Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Last Ditch: Tom's day of heavenly peace

Tom has an interesting account of his first trip to Beijing and a chance to see some of the city.

I walked around the city for five hours. At several points, I paused to reflect how lucky I am to have such a life; to have the chance to visit the far-off places I dreamed of as a boy. My whole family has lived in one square mile of what is now Wales, probably, since prehistory. It seems to be my destiny to improve our averages when it comes to travel.

The Forbidden City was not quite what I expected. Yes, it's huge and impressive and oozes history. Yet it also feels rather sad. It's as if the Emperor had just walked away and no-one had quite decided what to do with it. Renovation of such a complex must be a huge burden. It covers 7.8 million square feet and comprises 980 buildings. It is a city within a city. A city that feels, in parts, abandoned and neglected. Some structures are quite dilapidated, although crews were working on others. The task of maintenance is eternal. While it's a "World Heritage Site" and rightly so, I can't help feeling it would be better put to use. Such wonderful spaces should be occupied and enjoyed, not just gawped at by the likes of me. The occupants would also pick up on minor repairs that would otherwise become major while waiting for scheduled maintenance.

It was crowded, particularly at entrance and exit where I was pressed closer to a mass of strangers than any Englishman can well endure (yet without ever feeling in danger, or worrying about my wallet). After a while, the masses de-merged into family groups and I could observe the Chinese at leisure. My main impression was of extended families. I saw some old people so thin and drawn that it was hard to believe they were mobile. Yet they were cheerfully led, or pushed around by their families and looked happy in their company. The welfare state in Britain has destroyed so much. Such skeletal specimens would be in a "home", out of sight and out of mind. Here they cheerfully chatted to the family's infants, who seemed completely relaxed (as they should be) in the company of the old and frail.

Basking happily in the bright sunshine in their leisure wear, many Chinese wore English slogans. I never understand why our language has such glamour for strangers. Apart from the usual brand names (paid for or otherwise) there were random English words. One lady had "Praisworthy" (sic) emblazoned on her blouse. I don't know why our scruffy leisure costume has been adopted at all. Traditional Chinese clothes are so much more attractive, but I only saw a few people - usually very old - wearing them. Even most of the very elderly sported trainers and jeans. I noticed the cheap and brightly coloured baseball hats handed out by tour organisers so they can recognise their flock in crowds were lined with the attractive check that Burberry has now pretty much had to abandon, so "common" has it become.

More here

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