Saturday, September 24, 2005

Wall Done

I've been in Beijing now a few days and have got an hour to spare before I'm outta here on the night train to Datong. It's definitely an interesting city, though I'm not sure whether I like it that much. It's ridiculously large and getting around is very tiresome. The roads are far too wide which, coupled with the Chinese inability to drive properly, makes crossing the road a rather perilous affair. The large number of cars also makes the air polluted. I'm not sure how polluted, but suffice to say that even on the clearest of days there's a pall over the city and I've managed to develop a cough in the 4 days I've been here. That said, there are some amazing imperial relics to be seen, such as the famous Forbidden City, which lies slap-bang in the middle of Beijing, where the emperors ruled the nation from a self-imposed seclusion, and also the Summer Palace, with its gardens and lakes. In Tian'anmen Square, before the Forbidden City, you also have Chairman Mao's "maosoleum", where the Great Helmsman has been laid to rest. Unfortunately I didn't get to go in as the opening times and my ability to turn up didn't synchronise. But that's probably a good thing as I don't know whether I would have been able to remain respectful in the fat bastard's presence. Due to his lunatic policies it is estimated that between 30 and 80 million of his own people died during what is euphemistically known as the Great Leap Forward. Plus his Cultural Revolution destroyed a large part of the nation's cultural history (no time to rant about that now, but I hope to come back to the topic in a later post). And so logically they put his face on every bank note and plant statues of him in every town. The official party line is that he was 70% right and only 30% wrong, though I'd dearly love to know what equation they used to come up with those figures.

Only a few hours drive north of Beijing is probably China's most famous tourist attraction. It is, of course, the Great Wall (or at least several sections of it, because it is rather long, measuring over 6000km in length). It was built in the most part about 500 years ago to keep out the mongol hordes who, when bored of hoarding boards, would launch devastating raids from the north. And because it's a defensive wall it was built on the craggiest and steepest hills the Chinese could find, an amazing feat of engineering. Seeing the wall snaking off into the distance along the crests of the hills is a truly awesome sight and definitely the highlight of China so far (plus the 10km hike was a nice little workout). Hopefully as I head west through China I'll be able to see it at a few other sites to see how similar they are.

Oh yeah, I also finally got my Pakistani visa yesterday after a lot of waiting around, for the ridiculously unreasonable price of $70! It's an outrage if you ask me: here I am wanting to spend money in their country and they're making me not want to go. It really isn't the sort of behaviour that will endear the country to travellers and get the tourist dollars flowing.

P.S. I hope I don't get kicked out of China early for calling Mao a fat bastard!

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