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China - Beijing

Written on: Friday January 30th, 2009

We both got a bit of culture shock landing in Beijing during the Spring Festival after the unbelievably orderly and polite Japan.

We had to get a flight, as it worked out cheaper than the boat, which was a shame, but Korean Air was brilliant, and the unbelievably spicy squid complimentary meal was yummy. So we managed to get Korea in our list of countries visited, just.

The bus from Beijing airport took us through the shiny Beijing they want you to see and through Tiananmen Square, against a backdrop of constant fireworks and firecrackers being let off by children and adults alike going off everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Our first realisation that the Chinese have no fear.

Then we had to find our way to the Hutong by another bus, which at night with firecrackers everywhere is a very different place from what we woke up to the following morning. Anyway, we missed the bus stop, the directions we were given were misleading, and it was so loud we could not even hear each other talk! But we got there in the end... as you do...

The Hutongs are such a different side from shiny Beijing. This is where those who haven't been displaced already live in dirty conditions, in tiny homes with no plumbing, some of which have been there for hundreds of years. A world away from what we (and the rich of China) see. But the inhabitants are friendly and it feels surprisingly safe considering they are the slums of Beijing. Even in the freezing cold they are all out selling what they can, fruit, meat, shoe repairs!

The Red Lantern Hostel was an old converted Hutong courtyard house and was very welcoming. Although if we got a warm shower it was a bonus, and bear in mind there was no heating and it was around 3 degrees Celsius.

Beijing is a place where you can feel the repression wherever you walk. As we walked by, a girl in Tiananmen square was pulled aside for apparently hiding something. A soldier approached her conspicuously and pulled at her sleeve which was empty. She was hiding the fact she didn't have an arm. The Chinese people do not like attention being brought to them at all, and she was very ashamed.

Anyway, that aside, life strangely seems to go on as normal, and there are some fascinating places to see.

N.

(Red Lantern House - highly recommended)