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Tiananmen, Forbidden City; the dynamics of power and governance.

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Tiananmen

It’s 8 days later and I’ve been on the square where it all happened and mentally tried to reconstruct and place the events of the day. Except this time it was windy, wet and full of tourists desperately pulling on hastily bought translucent pink and yellow ponchos and persisting with selfies. One small boy actually approached me and asked to have his photo taken with me. There are entrepreneurial people with cameras and laminated blow-up posed shots of happy members of the public in front of qiananmen gate, offering their services to take a similar ghastly shot of you. A man offers me a Chairman Mao watch (the hands of the watch are his arms, saluting his people). The set from the show is still there: A topiary Great Wall, enormous yellow 1945 and 2015 cut-outs on either side. A floral bed guarded by a bored miserable looking policeman under an umbrella.

The enormous air brushed portrait of Mao benevolently watches over from the gate that leads to the Forbidden City. The scene couldn’t be any different. Today the government haven’t controlled the weather. My thoughts wander back to June 4th 1989 and the suppressing of the student demonstrations. These are events that the teenager I met on the train to Xian had never heard of, and ones that Eric didn’t know the details of. Apparently the square that can hold half a million people was re-paved in the aftermath of the military actions, whereby the people army started shooting the people, to remove any residue blood stains. I wonder how many people in the square today with me are aware of the history of their country, or indeed were involved in these events. It all seems quite recent to me.

Dutifully I queue to visit the ugly white mausoleum of the great helmsman, the man who is responsible, among other things for destroying temples, imprisoning intellectuals and turning China into a one party state. I have deposited my bag in the bun fight of the left luggage building and the queue snakes in past po-faced green uniformed guards, first into a hall with a vast seated white marble statue of the great man positioned in front of an idealised frieze of a Chinese landscape. He is surrounded by a huge garden of potted ferns. Many of the devotees have bought white flowers, wrapped in cellophane, which they religiously deposit at the altar to this man, having bowed in the style that Buddhists employ at temples. I wonder what happens at the end of the day with these thousands of identical flowers. Binned to make room for the next day’s? The piece-de-resistance is of course the embalmed corpse of this despot. He is draped in a soviet flag and entombed in a glass box. The only part of his body that is visible is a shiny waxy head picked out by a spot light. It looks unreal, and probably is. The moment of solemnity is broken by some stupid woman’s phone ringing. I thought the guards would jump on her, this being totally taboo, but they let it pass.

The photo gallery is here….

The Forbidden City is of course no longer forbidden and is teeming with umbrellas and coloured ponchos. The place is of course vast and strikingly grand with courtyard after courtyard of palaces, chambers and gateways. It’s very orderely with uniform brick red walls and yellow and green tiled roofs with curly dragon motifs. You cannot enter any of the chambers and there are crushes to peer through doorways over heads and past iPhones on poles into the state rooms each containing thrones, long fans on poles that would have been waved at the emperor’s behest by some pathetic minion, pithy calligraphic banners proclaiming political thought, and all without any artificial illumination, so they are dim and dusty spaces. It seems to be the visitors duty, no matter how big the crowd, how poor the light and how awful their photographic skills, to make a token recording of each room they come across. I wonder with Eric how many millions of photos will be taken here today, where they will end up and who will see them. I am quite fascinated by photographing this behaviour, and wonder how many other people’s photos I will appear in, whether they will scrutinise my behaviour and invent stories about me as I do with the images I have of them.

This is of course a dead space. The institutions that resided in them, the form of governing they conducted and the draconian power they whealded are history, though not quite ancient history, as the curious anomaly of the Emperor’s telephone switchboard, deemed a necessary concession to modern technology in order to combat the British during the so-called opium wars testifies. Nevertheless these are monuments and relics of a feudalism which in turn was replaced by a new form of absolute power, not at all accidentally symbolised by the austerity and imposing vastness of the opposite-lying tiananamen square, patrolled by uniforms and surveyed by CCTV. It’s an intriguing phenomenon, that this place, once off limits to the public is now swamped with the everyday citizen, and they wallow in the prettiness and majesty of the indulgence and rigidity of an imposed order set out to control and oversee them in a less than benign manner. Yet it would be weird to be here without any tourists. At the end of they day as the glistening courtyards begin to empty the whole place takes on a sad, empty and rather meaningless air. At least as a tourist attraction it has some kind of function.

