Beijing, Duck!

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November 9th 2015
Published: November 9th 2015
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.....lots of low doorways. Just doesn't have the same ring as Peking Duck, not that I've ever been a real fan of that dish, always seems to have too much peking and not enough duck.

Crickey, it's the 9th of Nov and I'm just getting to finish this?, where were we?

And forbidden to enter the Forbidden City, sounds counterintuitive but there you go.

Thanks to the international athletics competition.... and the upcoming national day, (70th anniversary of the defeat of the Japanese), half the factories around Beijing have been closed down and the rest ordered to restrict their hours. Also, cars are restricted by rego numbers to 1 day on, 1 day off, half the traffic disappears! So....

It's clear and clean, bright sunny day, but it's also so less crowded than I'd expected, way less busy than Hanoi although that's not saying much! But only a moderate crowd at the railway station, light traffic driving around, a completely calm, clean atmosphere! The downside is the Forbidden City and Tianamen square are closed in preparation for the big bash on September 3 But I'm considering it's a good deal.

I was desperately seeking barbecued duck, for some reason I had that association with Beijing...shortlived, mistaken and probably unwarranted. I was thinking of that legend in which the Chinese farmer burns down his barn and later finds bbqed duck, but then realised that was the roast pork invention story..Where did the idea of roast duck come from?

My hotel room was slightly smaller than a shoe box, I had a chioce, either open the suitcase or the door, not both simultaneously...I thought of emptying the suitcase and sleeping in it outside. They got me a bigger room. In the old quarter, formerly a second-tier-official's family home, a complex with 2 courtyards, rooms off, all tres authentic and charming. Roaming the local district it was all so peaceful and timeless....little kids playing in the street, no traffic, old people sitting and contemplating.......I was so impressed. Going out and about with Michael, my tour guide, and our driver. M rabbited on constantly but it was such a rehearsed script, if I stopped him to ask a question he got totally confused and had to start again...I had to wait for the proper moment to interrupt. But he told me lots of interesting stuff about China, including a fascinating version of the border dispute between China and VN in '79.....I guess we all get the information we deserve..... And the business of the islands in the East and South China seas...hmmmm.....very interesting.

Preparations were underway in a BIG way for the celebrations. They've never bothered about the end of WW2 before but this was a great opportunity for a bit of muscle flexing...and, watching it on the treadmill tv at the gym yesterday, it all looked pretty extraordinarily scary...maybe Tony can get some mileage out of it....Chinese death cult anyone? (Hey, I wrote this back in September)

Then the obligatory 5km hike up the great wall, perfumed gardens, temple of heavenly delights, or was that the massage parlour next door to the hotel, I'm vaguing out again.

But I must say I loved Beijing...fabulous, however, like many places on this trip I wouldn't want to be here in winter, and in the case of Beijing, on a 'normal' day...cough, cough.

Did I tell you I nearly missed the train from Beijing?

Train 11? I've lost count, the bullet rain to Guanzhou...meh....probably slightly less quality and speed than the Japanese Shinkansen 12 years ago! However, a pleasant 8 hours or so, a very interesting young Chinese guy next to me. He'd spent several years in the UK so spoke really good English, He told me a lot. He was on his way to Guanzhou to try and find a factory to manufacture his products, a line of plastic toys....I didn't ask him about kiddy-choke-ability or toxic ingredients, but still it was interesting. He's married but no kids yet, he's worried about lack of security......housewise, investmentwise, businesswise, not at all confident about the future. And not because of the recent downturns, something more general. And I almost choked when he told me how very worried he was about someone knocking off his ideas...hahaha.

At Guanzhou station, another fucking HUGE affair, about the size of Etihad stadium but more welcoming, and better and cheaper food, so vast it defies description but that's the case with many things in China, everything on such an enormous scale, and they get things done..oi goi oi...they want a, there's your freeway, you want a city...bang, there's your city...lots of construction of roads, railways, huge infrastructure projects...and they come...our new and wonderful "free" trade agreement means Chinese companies can tender for projects...and, bring in their own cut price labour force...wonderful Andrew, well done!...arsehole. However, it's tempting when you see how bloody efficient they are...but hey, let's not worry about choices or individual or community rights...hahaha....I was dozing off, dreaming about a highspeed rail link Adelaide-Melbourne-Sydney-Brissy...of course swinging past Brogo on the way....and you know, this mob could have it done in 6 months! But Hey, if you're going to snatch MY land...hahaha

Being such a clever fucking dickhead I'd booked a hotel close to the station (as I only had a 14 hour stopover before the train to Nanning) Hahaha....wrong station! It took a 45 min taxi from this station to the hotel...but it was an interesting trip.

