“We should go, this elevator is full…”
Guess again, it can accommodate at least ten more people.
“We just have to cross this junction to get to you…”
Sure, but to cross you have to walk at least 500 meters and fight the thousands of other agents in traffic, who seem to consider streetlights a suggestion rather than a necessity.
“We’ll have to wait for the next metro train, there’s too many passengers…”
Except we all fit somehow, with some professional help from the people-pushers to stuff us in. Beijing has plenty such surprises to offer, and challenges your worldviews consistently and persistently.
Beijing’s air is several times more polluted than the highest value the World Health Organisation recommends, and we even had to blow our noses more than usual. We witnessed other kinds of pollution as well, kinds that struck home and compelled us to blend in. Beijing is very, very populous – I really can’t stress this enough, Western concepts of overpopulation just don’t seem to quite describe the situation here – and this shows everywhere. There are so many inhabitants that restaurants put plastic chairs before their buildings so people can wait outside en masse until a spot in the venue opens up and they can eat. Each restaurant had at least 100 people out front, and some handed out free sunflower seeds. Groups of customers merrily snacked and then spit the shells out on the ground. The seeds were very delicious, by the way, and not salty at all.
Everything in Beijing is huge, to fit the immense size of the population, be it the boulevards, the junctions, the pedestrian zones and bridges, the metro stations, the buildings, garages, the bike trails, and so on…
And still everywhere was teeming with people, which seemingly fazed no one. Single-mindedness was the status quo; no one had time to pay attention to anybody else, or to excuse oneself. You just had to be quick and independent and able. If you lose concentration for one second while trying to catch a taxi, you’ll be robbed of it by at least two to three other people.
We began our visit on the largest public plaza in the world – Tiananmen – where we couldn’t resist taking a photo with the famous Mr Mao.
The slight jet lag and hunger, as well as the heat and dry, dirty air fouled our moods a bit. Still, we could take a break from all that in one of the little diners at the entrance to The Forbidden City. Here the surroundings adopted color and a widescreen format. Let’s blend into the crowd and enter the mysterious Forbidden City.
The place is hugely impressive, breathtaking and full of history, cemented somewhere in its walls. Strange rules governed life here – who could enter or exit where; where the emperor and his famous loyal eunuch slaves did what; and which new mistress would be entertaining the emperor on any specific evening. The buildings are marked by symbolism but no coincidences; symmetry rules here, as well as feng shui, Buddhism and Daoism; numerous types of animals and their posture are an expression of entire philosophical movements, all of which defined the existence and power of the emperor and his domain.
|Tiananmen – the greatest piazza in the world|
|The three of us with Mr Mao|
|It is no coincidence that each of the rows consists of nine balls – this is the number of might|
|Colorful decorations shy away on the golden roofs|
|I see no evil, I hear no evil! This is the only way you can get into the emperor’s chambers.|
|You’ll need comfy shoes for the Forbidden City. It takes up quite a bit of space|
Before climbing to the highest place possible to admire the Forbidden City, we visited the Jingshan Park, where we found not just many people but great amounts of flora, even Dutch tulips.
Everyone was looking for the tree on which the last emperor of the Ming dynasty hanged himself, to take photo of themselves beside it. The tree wasn’t very impressive, but the tallest hill there offered… rather ineffable views. See for yourselves:
|You make this kind of stone from cement and potatoes! No, really!|
|Martie is tired of reading Chinese|
|We walked through all of this|
|The white stupa in Beihai Park|
We ended our day with Pekingese duck with a side of vegetables and a pancake-like dish. We had a trip planned early next morning – a trip to the Great Wall of China.
|For the duck!|
This article was brought to you in English by Nick Kotsev.
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