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The photo gallery is here….

We are directed out of a west facing gate and are compelled to walk for at least 45 minutes, hemmed in by the wall of the city on one side, and the 50m moat on the other side until we actually have a choice about what direction we can take. After trekking through a shopping district full of oversized western branded stores we are finally able to get a subway to the Lama Temple stop, where I take Eric to the Lucky Lotus vegetarian restaurant, for my 4th visit. It’s not exactly the best restaurant, but has, out of ease to get to, become my default reliable meat-free food provider. They have the rather unconventional habit of making you pay before your food arrives. Over a long dinner of pumpkin soup, fried sprouts, a mushroom dish and a potato and mock pork spicy hotpot I learn a lot about Chinese school from Eric. How class monitors are like spies for the school and report on slack teachers. As head of the discipline section of the school, at age 15, Eric had a role like a prison guard, confiscating food, phones and stopping pupils leaving the premises. I also learn about the Chinese tradition of speech making competitions, which apparently Eric was very good at. What happens there? Students recite prepared and memorised speeches usually on patriotic themes. A good speech should show very positive emotions, and negativity results in a poor grade. One of Eric’s themes was “Why I love China”. This, he tells me, is a very popular topic to choose.

The subway trains all have TV screens and are now playing on an infinite loop the rerun of the 3 September parade, the lines of missiles and mechanical marching plus the endearing image of the premier gazing from his hole in the roof of his black Hong Xi limousine are becoming another piece of wallpaper, along with the advertisements and recorded information about the route the train is taking. Eventually these images will have been subsumed into subconscious of every single Chinese and accepted as normal. On reflection, how disturbing it is to see such blatant and aggressive propaganda wherever you go.

After dinner we head for the lake near the Drum Tower, which is ringed with an assortment of up-market bars, each with some kind of live music, often a dreary singer on a stool accompanied by a loud recorded backing track. Unusually, and perhaps refreshingly there is no recognisible western music, though I’m sure one or two acts were singing in English. So, no Bob Marley, no Beatles covers. Chinese love ballards. Most bars are quite empty and have touts on the street desperately trying to usher you into their premises. We end up In a fancy looking bar with a deafening band that played a disparate mix of styles from an approximation of funk to an emotionless blues. The side acts that appear during the break are 1, a pair of female violinists in slit-legged low-cut tight fitting dresses, standing back-to-back in a cloud of dry ice playing feverishly over the top of some generic loud disco track. Their indifference to their performance is emplified by their behaviour as they finish which is, rather than to acknowledge the crowd, who, by paying through the nose for cocktails made with cheap alcohol, are giving them an income, to pick up their phones and to walk off through the bar texting their boyfriends. The follow-up act is a pair of scantily clad pole dancers, which boils the testosterone of some of the men here, who scramble for space to film these ludicrous women on their phones. The customers in the bar need to be pretty well-off, and this is illustrated by the ridiculous symbols of extravagance available. To the table behind us two trees of fruits are delivered. What do I mean? – well in a dish full of liquid nitrogen (I guess, as it is producing clouds of smoke) stand a tree branch with many twigs shooting off in all directions (a mini tree of about 50 cm height); on the end of each twig prong is a piece of fruit: chunks of star fruit, pear, small bananas. The theatricality of these absurd objects being paraded across the floor of the bar draws all the wanted attention to this group of well off young Chinese. Meanwhile the barman is spinning bottles and tossing cups in a pretend indifferent performance of flairing. A cocktail in a glass the size of a goldfish bowl with an artfully spun candifloss on a stick protruding is sent out to the table the other side of the stage. The menu has prices that I cannot rationalise into sensible pricing; bottles of brandy for hundreds of pounds, beer at 10 times the price of a local bar. Suspended from the ceiling are multiple TVs all screening a woman’s volleyball match. Very tall Chinese women in a tightly contested match against very tall Russians. This bar is so loud that we can only talk when the bands have stopped. This has been an experience and the conclusion I reach is that the place has a rather dubious idea of taste and some Chinese have a peculiar idea of style. Time to go home…

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Nakhon Si Thammarat

14 hours of train to get here, and now I'm having a few days off!

