Exploring Beijing

lionExploring Beijing – feeling on great form today after 12 hours sleep, can’t remember the last time I slept for 12 hours ! The plan today was to wear a “tourist’s hat” and look around Beijing. Initial thoughts of Beijing being hot, sweaty and smoggy reaffirmed today. We keep noticing electric scooters, they outnumber petrol engines by 10:1 and you have to look out for them, because they’re silent ! We took an interesting taxi ride to the North Gate of the Forbidden City, driving in Beijing is certainly different, the locals are not “bad drivers” but the are very aggressive and don’t yield to anybody. Our taxi driver would go to great lengths to stop somebody pulling in front of him, no anger, no shouting, but no bloody way anybody would get into “his” lane. Multi laned highways ….. no “mirror, signal, manoeuvre” here – it’s more of a forceful drift or last minute lunge, we nearly drove into a bollard in the middle lane at 80kph – plonked there to warn of a collapsed manhole cover. Pedestrians take their lives into their own hands on zebra crossings, not a chance of a car stopping ! They walk out assertively hoping a car will slow down, it seems to be a bit of sport, car drivers accelerate towards them to see if they will hold their nerve or break into a run. Driving Benson in China with 1929 brakes is going to be amusing. We were accosted by lots of potential guides outside the Forbidden City and waved them away, but ended up taking a softly spoken middle aged woman as a guide. Really pleased we did this, otherwise it would have been a hot sticky aimless wander with guide book in hand – she made sure we saw the best bits, gave us a very interesting history lesson and took us to some of the “hidden gems”. Life as a Chinese Emporer wasn’t too shabby, a choice from around 3000 concubines every night, washed and scrubbed, then carried to his quarters wrapped in a blanket, so no weapons could be concealed in her clothing – she then had just the duration of a single incense stick to “please” him. The Forbidden City gets mobbed by 60,000 tourists every day, most appear to be Chinese – never seen such a busy tourist attraction, lots of pushing and shoving in the narrower areas of the Palaces. We left by the Southern Gate and crossed over to Tiananmen Square, which was a little disappointing, I expected something like Red Square in Moscow, it’s just a vast open area flanked by government buildings with nothing to really look at and no reference we could see to 1989. Both the Forbidden City and the Square are protected by airport style security, with every bag going through an X-Ray machine. We then walked around the streets to the South of the Square before returning to the hotel for a cold shower followed by a very cold beer !