It’s a small world after all and some thoughts on China. I’m in Beijing at the moment and on my way to Irkutsk. I have decided to skip Mongolia because ironically I have heard such good things about it on my travels so far that it would ill become me not give it the month it deserves! Thus ever onward!

I completely forgot to mention this in my other post but I saw a most peculiar and welcome apparition in an obscure village in Tibet. On the way to Everest Base Camp we stopped off in this little one horse town to refuel in the restaurant and I walk in, turn to my left and see N., a contractor from my old workplace! How bizarre! And yes we had to take a photo to prove it had happened at all. She was on her way to Mt Kailash for the kora and it was great to see her and share some memories! The world is getting smaller…

The other memory was my last one of Tibet. We descended the plateau to the border town (one of the most appallingly designed towns in the world, unfitting as the major land border between China and effectively India). In any case, when we passed through the customs we were thoroughly searched on the way out by young border guards rifling through our copies of the Lonely Planet to see if the Dalai Lama had put anything naughty in there, also going through the photos on some cameras to see if we’d taken piccies of naughty monks or militaries doing what militaries shouldn’t be caught doing. Bit desperate really and not really a ‘thanks for all the memories and come back soon’ moment.

Thoughts on China. China is a complex country with a complex problem: there are too many Chinese. Simply expressed but what does this mean? It may mean that some think a Communist system is the best that China can hope for in the foreseeable future – anything else would end in famine and civil unrest. Most Chinese seem happy and indeed proud of the economic progress that has been made in such a short time. There are many that remember the pain and suffering of the Cultural Revolution. In my old politics lecturer’s words – the Chinese government is ‘reform mongering’ on a slow and steady basis, that is to say allowing the populace incrementally more liberties to release the pressure valve of increasing demands over time as the country becomes wealthier.

Chinese people are very community conscious – the parks are full of people practicing Tai Chi, learning ball room dancing, mass choirs, weird martial arts, hacky sacking, chatting, drinking tea, playing board games and generally utilising the parks to the max – much greater appreciation of ‘the park’ than in NZ in many ways. Anyway, the state institutions in the form of the security apparatus, Communist Party and other arms of Government are too ingrained and widespread for their to be any effective alternatives in the middle future. Every day the newspaper runs articles about naughty officials being executed and investigated for bribery and/or negligence. Always a scapegoat will be found in China lest the public go unappeased….

Shanghai. Is money. A shiny new city currently being scrubbed and rebuilt to an inch of its life in anticipation of the World Expo being held next year. They are spending more on it that the Olympics in Beijing (~US$45 billion) building new subway lines, refurbishing the old colonial buildings, new boardwalk along the Bund and just general big state spending. Lots of well spoken Chinese trying to scam you into having Y1000 cups of tea with them and accompany them along to an art gallery to purchase cheap, derivative and uninspiring Chinese art. Shanghai Museum is one of the best in China and really covers everything you will see in terms of bronzes, calligraphy, ceramics, furniture, jade and paintings. Other than that, it is a commercial city, bland and, typically, demolishing all that is old to replace it with new stuff – the Expo is on next year starting May 1 and no doubt it will be spectacular. If you have the opportunity, it might be worth a nudge.

Beijing. Capital city of China and its center of gravity in many ways. Its so stuffed full of things to see that’s it pretty overwhelming! Flat as a pancake, boulevards incredibly wide and bikes and electric scooters everywhere (petrol ones are pretty much banned) with great wide bike lanes everywhere. I stayed nearby Tian’anmen Square which was awesome. The Chinese do things on a large scale in Beijing. The main road past the Forbidden City is about 16 lanes wide, the buildings just enormous (but squat) and the public transport is fantastic – a legacy of the Olympic Games.

Visited the Great Wall, a ‘secret’ place away from the crowded, shiny new restored places. Our group were the only ones climbing the wall as far as we could see, really beautiful and such an impressive engineering achievement, built on the bones of millions of worthless peasants.

The Forbidden City. Wow. Massive and fascinating. Spent the best part of a day here and was blown away. Its got lots of nooks and crannies you can chill out in, large displays of stuff (you know, ornate useless things that royal families tend to collect) and lots of tourists.

798. This is the contemporary art district in Beijing. Wickedly cool (‘post-industrial chic’ apparently) with dozens of art galleries and cafes and cool shops selling stuff that is actually cool. As an art buff myself, I am devoting a full day to it on Saturday for their annual art fair. 798 is highly recommended if you like art.

Train. Damn trains. Missed my train to Russia after drinking all night and sleeping in. I am now booked on the Trans Manchurian, a clunker that will take 63 hours to reach Irkutsk. Stocking up on Dostoevsky and biscuits.

In a postscript – I decided randomly to go running at 1am around Beijing, we (yes there was another mad marathon runner who wanted some training…) ran alongside the moat of the City, a beautiful experience and something I recommend – the streets are just so smog-laden during the day that its hard to see more than 300m if its bad.