The city is exclusively Thai. Barely a sign in English, and I've only seen 2 non-Asian faces. There is a Chinese presence, however. Finding vege food except for fruit and banana fritters is proving a bit tricky. My hotel is like a luxury business hotel, with huge room and an expansive view from my 9th floor window, but the prices the cheapest I've paid for so far! The hotel is on Alitalia market lane and on the corner of the main drag. There isn't much going on. It's quite quiet here. I have managed to explore about 4 blockes, as I've been held back by the bursts of heavy rain, that's been causing flooding in the province, and which was evident from the train. It's been great for photography, so I'm quite happy!

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Rainy morning

The heavy rain crashing down on the corrugated roof wakes me. I think this hasscupperedmy planned trip to the Burma frontier today. Regardless I think it would be interesting to see how mae sot carries on in the deluge.many roads are once. Again reduced to almost streams. That need fording. Strangely cycling is a better option than walking. Your feet stay dry. Life goes on, just less to-ing and fro-ing and more bright capes and brollies. I’m at the brilliantly named vegetable restaurant, which is rather jolly and lively and also quite popular. A whole team of contented workers cutting, mixing, stirring, assembling. Adjacent is a wok stall under a. Briht red and green umbrella selling corn fritters and fried banana. Ihave palate of rice and 2 half dishes, one with green beans and tofu, the other greens and tofu. It costs a meagre 25 baht.

Not sure of today’s plan..but actually it doesn’t matter much. If the rain eases off, then Burma is an option.

Last night I had a tranquil cycle around the back streets of the town, yet still ended up by the Chinese temple. On the outdoor theatre stage some historical opera/ play was being acting out. Formal rigid backdrops, heavily painted men in silk with shrieking voices both in song and speech, that overdubs to a live performance were most disruptive. All this accompanied by gongs and shrinks and percussion, so complex that it seemed to have no rhythm or pattern. The audience amounted o no more than 10 bemused Thais. Incomprehensible to them probably. It certainly was to me and brought on a headache!

I’ve changed my mind..I’m going to cycle to Burma…

 

Lang kawi

Day 6

Made an effort to get up and get to the beach before mid- morning. Floating in the sea. Go off to hire a motorbike and cruise out of town (not really a town).nice to feel a breeze on my arms. Not much traffic on the island. Roads are quite good. No idyllic local scenes by the roadside, but there are stray dogs, fawn cows and a few monkeys. The countryside is green, jungle in places, shacks by the road selling the usual fried rice. After a few mis-turns and even coming across the first place I booked a rom at, then cancelled shortly before coming here. Glad I did that. The area looked tedious. I follow the road to the seven wells waterfalls. Climb up god knows how many steps and come to a serious of pools at the top of a big drop into the jungle. Don’t linger long, cross the river and head up he jungle path. Climb and climb for about an hour. many of those huge fig trees, butterflies, ants, and a mother of a termite mound. Hardly anyone on the trail and its very silent…but also very sweaty. It seems the peak could be a long way off and I decide I’ve had enough and descend. Back to the pools where a big group of cute young Malaysian boys come and try to chat with me. Our common language is Wayne Rooney, Manchester and Liverpool. They gather around me and I don’t know what to say. Then their leader arrives. He speaks better English. He is their scout leader and there is some jamboree that are participating on. H is amazed I am alone and I have to field the are you married question.

Back at the carpark I wolf 2 fruit juices. I’ve been there longer than I thought. Can’t find anything worth eating. Back on the road. It’s fun racing and overtaking, then I hit rain and get soaked. I’ve put my electrical goods in the seat box, but in the end it makes sense to get into some shelter. A petrol station, where some others have pulled ove and are buying ridiculous 5 ringgit rain capes. Definitely not waterproof. After a snack and 15 minutes I head off along the north coast. The weather is grey, low clouds hanging over the mountains. More rain is imminent. I get to taming rhu, which is resort beach with restricted and limited access. The beach is combed and rather crunchy, not so nice to walk on barefoot. Hardly anyone there. A couple of boats offering a trip to the mangrove. I’m not tempted. The bay contains a number of limestone outcrops. Look great through my binoculars. Apparently this is the place for watching sunsets, but the sky doesn’t look promising, and besides they close he gates at 7. I leave and take an age getting back, taking many wrong turnings.

