Thursday, 21 October 2010

a big red surprise

No entries for a week, 'interesting' web access in China... I arrived in Beijing last week not knowing what to expect. I left this morning with a great feeling of warmth for the city. I know it has the worst human rights record on the planet, I know that its 'die-hard Communism whilst wholly embracing Capitalism' brand of politics is slightly hypocritical and I know that the Cultural Revolution destroyed most of its charm but still I found the capital an awesome and heartwarming place.

Staying on the 66th floor of the Park Hyatt, an enormously fabulous hotel and great cure for vertigo, I was able to watch the city by day and night. To the east Tiananmen Square (an unremarkable place if it were not for its historic poignancy) and the Forbidden City (more impressive than any literature can do justice). To the north SoHo and a myriad of fabulous roast duck restaurants and ridiculously over the top and expensive haute couture magasins. To the west the financial district with its constant money-making (and currency fixing). To the south the Temple of Heaven and a thousand mature patrons enjoying tai chi at 0600. A mammoth assault on the senses.

Escaping the some 20 million inhabitants for a couple of days we headed north to the Commune by the Great Wall. It is a wonderfully set place. Not so much a hotel as a retro-chic community of interesting modernist architecture. More importantly it offers access to a remote section of the Great Wall of China that is little explored. This offered us the joy of a lengthy trek without meeing another soul. We only walked some 6km but given the sheer drops and vertical rises it felt a lot further. How anyone managed to defend this wall is beyond me... oh, yeah, they didn't. When it's defence was tested it failed... As Chinggis said of the Great Wall: "a wall is only as effective as the people that guard it." Allegedly over one million workers died building the wall, the guide books don't tell you that (or that Chinggis & Co broke straight through it).

Beijing is simply captivating. The city is a long way from it overbearing politically motivated reputation. It is an overly fashionable, crazily rich, strikingly poor, startlingly evocative, remotely intimidating, heart warmingly social, scandalously bipolar metropolis. If Bladerunner was to be built from scratch then Beijing 2010 is that urban sprawl. My appetite is whet...

Chinese of the day:- hello :: nin hao