Archive for June, 2008

Beijing Day 3 (Tuesday) – The Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square

Once again, an early day, more early morning web-surfing, a cup of joe at my disposal.

8-tiananmen Eventually we set off to The Forbidden City once more. We looked at the crowds of people milling about beneath the large, forbidding red walls, taking in the groups of Chinese tourists with thei matching caps and tiny flags, the street-cleaning people on their powered motors, small families of foreigners, and the key attention-grabbing feature: the mol… er, portrait, that’s right, of 毛泽东 (Mao Zedong) on 天安门 (Heavenly Peace Gate).

To detract briefly from the boring descriptions of our travels, let’s talk a bit about Mao Zedong. Why is he so revered? Yes, he defeated Chiang Kai-shek and thus allowed the Communist Part to come to power… but honestly, the man to thank for modern China, which has had absolutely amazing progress in the last 30 years, is 邓小平 (Deng Xiaoping). The Tian’anmen Square incident on 1989 notwithstanding, 邓小平 had previously been against the two most disastrous movements in modern Chinese history –大跃进 (Great Leap Forward) and 文化大革命 (Cultural Revolution) which set back modern progress by years, possibly decades. The man behind these two movements? None other than 毛泽东.

Tip: Buy nothing in these tourist attractions. The price of food might be similar to a more upmarket eatery… with 1/3rd the quantity at 1/10th the taste. Since it’s best to arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon, bring some snacks and fluids along for sustenance.

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Beijing Day 2 (Monday) – The Temple of Heaven

I wake up at 6.30am every day, a combination of my natural melatonin-light sleep-wake system and the habitual training from early days. While waiting for the night-owl members of the family to wake, I take to enjoying my daily cup of coffee (dang it, I was supposed to detox on this journey), a cheesecake, and some random web-surfing. Oh, and finished reading The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Bloody hell, I was actually reading the Clinical Practice Guidelines on Warfarin. You crazy nutjob, J., you.

5-sign while walking to wangfujing Eventually we set off, dropping by Swissotel to pick up a couple of free Beijing maps, then taking the subway from 东四十条站 (East 40th Street station on Line 2) to 天安门东站 (Tian’anmen East station on Line 1). The growling of tummies caused us to detour to 王府井大街 (Wangfujing Street) for a spot of window shopping and a substantial lunch of beef noodles, dimsum, pineapple juice and large 小笼包 (a contradiction of terms). Northern Chinese eat damn a lot of carbo, and accordingly these portions were huge. Westerners will have no complaints. All your not-quite-but-almost-anorexic folk out there, you might want to consider sharing.

Since it really requires a lot of time, we decided to postpone the tour of 紫禁城 (The Forbidden City) until the next day and instead took the subway from 王府井站 (Wangfujin Station on Line 1) to 天坛东门占 (Temple of Heaven Eastern Gate Station on Line 5). 天坛 was where the emperor used to conduct yearly rituals on the winter solstice to pray for good weather, etc. etc. and as such is suitably large and impressive. Continue reading

Beijing Day 1 (Sunday) – The Great Wall, Ming Tombs

Touchdown! Beijing airport is huge. We got off the plane, walked, walked, then walked until the customs, crossed, then took an escalator to take a 6 minute rain ride, then walked, walked and walked some more, collected our luggage, reported the handle of one of our luggage pieces missing, walked yet more and were finally greeted by our relatives. Then it’s more walking, with a couple of escalators, into t2-Great Wall crowdhe large car park, with yet more walking…

You get the idea.

After unpacking (not too difficult), we set off to 八达岭长城 (Badaling Great Wall) by car  (小型轿车). About 40 min later, we arrived, bought our tickets and took a long walk. The easy breathing and relaxed walking technique learnt in Nepal served us well here.

As it was my second time here, the sense of awe, while still present, was slightly muted. Unfortunately, the poor air quality hampered the view somewhat. Nonetheless, we battled our way through the crowds and climbed as high as we could. As Chairman Mao said, “不到长城非好汉”, so I guess that makes us good men, good men indeed.

Tip: Wear comfortable quick-dry clothes like what you’d wear for hiking/trekking. I was surprised to find myself busting out the ol’ trekking gear for what’s essentially an easy holiday, but really, climbing 300m of stairs on the great wall or in mountains is the same thing.

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Beijing Day 0 (Saturday) – Traveling

This day was the strange combination of relaxing and busy. In the midst of packing (really little required, due to it being only a one week trip and the ability to do laundry), there was the residual ill-will from the altercation the day before.

Half the luggage bag consisted of things to be brought for the relative(s) in Beijing. Whlie packing,I also took the opportunity to tidy up his room and to pack bags for the first post-holiday day of work as well as the first post-holiday call. Darn it, J., you workaholic.

At around 9.30pm, the family took a cab to Terminal 3 of Changi Airport, 1-Terminal 3indisputably  one of the best damn airports in the world. The place is just gorgeous, regardless of whether you’re standing 2km away, just stepping into the departure hall or waiting to board the plane. Unless many other modern airports (like Beijing), Changi Airport has a knack of combining high tech, great architecture with a warm, human touch.

The 6-hour night flight itself, on Singapore Airlines, indisputably one of the world’s premier airlines (hey guys, can I get some freebies for this unabashedly nationalistic promotion?), was a breeze and passed quickly. My time was spent watching Pulp Fiction and interspersed with periods of sleeping and eating.

Man, that’s a great show.

Books: The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

A weird book. You don’t quite know what’s going on, though you get a nebulous feel. The story is narrated by a pianist Mr Ryder who’s like a floating leaf buffeted by waves. His life in this town seems to move constantly from one encounter to the other without any control on his part. The world itself seems real enough yet dreamlike in consistency. Peculiar.

It’s an enjoyable departure from the usual structure of a story, especially for those who are comfortable living in uncertainty.

Books: The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

Aye, he’s back from China, one country in which WordPress is banned. Ah well. J. read this book about 1 week before he left for Beijing.

Yes, as J.’s said before, he likes books by Ian McEwan, from the moment he started reading Saturday. Part of it is because of his ability to craft an engaging story centred around engaging and ultimately human characters.

The Child in Time is a book that talks about people’s ability to cope with grief and mourning regarding, not the death of an elderly patient, but the loss of a child whose fate remains unknown, likely forever.

Books like this speak strongly to human nature, appealing to emotions that most of us keep locked up on a daily basis because of ease of function.

It’s yet another great novel. Sure, most people only hear of Atonement and Kiera Knightly, but this one’s worth a look too.

Wireless@Terminal 3

As it is, I’m typing this at Terminal 3 of Changi Airport, taking advantage of Wireless@SG present. When you already have a SingNet account, it’s easy, with the same user name and password.

Terminal 3 is breathtaking. It’s incredible. It’s traveling in luxury. You don’t even have to compare it to a 3rd world country like Nepal (no computers, all manual). The design is evident from the exterior, to the check-in counters, to the washrooms, to the boarding lounges… it’s good stuff.

We were watching a Euro 2008 game on the various LCD screens present. Grabbing some kaya toast from ToastBox or Ya Kun. I’ve just bought a book –Freakonomics for SG$16.00, for the flight ahead.

Well, I’ll be, It’s time to board already.