Discover the joys of editing photos on an iPad, and the tin roof begins to clatter with another torrential downpour. Several walkin hopefuls arrive then leave, all rooms are taken. So glad I booked ahead.

With the rain over..and there is no sign of water anywhere…where does it go…pop down for a thai green curry and singha beer. Watching the promenaders.

Buy some flipflops.back to the hotel to. Pay for sunday. takes a bloody long time to sort out what is going on with cit. tries hard but his english is poor. he didnt reply to my email warning that i would be late cos of my delayed flight dor 2 days. he’s not too efficient.anyway i share my druit with him and chat him up a little. he earns £200 a month! Not longan, but cats eye; mata Kucing. Mangosteen is mangi. I love these fruits.

Day 7, Lang kawi

Get up to return motorbike and have a little cruise first. Super duper inefficiency. to rent the bike i had to sign and check any damage evident on the bike, pay deposit, declare my type of licence etc etc. none of thos is computerised, so when i come to return the bike the poor girl cannot find my rental papers. In fact when we do find the right number amid a stack of forms, that number form has been completed by someone else. So ther system breaks down and she has to return my deposit without any records to match against! Do some reading in the heat of the. Beach. So hot almost deserted except for some burning Europeans. Read about narratives in films. I get a quick lunch of some Malaysian curry and bread in an open wooden shack by Babylon bar.

At 2 I get picked up for my island hopping trip. It turns out really good. Only 10 of us in the boat and the weather is nice. The seascape is dramatic lush limestone crags. We go first to the pregnant maiden island, which we spend an hour on. There is a massive deep green, almost black lake formed from a collapsed cave and with legends surrounding it about elves and babies. The are lots of warnings about the depth and the absence of lifeguards. Only the really brave and strong swimmers venture in. Everyone else suns themselves and dangles their feet from the assemblage of pontoons. It’s a bit boring in the end . Climbing back down the steps to the landing jetty- the only way onto the island is by tour boat – monkeys appear, one particularly savage that attacks a kid. As the boat readies to set off the skies open and the torrential rain reappears. The boat speeds off with rain and waves spraying and battering our faces. The weather clears as we reach the next spot, an island where around 30 eagles are circling and swooping for fish, and whatever food the tourists scatter over the sides. By exciting, and I’m so glad I brought binoculars. Our final stop is the island of wet rice. We spend another hour here and I spend much of the time floating, instinctively. I think soon I will be able to swim. It finally feels natural and unforced being in the water. I meet. An Indian guy called sati from Singapore. Lots of gold. We chat a bit in the water.

Spend. Around 10 mins drying in the warm air on the palm fringed beach, and get a cold beer. Watch the Malaysian kids playing in the water, t-shirts and long pants. A group of scarfed girls at the waters edge. Boat back and a refreshing shower. At sun down the rain begins once more. Almost like clockwork.

Day 8/9 Lang kawi and leaving for Thailand

reflections on sweet inns motel. Efficiency and modernisation not so important here. Cit may well have a spreadsheet of rooms, but when I Asked to pay one more night, it takes 20 minutes to sort out. He can’t work out what I’ve paid for, how much to pay. I try to negotiate a cheaper price and there is some debate about agency booking commission and corruption. His English is pretty poor. Shouldn’t really be running reception. The Thai cook works all hours. There at the death at 12. Up making breakfast at 7. I try to engage and I’m never sure if she is telling me Thai or Malay words. Skinny cats with mutated half tails. I’m sure I owe some money for breakfast eggs, but it never gets written down. Several young Malaysian boys. All soft eyes, black hair. Shy friendly smiles.

Langkawi efficiency. Tomato restaurant is a good place to eat. Freshly cooked curry good prices. I thought I had left my money at the hotel. They don’t seem to mind. It takes me a while to go and get it, only to find I already had it tucked in my book, where I thought it was anyway. A the fruit shop I’m a little short, and the girl lets me off of 60 sens!

On the beach, stung by jelly fish, floating, and keeping an eye on my bag as the guys are packing up the loungers. No deck chairs here. A young boy swims by and says hi, and speaks quite good English, at least for a brief conversation. He is unusual in that he is alone and actually swimming the length of the beach. But in t- shirt, and later I discover, having got out and tracked him along the beach, he is wearing flip- flops. Actually, you don’t see many people really swimming, and the kids don’t seem to be able to anyway.

