Thursday 1 October, 2009 – Beijing
As our tour agent had predicted, the day dawned bright, clear and sunny, with nary a hint of the smog that only yesterday afternoon had prevented us seeing across the street, let alone further afield.
It is October 1st, China’s National Day (indeed, the 60th celebration of the foundation of the People’s Republic) and there are major official celebrations scheduled throughout the day and evening, centred on Tiananmen Square, the physical and spiritual heart of Beijing. It is also the start of the Golden Week holidays, one of the major annual holiday periods across China.
So sensitive are these celebrations, to be attended by world leaders and heads of state from around the globe, that Maria had been advised that we would have been locked in to our original hotel near the Square for the whole day. Thankfully she had been advised in time to be able to change our booking to the current hotel, some distance from the centre, but at least we were able to go out and explore the local area during the day.
None of the major markets were open, so we headed to some local shopping malls – W Mart! We ended up having lunch at a restaurant where all we really wanted was some tea, then explored some local street and food markets, and I found the local ‘hutongs’ not far from the hotel. These traditional Beijing homes are being threatened with both demolition and redevelopment, and with becoming ‘trendy’ and consequently renovated to serve as offices, bars and restaurants – none of which is terrific news for the traditional inhabitants, who are presumably relocated to some apartment tower elsewhere around the city.
In the evening, following dinner at ‘our favourite shop”, we were able to watch the National day fireworks from a lounge on the 16th floor of our hotel, where we chatted with Geoff and Caroline from the UK and Pam, a pearl jeweller from California. The cost of the hotel’s indulgence was a couple of very expensive drinks.
It was quite an experience to be in Beijing on the 60th anniversary of the PRC.
When we landed after our flight from Dunhuang yesterday, the smog was so thick that we could hardly see across the road – much worse than the very nasty smog even in Cairo. The chap who picked us up from the airport confidently predicted that weather would be fine; ‘our government will have a method’. Needless to say I was sceptical! Last week, in Hong Kong’s English language daily The South China Morning Post, there had been an article about how the PRC planned to use its military force to ‘spray environmentally-friendly’ chemicals into the atmosphere to ensure that the rain stayed away, but clearly the smog would be quite a challenge.
However, this morning dawned clear and sunny, with light cloud cover which gradually dissipated during the morning, and a light breeze. News outlets around the world (such as this from ABC Online) reported the Chinese claims and appeared to give them credit for achieving the fine weather, reporting on the cloud seeding resulting in overnight rain.
TV pictures of today’s parade included shots of large trucks carrying enormous fans. Impressive, I think, but not impressive enough to cause the sustained breeze that continued all day and blew yesterday’s smog and humidity away. Personally I think they got very lucky.
After changing from our original hotel near Tiananmen Square because we would have been locked in for the day, our new hotel was some distance from the square and the centre of Beijing. But at least we weren’t shut in. Not that there was much else to do. The major malls and markets were closed, partly for the national day celebrations and also because today marks the start of ‘Golden Week’, one of the major holidays for all workers in China.
Tomorrow we head out to the Great Wall (probably with half the population of holidaying China!) and the Ming Dynasty tombs. Saturday we see some more of the City, including those areas shut off today, then Sunday we head for home.
China doesn’t seem to be compatible with either Facebook or YouTube, so you’ll have to wait to see the videos of the huge fireworks display over the city tonight, which Maria and I watched from the 16th floor of our hotel along with a heap of other hotel guests – a wonderful view.
See you all soon,