Published: January 23rd 2012January 23rd 2012
Whisked at the speed of 307kph between cities built and those yet to be built, we saw spanking new stations and infrastructure to support the burgeoning buildings rising like flightless birds from the land.
Any small hill stands ravaged, chopped and carved for stone, slate or any other mineral which could be extracted. The remnants of a former life flung over the land but locked into a centrifugal force around the new cities springing up at the rate of at least one a month the size of Houston. Old tenements, shikumen, and hutong demolished and swallowed in the quest for new.
Beijing was a place of happenstance. Thinking only of obtaining our Mongolian visa we stood in line outside the embassy for about 1 ½ hours in the bitter cold and having handed over the passports and other documentation we only had time for a quick visit to the Forbidden City. On our way back we stopped for some food in an international food hall with Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese all spruiking their freshly made dishes. There were the French people we had seen in the Mongolian visa queue. Heading upstairs we wandered around looking
at ski pants and bumped into a lady who said, 'Didn't we just see each other in Shanghai? At the Astor House?' We certainly had.
In the lobby of our hostel a German girl started a conversation with us revolving around a clothes dryer! She too was setting off on the Trans Siberian the day before us and staying at the same hostel in Irkutsk. When I got back to the room the thinking processes deduced that she just might be the German girl I was emailed about who would share our trip to Lake Baikal. She was, but she didn't, due to time constraints.
The Forbidden City – we followed the directed flow to courtyard after courtyard containing temple after temple. These beautifully painted wooden buildings all said the same thing. Rebuilt after fire. Not once but many times. There was little to indicate how the emperor lived but the magnificent bronze cauldrons and carved stone ramps indicated great wealth. As we processed we came closer to the living quarters of the royal family culminating in an interesting rock garden, the sky pierced by ancient pines propped to extend their lives even further.
The Beijing metro? As efficiently run as the trains. Clean, well marked and clearly announced stops in Chinese and English for us linguistically challenged tourists! The local populace, as in Beijing, dressed in full Western attire with an Eastern slant. Neon coloured trainers, black patent leather look alike puffa jackets (Lesley eat your heart out!) and every designer name handbag your little heart could possibly desire, or not. We struggled to find much more than take-away food near our hostel and ate an uninspired last Chinese meal although we made sure to stock up on noodles and Chinese sweets for the train.
There are more photos below