Monday, 31 December 2012

China - Part 2

Terracotta Warrior (near Xi'an)
Terracotta Army (near Xi'an)
Centre of Xi'an (Xi'an)
Mao Statue Outside Museum of Communism (Yan'an)
Mao's Old Cave House (Yan'an)
Abs sitting on Mao's Bed (Yan'an)
Friends in China
Anti-Japanese T-shirts For Sale
Tourist Hordes at Forbidden City (Beijing)
Forbidden City with no Tourists (Beijing)
Abs + Tortoise Dragon @ Forbidden City (Beijing)
Split Trousers for Easy Exit (All of China)
Great Wall (Huang Cheng)
Great Wall - 1
Great Wall - 2
Great Wall - 3
Brilliant Temple Name @ Summer Palace (Beijing)
Art District (Beijing)
Art District (Beijing)
Art District (Beijing)
Art District (Beijing)
Art District (Beijing)
North Korea Propaganda Poster (Beijing)
Art District (Beijing)
Dancing in the Park (Shanghai)
Down Town (Shanghai)
Danger in the Hotel Shower!
Patriotic Anti-Smoking

World-renowned; inspirational; a legacy.

These are the words that often come to mind when one thinks about Nottingham Forest Football Club and for all intents and purposes they are apt. For many these also bring to mind the Terracotta Army of Ancient China. And this baffles us.

Yes, they are reasonably impressive in the fact that they are so old, but there’s just something uninspiring with the whole experience. The bus dropped us off outside the entrance, from where it was a 20 minute walk through a fabricated village built to accommodate the hordes of tourists. There was even a shop selling fruit and vegetables by the bus stop that Chinese tour groups were led through, no doubt another attempt to wring every possibly Yuan out of all hapless visitors.

The quality of the excavation sites themselves seemed more akin to construction sights than archaeological digs. We watched unsurprised as someone carelessly threw dirty washing water on the ground in a cornered-off area of one of the main sites.

As dusk approached we finally walked outside to find that there were no more buses back to Xi’an, the nearby metropolis where we were staying. A kindly old Chinese man, seeing our predicament, aided us in our quest for transportation and after a short search, and some haranguing, an off-duty bus driver offered to give us a lift to a bus stop 20 minutes away.

And so despite the capitalist mentality that seems to have engulfed the country, it is worth noting that the biggest surprise has been the people. Where we expected rude and egotistical we instead found generosity and altruism. And continuing the trend of finding random acts of kindness we came across 2 such youths when we visited the town of Yan’an.

Yan’an is a little off the beaten track for Western tourists but is important in China’s history as the headquarters of the Communist Party on their rise to power. We visited the hall where Mao was first elected leader of the Party, as well as the paltry, minimalist caves where he lived with other initial prominent members.

On the way here we met 2 boys (is it okay to call 21 year olds boys?) who became our unofficial guides. As with a vast majority of the population they revered Mao, describing him in their broken English as a “Great Man”. We didn’t read too much into this, nor judge them as this is all they had known. However, in the evening we went for dinner with them and started to see cracks in their collectivist ideals.

“We don’t have access to Facebook, but after being restricted for so many years, the government needs to take its time fully opening up the internet to the people.”

It was interesting hearing these opinions. In fact it was a little inspirational that in spite of all the propaganda that permeates through the society (a trip to the Museum of Communism earlier in the day had highlighted more than once that “good for nothing individuals” had to be re-educated) here were 2 individuals from the upcoming generation speaking with such openness and maturity. And what’s more they were great hosts, epitomising the goodness that we had often seen in the local people. They graciously, and insistently, paid for our dinner before making sure we reached the train station in time for our night transport to Beijing.

Beijing as can be expected was a behemoth of a city. A sprawling mass of some 20 million people and we had 4 days to see it all, or at least some of it.

The Forbidden City is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Beijing if not China. As with the Terracotta Army it was the atmosphere that numbed the experience for us. Flocks of Chinese tourists meant it was difficult to see anything close-up, except for perhaps the parents who were letting their baby urinate through the ubiquitous split trousers that allowed for easy exit. We had seen these trousers used more than once in our time in China but were amazed that anyone would let their child soil one of the greatest Chinese heritage monuments. I guess that was China for you.

In fact we were only impressed at the end of the day when most people had left and we could finally see the grandeur of this vast complex in those final 10 minutes before closing time.

The other highlight worth mentioning was the Great Wall. And it was truly a highlight. We rank this as one of the most amazing sights we have ever seen. We made our way to an unknown part of the Wall north of Beijing called Huang Cheng. This great engineering feat that we had read so much about was indeed great and fully worthy of its name. What’s more we were the only people here, save for the Argentinian guy we had met in our hostel and who had accompanied us. On ascending a rickety rusted iron ladder and literally rolling head-first into the Wall battlements at the top we could immediately see why we were the only ones here.

We traversed the Wall for 1-2 hours, before exhausting ourselves through the sheer steepness and scale of it. This is a definite must for anyone who comes to Northern China and we greatly encourage you to visit one of these more remote sections of a very big Wall.

Nanjing was our next stop, if only for the day. Abs had been fascinated with the place since reading The Rape of Nanking, written about the atrocities committed by Japan against China during World War 2. And they were truly horrific. Abs rates these on a similar level to the Holocaust. The museum was sombre with a great emphasis on how bad the Japanese were. Perhaps Abs is biased but it was a shame to see so much anger to an old (current?) enemy, whereas the opposing animosity was not as evident from the Japanese.

The last stop on the tour was Shanghai. It was a nice little Western fix, but the highlight was not the city but our couchsurfing hosts. Mychilo and Leilei were fantastic hosts and it was refreshing hearing their views on the possible future of China.

We took a break from China at this point. In light of a dispute over unimportant islands no one was flying between China and Japan and fortunately one airline decided to offer free flights to remedy the situation. So we bought a couple of them and much to the joy of Abs headed over to his previous home of Japan.

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