A tout approached me asking if I needed a taxi, yes I said and he offered to take me for 200 Yuan about $40. I shrugged him off and went to the taxi rank, a crowd of about 60 people split into two rows, between which the taxis rose up out of the bowels, very quick and efficient, I only had to wait 10 mins to get my cab. He drove a battered VW sedan that looked more like an old Chevy and ran like an old shitheap, misfiring and farting as he rode the clutch in third, swerving and ducking and weaving through the light traffic....but out on the sang!

A mad driver, he was auditioning for Gone in 25 seconds' or the next death Race 500 episode...a total fucking maniac....Screeching tyres, swerving through the traffic, almost using the gears, brakes and horn... across one of several massive bridges over the dirty great river, impossibly gigantic cranes down by the wharf, they look like they could lift the whole ship out of the water...maybe?.....then careening off across 4 lanes of traffic and spearing off onto a ramp that wound its way through a weird cityscape. We're at 2nd floor/tree top level, cruising through tall building blocks, occasionally I could glimpse the underworld at ground level and finally we dropped down to the street....a semi-dark subterranean world of greasy shopfronts, suspicious looking people, piles, veritable mountains of bundled cardboard wtf? and then a flashback to Hanoi and 'light street' we wound around, my google map app was shitting itself, no idea!...then we burst out onto a huge square, actually a roundabout, a giant statue of someone, masses of flowers, lightness, relief.......I thought we were going to be trapped in that netherworld for ever.

And there's the hotel....and right next to it...the other railway station...I had to laugh!

And a fabulous hotel it was, the best one so far...and only a brief overnighter, curses!

As the taxi pulled in a young bellhop took my bags and as we entered the lobby a bigger, fatter and obviously senior bellhop, complete with Kim Jong Il haircut which did him no favours, grabbed my bags from his junior and herded me to reception. He led me to my room, showed me everything (?) and stood there, awaiting his tip. Bugger you, I showed him the door.

In the morning another 45 mins back to station No.1....this time the very antithesis of driver No.1, talk about Nervous Nellie, this guy never got over 40kph, when we're about to change lanes or he's swivelling his neck like a ventriloquist's dummy, scanning one mirror then the other, look over the shoulder, nervously shifts lanes...fucking BEEEEP, ROAR, SQUEAL a massive truck swerves to avoid running right over us....jesus wept....give me back last night's F1 man.

Ah, Guanzhou to Nanning, train 13 I believe, but then again, my grip of numeracy is about on par with Tony's...hahaha

At this stage I hadn't seen another foreigner for a couple of days and it looked like more of the same. At Nanning I had to once more take a 35 min taxi from station 1 to station 2.....right across town but again a great opp to see a whole lot more of this city and China in general..... although I could sense and see that the quality of my rail stations and trains, and companions was spiralling downwards.

Train No. 14 and the last one, taking me from Naning in China to Hanoi. And it's the slowest and oldest but I've got a 'soft sleeper' and sharing with a young Pommy couple, the first foreigners I've seen for days, the only other foreigners in Nanning.... and we end up in the same cabin!

Ah, the double-border whammy, everyone off the train...on the Chinese side it's a shmicko, brand new facility, all bright lights, x-ray machines, electronic signs, blood tests, paternity tests, swollen testes, crispy uniformed guards, face scanning, fingerprinting, DNA recovery...and NO smoking...back on the train...5kms another stop, the VN frontier...a national trust listed 1800's cracked and crumbling facade, peeling paint, bleary-eyed, dishevelled guards, manual checks and stamps, old faded portrait of Uncle Ho looking out over what he'd probably applaud in it's inherent proletarian equality....and you can smoke!! good to be back!!

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