It’s all quite confusing here still. Learning a little Chinese doesn’t really prepare you for a place where you can read nothing and nobody speaks any English….and this is the capital city. I believe that Chinese kids learn English from the age of 8 or so. Well the TV show about the “Chinese way of education” obviously was a red herring. From my experiences at my work and what I have seen here the facts are that their way of learning languages definitely doesn’t work. Not that I’m counting on being helped, and have tried, but I don’t know enough to negotiate a deal on a SIM card, and can’t read the signs in the station to find out where to pick up my ticket.
Many prejudices have been confirmed. It is a poor place and my students represent a very small section of Chinese society, a section I haven’t even encounters here. The society I have seen live in the hutong. These are grey brick and cement alleys with houses arranged around wiggly courtyards, some behind heavy teed doors. Inside each of these pasted to the walls are, I believe housing committee orders. The yards are often piled up with old pieces of furniture, broken bicycles and strung with drying laundry. It’s a hot and dusty place, with a grimy layer of grey dust adhered to everything, even the statues at the temples. I guess this is pollution. The air feels superheated and sticky, this must be the greenhouse effect. Old guys sit on boxes outside their gates, often shirtless or with their t-shirts pulled up to expose them. A crude way to keep cool. Some of them pass the time playing Chinese chess, the women sit with their poodles, smoking and playing cards opposite their shops. It’s not as loud as I imagined. People don’t shout, and travel around on electric motorbikes ( how can this be?). Bikes are a plenty, so are motor tricycles. It’s not a hostile or suspicious en place, but people don’t smile back and rarely return my “ni hao”. I’m not sure if they are aware of me, a rare white devil in these parts, or that they choose to ignore me. There is no calling out or efforts to sell me anything. Such a contrast with elsewhere in Asia.
I’ve been to some temples. The confuscious one was disappointing, and more a museum to a dead way of thinking. That’s certainly how it was described in the adjoining museum. Mao put the final nail in its coffin I guess, but no mention of this in the museum of course. What I thought would be a tranquil visit was annoyingly soundtracked by Chinese guides jabbering on headset mics. Do they really need to be this loud, and why do they seem to be following me?
The lama temple was a more religious experience, with people burning incense sticks and bowing, though even this didn’t feel too spiritual. Across the road at night time people burn piles of fake money and prayers as sacrifices.
Tiananmen Square was unreachable, with a heavy military and police presence cutting off pedestrian access on the eve of the parade to commemorate the end of ww2. Many of these uniforms look very young, like school boys with their happiness extracted and replaced with a cold empty communist stare of contempt and surveillance state. The presence of control can be felt all over the place. Every subway station has a scanner for bags, in front of each exit on a platform stand pairs of green garbed, large capped soldiers. Each platform has a guard on a set of steps marshalling passengers. On the enormous square in front of Beijing west railway station police stand under special police parasols, pairs of soldiers dotted around. Here people seem to have been waiting for trains forever, or they live here. Thousands of families, peasants with sacks stuffed full of god knows what lie, sleep, sit, squat as throngs of passengers pass through this colossal communist edifice. It’s an intimidating and confusing place and makes very little sense. Absolutely no comparison with a British station. I didn’t once see a platform or train. I guess they are here somewhere. In spite of this heavy surveillance, it all seems very benign. Nobody gets hassled, I’m not stopped from taking pictures. I think the presence is so normal, that everybody is used to it, and therefore won’t step out of line, or whatever they are not supposed to do here. I did see them rush into action close to tiananamen when a woman started shouting hysterically at some guy. 4 or 5 uniforms rushed over, but actually were more interested in stopping people from gathering and watching. I reckon that they are more fearful of crowds assembling than some crazy woman. They never did sot out her problem. I have to say this was so unusual, as the Chinese don’t ever draw attention to themselves.
The internet is the other thing that reeks of over zealousness. I can access very few of the sites I want to, including blogs, file share sites and social media. It really makes you aware of how little information is available here.
I tried to get a bus earlier and ran into a number of problems. First the timetable. It made no sense, plus of course I couldn’t read it. I did ask a guy to help and he explained patiently, but I couldn’t understand very much at all. Then I realised that tickets can’t be bought on the bus. So where? I should have bought a travel card, but didn’t due to poor advice. When the bus finally did come, it was rammed packed, so I aborted my mission.