After more than a week in Beijing, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of the best “mega-cities” I’ve ever visited. The problems that exist – and problems do exist – seem absolutely predictable; unsurprising given the fact that the city has gone from an impoverished, feudal sort of backwater to post-industrial world capital in a few decades. Has my experience been one-sided? Of course. Am I seeing “what they want me to see”? Perhaps. The thing is, the city is so incredibly huge, and I’ve been pretty much all over it. I’ve never felt uncomfortable or threatened and I’ve yet to find a place that is anything lower on the agreeability scale than dilapidated. Try that in Moscow, Delhi or Bangkok. Enough raving – the air pollution is pretty damned bad, I’ll say that.
Rob and I went out to the Great Wall the day before he left and we had an amazing time. The book touted the section we visited as one of the less touristed spots close to Beijing, and it disappointed a bit on that count. The approach to the cable car (yep, a cable car up to the guard tower 😉 ) looked like the road to Karlstejn – we were beset from both sides by vendors selling t shirts, Mao watches and dried fruit. It was truly obnoxious, but to be expected. Blissfully, our taxi cruised past acres of empty tour bus parking lots. I can only imagine what the place must look like during high tourist season. With my disagreeable lungs, we chickened out of the 4 hour hike up the hill and decided to take the cable car. The lower station was decorated with photos of Bill Clinton boarding a car in a suspiciously iridescent green shirt. The man butchers business casual, for sure – another giveaway that he’s one of the lizard aliens.
No trip to the wall is complete without making fun of Richard Nixon, of course. I’m procrastinating… How do you describe the thing? Uncountable tons of stone and earth, cobbled together on a ridgeline approaching 2500 meters, by my guestimate. All made by hand, over the course of centuries, by men driven by nothing but the will of their emperor. I rode my bicycle from Cairo city center out to the pyramids years ago, and the appearance of those hulking monsters from the hovering smog of Cairo is the closest experience I can conjure to compare with the wall. Beyond the bulk and the engineering impossibilities, the wall is beautiful. It is massive, but graceful, softening the natural flow of the ridgeline in the troughs and soaring effortlessly up to cloudy peaks. In some spots, the bricks were laid at a 45 degree angle on top of one another, the slope was so steep. There are few manmade things in the world that could not be done again, and this is one of them. No amount of money could build it. No nation could muster the will to get it done. It’s stupefying. We walked for hours, then demolished the sanctity of the spot by cruising down the hill in a German-made toboggan! At 40 kwai, it was well worth it 😉
I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to kick the remnants of the flu, which has been pretty successful. One problem in Beijing seems to be an aversion to heating, however. The hutong café I spent yesterday in was heated by one little open-faced toaster oven contraption. After 8 hours of video editing and attempted uploading ( http://www.netbeans.tv ), I was warming my fingers with my cigarette lighter.
Without any travel companions, the road looks pretty long indeed. My current plan is to head south to Xi’an on the night train this evening. I’ll spend 3 days there and then head south into the Yunan province, where everyone promises I’ll find tropical temperatures and some bamboo huts. As refreshing and surprising as the cities of Eastern China have been, I really can’t wait to unwind and spend a few days watching the sun rise and set over a rice paddy. Not sure when I’ll be able to post next, or when I’ll have anything to say, but I’ll try my best to keep up and bring something interesting. For those of you in Prague, be aware that I should have hours and hours of high def video to bore you with when I return 😉
Finally, I made it out to the Apple reseller in the SOHO development east of the city center today. I had to get a RAM boost and see if the genii could manage to fix my bum copy of compressor. Unfortunately, the second mission was a failure – grate tordes of shyte upon Apple, to paraphrase Chaucer. That FCS2 is a bum piece of software at best. Thank god I bought a copy of Squeeze before I left Prague. After hitting the shop, I hoisted my 20 kwai backpack and – surprise – the strap pulled clean off. I set off exploring, trying to find a place that sells backpacks, but with no luck until I stumbled across a gang of young Chinese kids photographing camping equipment on the grass outside their office! It wasn’t cheap, but I am the owner of a brand new backpack of excellent quality and unknown branding! Let the buyer beware, of course 😉 Why I thought it’d be a good idea to carry a 2500 USD computer around in a 2 Euro backpack is one for the Darwin Awards committee.