Haven’t really experienced much darkness. Though last night on the beach I noticed the stars for the first time. I don’t know where the moon is here, but in a whole week, I haven’t spied it. after my final swim at dusky a couple of beers at Babylon and chatted briefly to a beautiful long haired Malay called om(?), 18, born here. Like everyone here describes Lang kawi as paradise and never wants to leave. He compliments. My earrings. Funny one of them is 20. Years old. I remember I got it from rosé in Dorchester. Dorchester. Reading my film theory book, I’m beginning to see that giles studied from the same book: it’s full of praise for John ford and Truffaut and makes me realise how unoriginal giles’ views on film were.funny how expert I used to think he was.

Awake as the cock crows. Literally. It’s dark. Mat Lovegrove has a cockerel too. I’ve seen into his fb page.not sure how much I want to continue to communicate with him there. The voyeurism thing is safe. Distance. No commitments.

I’m getting the ferry to Thailand. It’s scruffy, dirty. Full of poor looking locals.

Some gruesome film playing with sound turned down, but subtitles. I’m thinking film theory, watching the edits. Facile silly subtitles. She is smart. Yeah. She is in control now. What’s the genre? Well it feels like alien. Lars be careful. They are not human.. The threat isn’t here. It’s out there. Sci-fi, siege,. Equilibrium, disruption, disequilibrium, new equilibrium.

Arrival in Thailand. It takes 5 hours just to get to hat Yai . Sprawling concrete frontier town, full of saewthawn and thoroughfare. Chat to 2 different English guys travelling alone and doing different things. Practise my Thai fruit vocab with the guy at the ticket office as I wait for my minibus. They tell me I will arrive in Surat Thani by 7.30, but my experience of buses so far today, stopping every 2 minutes to let on some old lady with small children and bundles of baggage leaves me dubious. Thailand smells different and looks rougher round the edges than Malaysia.

Arrival in Thailand. It takes 5 hours just to get to hat Yai . Sprawling concrete frontier town, full of saewthawn and thoroughfare. Chat to 2 different English guys travelling alone and doing different things. Practise my Thai fruit vocab with the guy at the ticket office as I wait for my minibus. They tell me I will arrive in Surat Thani by 7.30, but my experience of buses so far today, stopping every 2 minutes to let on some old lady with small children and bundles of baggage leaves me dubious. Thailand smells different and looks rougher round the edges than Malaysia.

The minibusi to surat Thani is crazy. Driver seems to be on a death wish. Weaving in and out at high speed, u dear taking, overtaking, tail gating. For a laid back calm country the driving is a contradiction. I think everyone drives on the belief that nobody wants to cause a crash, so cos of that crashes do not happen. Pickups loaded with kids in the back, pick ups with stacks of individually caged fattened pigs, the dark brown co-pilot gnawing a chicken bone. Sun is going down. The woman wedged in next to me has got off and I can stretch my cramped legs.

There is a video screen playing endless beautiful boy meets beautiful girl in idyllic locations. Period cars, vw camper, 50’s mercedes even a London cab, farm boy, mechanic boy, all very pretty and not very masculine. Maybe this is masculine here. The woman is definitely the helpless one who needs the man’ s help. A theme in them all is a longing look at old photos of her. And everything is in slow- mo. little girl takes care of injured boy. Meeting wondrous eyes, touching her chin, boy sitting there looking at girls photo.

Toilet stop. I can’t identify any of the snacks in the shop. It’s very Thai here.

Arrive in Surat Thani 14 hours after leaving Lang kawi. The mini bus stops all over the place and I”m the last off at a bus office. A young Thai guy working there takes me on the back of his. Motorbike to a large cheap hotel. It’s fine for the price of£8/ night. It’s opposite a “you want massage?” Place. The town is dead. Like Khonsu kaen. Not a pretty place and the nearby night market is tiny and closing. I get a bowl of soya milk with beans and jelly stuf and a donut type thing. Not satiated get some super noodles from the 24hourshop and sit in the large teak furnished lobby, full of massive chinoiserie urns, and eat and then drink beer. Watching qpr actually win a match. Going to turn in early and head for khao sok early tomorrow.