it” place in Beijing. This time the train had quite a few foreigners and ex-pats. Relief. Still got bustled around a fair bit.  Very trendy; all the Chinese covered head to toe in designer wear. They all speak English, they wine and dine. Very polite. Had a fantastic lunch paying western prices though. Dylan had a blast running through the fountains with the locals. Mark said this could have been anywhere but I disagree. For me this could have been anywhere in a capitalist country but not the communist China in my mind.. Pleased we have seen this side.

On reflection, for me, Tiananmen Square is a metaphor for what China stands for: Grand, intimidating, strict and no smiles going around,.Who needs English or tourists? People are busy at work reaching world domination and making money to spend at Sanlitun Village.  Better learn Mandarin for the future!

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