Saturday, 13 November 2010

Beijing (2nd of September)

In the morning we took the subway a few stops to go to the central Post Office to retrieve the many non-DEET mosquito repellents mum had sent us in order to stave off malaria. Saying what we wanted in English got us nowhere. Pointing to the Chinese for 'post restante' and trying to say it also proved nigh on useless. We were directed to the customs part of the building where you could pick parcels up, but only ones that you had a code for. Everyone seemed a bit clueless as to what we wanted from them. Sitting at a table we finished off a few postcards, stuck their stamps on and just as we were resigning ourselves to dying of malaria the lady we had spoken to got up and headed for the stamp counter. Finally someone seemed to have grasped what we were after and she produced a drawer full of European post. It was rather full and perhaps most people had abandoned the mission of trying to claim their items of mail.

We walked back over a congested multi-lane road, past a school in the vicinity of which it is forbidden to sound your horn, in to a supermarket, through the affluent shopping district where you can buy Ferraris and Mercedes, past the police 'barracks' and through the more normal alleys of Beijing. At the Jade International hostel we attempted to borrow two of the fifty or so bicycles lined up outside, which according to their page on are available to rent free of charge. Once again the advertisement proved false. It seemed that the person in charge of the rentals was not there so they made up some ridiculous story about not having any locks so we couldn't rent the bikes. I complained, like a person who has had much tuition (thanks to the customers at River Cottage) in how to complain.

Not able to cycle to the Summer Palace as we had hoped we made ourselves content with a stroll around the Jinshan Park. The views over the smoggy city were nice and there were plenty of trees under which to find shelter from the not really visible sun. A man was stumbling through the Turkish March on a saxophone, two ladies were practicing a martial arts dance in a square, a group of old people were playing cards around a stone table, a group were playing that same hit-the-shuttlecock-with-your-foot game, a clotheless baby was pushed around by its proud parents and a lady was sitting next to her husband on a bench singing most beautifully. There were almost more people working in the park (tending to the beds, planting trees, pushing wheelbarrows around) than visiting it and it made us understand the need for the 20p entrance fee.

After the park we skirted round the Forbidden Palace and past the people selling sweet potatoes and melon on sticks. As seems to be usual in Beijing there were policemen everywhere. We made it in to Tiananmen square and back out again; saw many police descending upon it and missed the daily spectacle of the police marching within it.

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