Friday, March 02, 2007

Respite in the Forbidden Palace

September 12, 2006. Beijing morning with the early sun on my back and cool freshness of the morning breeze on my face. On my left the still moat of the Forbidden Palace and on my right the bustle of the early morning traffic. Trolley buses pour past, cyclists and of course the normal flood of cars. A bespectacled gent with wispy hair sits down with me to read the paper. Long poles dip in and out of the moat, at one end held and watched intently by old men - hoping for the tiniest fish which surely would hardly hope to cope in such putrid water.

The sun has ascended to a point from which it is better placed to conduct its assault and I have pressed ahead of the rest of the group and crowd that surges through the Forbidden City, for the crowd is starting to irritate me. As any mob of sheep eventually do. It is a tough complex to get your head around at the best of times but trying to do this place without a local guide is pretty pointless - apart from being able to take in the amazing art and architecture of course. I was spoilt in my first visit here given that I had two local guides and a friend who knew the place inside out. So I have pressed ahead to the northern end of the complex, where a cafeteria and garden are located, bypassing the various gates and Royal houses that attract all the crowds.

It has turned into a classic hot Beijing day and getting hydration is doubly important in the baking courtyards of this place. We started the day with a leisurely stroll south to Tienanmen Square where we wandered with the crowds and for those who had not been here before "dropped them in it." As I look around I am more interested in my fellow Chinese visitors than the buildings. Our Chinese friends seem to get more and more socialised (poor pun I know) to things Western every time I am up here. That is evident less in what they might own but in what they wear and how they wear it. Even the tanned, broadfaced peasant stock in from the bush to see the sights have a veneer of care about them. Perhaps not Chanel care but a sense of dress and an awareness of themselves not evident in previous trips. And of course the local kids are stretching the envelope - perhaps not as much as their counterparts in Hong Kong but not too far off their shoulder at all.
A young couple sitting across from me is typical. He has a neat tidy hair cut, a number two, a clean T-shirt and new jeans. She has a long haircut, is lightly made up, wearing a very modern European cut jacket and pants. Hair is streaked and permed. High heels, anklets, frills and lace. Very composed, poised and aware of the the statement they are making. And conveniently contrasted by the elderly gent immediately behind them. He is wearing a Mao suit with its high collar, has a salt and pepper bristle cut and he looks about him in bemused wonder. I bet the Chinese hip hop that is belting out of the sound system is beyond his ken. Its moments like these you wish you had the local lingo so you could chat with him. Imagine the changes this old man has seen.

In May 1989 Tienanmen happened - as we now cheaply refer to it - and the two people we met the other day had no real understanding about what had happened then. No concept at all. I suspect partly because the state is reluctant to allow it to be part of the the lore of this place. But also perhaps because, like the young people of Vietnam they are really mainly focused on getting on with their studies so they can make money or to get on with their money making.

One stale sandwich , some cheesecake of an indeterminate taste and two chocolate mochas later I am ready for a bathroom break and another foray into the heat. Lets go.

1 comment:

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