China – Back in China

“When we’re old”, I said to Sue, “I think we should move to Beijing and just hang out in the park”. Sue laughed in agreement, as we made our way out of the Temple Of Heaven.

The last time I was in China (I mean, the first time I was in China, which was in 2010) I don’t recall visiting The Temple Of Heaven. At the time, my friend Kate was living here pretty much permanently. She was working at an art gallery here, and had an apartment in a builing a very non-western part of Beijing. She invited me to come to visit and so of course I said yes. Being with someone who had spent a bit of time here, and who had developed a network of contacts and friends (mostly among expats) meant that I was able to go a little deeper more quickly into life in Beijing than the average tourist on a package deal, which is what I’m doing now. I got to do some amazing things and really treasure the memories of that trip. It’s one of those holidays where I can pretty much recall everything that happened on every day, and the way I felt about my experiences.

But this time around I’m on a tour group and the experience is different. Not better, not worse. Just different. On the positive, I’m probably getting a little more of the “educational backgrounder” than I’d enjoyed previously. On the negative, there were moments today when I ached for something a little less “touristy”. We visited many of the “big ticket items” for a tourist visiting Beijing include Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden Palace, and The Imperial Palace. As mentioned previously, we also visited the Temple Of Heaven which was enchanting on a number of levels: there was a young couple having some beautiful wedding photographs, there were a number of older people playing cards, there was a group of older women practising opera, and there was a wonderfully happen older woman with a crazy wig, enjoying karaoke, and seeming to love having her photograph taken with the tourists.

The last time I was here I don’t remember as much security at Tiananmen Square, whereas today our bags were scanned. I also remember being pretty much harassed by hawkers around the square and around the Forbidden and Imperial Palaces. The last time I visited those places I was a single middle-aged caucasion male, and I guess there was an assumption I had money to burn. How wrong they were. This time around, I was with a tour group, and was able to enjoy those places without the fear of my bag getting stolen.

The people on the tour group are very lovely. “It feels like everyone is from Lismore”, Sue said at one point. Later we found out that many were from smaller country towns, including Condobolin, Collie, Albany and other centres like that. The people from Condo and Collie were surprised I’d heard of them, but there again I’ve been everywhere man. Sue also made a connection with a older woman from Sydney. It turns out Sue actually knows this woman’s son, and her local Baptist Minister. Small world, eh? As lovely as all the people on the tour were, it was also nice to take a break from the group a later in the afternoon.

There was an “optional element” to the tour today which neither Sue nor I had much interest in. Earlier in the day it had been described as being inspired by the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. I hadn’t seen the opening ceremony myself (as I was travelling at the time), and Sue told a bloke sitting nearby she hadn’t thought much of it anyway. While everyone else on our bus went to the show, we popped into a local shopping centre, where we tried on some glasses, where I bought a hat, and where we enjoyed a drink in an outdoor beer garden. We both agreed we had found ourselves in a reasonably middle-class part of Beijing. “Lots of people with nice jobs”, we both decided.

The food is okay, though a little “samey”. To be honest, I probably eat better (more challenging) Chinese food back home in Sydney.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Great Wall Of China.