Wednesday 9 November 2011
We pound down the early morning streets of central Beijing. We have woke-up late. Liwen and I are running towards Tiananmen Square in order to catch the raising of the flag; the ceremony starts at sunrise. I run regularly back in Birmingham, but have not felt like doing so while in Beijing. The last time I had run was in the previous week in Shenzhen. We run about 1 mile. However, it never seems to count if you are not wearing running clothes.
The flag raising ceremony does not start until the sunrise. We arrive at our destination with 5 minutes to spare. It is while we are waiting that Liwen tells me that she was sick in the middle of the night. She woke in the middle of night, felt ill and got up and ran to the toilet and was sick. I remained in deep sleep. She said that she now felt fine, which is good considering that she has just been running for a mile.
There is a big crowd waiting for the raising of the flag. The crowd is about 4-man deep. Luckily I am over a foot taller than the average crowd member, so I can stand 4 people back and still have a good view of proceedings.
I’ve never watched any flag raising ceremonies before. It isn’t something that I am interested in. The flag gets raised and the national anthem is played. Now I have seen this flag raising ceremony, I don’t think I need to see any others.
Nearby we buy our breakfast from a small establishment. We don’t really know what we are buying, but what we get is really nice. It was cooked on a crepe type cooking wheel and looks like a donor kebab, but with a block of white crunchy stuff. We go to the edge of a lovely looking park and sit next to the stream and devour our breakfast kebabs. Kebab is the perfect breakfast after you have been sick in the night.
After that lovely breakfast I’m right in the mood to look at a corpse.
I get in line to see the remains of Chairman Mao. The plan was for both Liwen and I to view Mao. However, as we go to get into line we see a signs that we cannot take cameras and phones in with us. Liwen has seen the remains previously and so is happy to wait with our contraband while I get in line.
The line is 3-people wide. If anyone steps out of line, officials shout him or her back into line. At first the queue does not seem too long, that is before I turn a corner and see the queue snaking around behind the mausoleum.
It is after about 45 minutes when I see a sign that tells me that I need to make sure I have my ID ready. I haven’t got any ID with me. I start getting concerned.
After 90 minutes of queuing I see the entrance. I then see a man before the entrance checking passports. I start to think I have just wasted an hour and half and will get ejected from the line. The only plan I can come up with is that I just try and pass by without being noticed. This isn’t the greatest plan, as I’m about a foot taller than the average person in the crowd and have different coloured hair and skin.
I get to the ID checker.
“I haven’t got my passport.”
He stepped aside and pointed for me to leave.
“Oh, you want me to leave? I wanted to go in. Erm. I didn’t know about the passport.”
“I’ve already said I haven’t got my passport. Can I just carry on and go in?”
Again he points at me to leave and waves his hand as if wafting a fart. I’m not sure where I’m going with it, but I take my wallet out of my jeans.
“I’m not sure what I’ve got in here exactly. I know my passport isn’t in here, but lets see. Oh here I have got my driving licence.”
I take out the driving licence.
“I haven’t got my passport, but I have got this. It is the only ID I have with me. It is a European driving licence. It is important. If you want to drive. In Europe.”
He wafts a fart once again, but this time in the direction of the entrance. I don’t hang around. I’m not sure why he let me go. Perhaps he just didn’t want the hassle, especially with a westerner.
I get to a security check. I see people passing their passports through the security gate and I worry again. However, I have no problem and go straight through.
Just before entering the building where the remains remain there are white flowers for sale. I think they cost around 10 Yuan. When you walk in it isn’t long before there is an area to place your white flowers before a portrait of Chairman Mao to show your respect.
I then walked into the room where Mao rests. The Chairman is protected by glass walls and armed guards. The queue splits in two with visitors flanking Mao on both sides. I saw a few people ahead of me getting hurried past Mao, but when I went passed I walked fairly slow, without taking the piss. I did not get hurried, which may be because I am a westerner.
You can mostly just see Chairman Mao’s head (and face). He looks great, especially for someone who has been dead for 35 years. I don’t know what they are doing to preserve him, but they are doing a great job.
I meet back up with Liwen and we make our way over to the shopping area in Xuanwu District. Just over the road from Tiananmen Square, I walk past a group of men. They have dark skin and worn clothes, so they looked like working men. As I walk through the centre of the group, they all stop and stare at me. It is very noticeable. Liwen and I talk about it. We think they have probably just come off a coach. This may be the first time they have visited Beijing and the first time they have seen a westerner in real life.
Xuanwu District is a 5-minute walk from Tiananmen Square. There are lots of shops in this area. We stop at Nei Lian Sheng, which is a famous traditional shoe shop. They have photos of Chairman Mao wearing their simple footwear. However, I am more impressed by the photo of Jackie Chan recently getting some shoes in this actual shop. They have some nice shoes for children and we get some for my daughter. I secretly hope that she will somehow now be able to pull off a roundhouse kick like Jackie Chan.
We stop to have something to eat in Xuanwu District. We see a restaurant where all the staff are wearing ancient-Chinese style clothing. On the outside of the restaurant there is a man making a broth in a cauldron. It looks a bit dirty with lots of different bits of (not literal) shit swimming around in it. Liwen asks the ‘chef’ what is it. He just says that there are all sorts of pork offal in the broth.
It smells, looks, and sounds disgusting. But it is only about 20 Yuan a bowl, so we have some. It also tastes disgusting. There are dumplings in the dish, which are not too bad, but we do end up leaving most of it. I later find out that this dish was probably Lu Zhu Huo Shao and the dumplings are probably wheaten cake.
In the evening we go to Sanlitun. We had read that Sanlitun was an area where there are lots of bars and entertainment catered for westerners. When we get there in the evening it is dead. There is a road that has quite a few bars with most having bands playing to an empty room. We hardly see any customers in this place. We don’t like the look of any of the bars and so decide to go back to Wangfujing.