Beijing in the Winter

Nicholas Quirke was arriving in Beijing at 1.30 am on the 27th and being picked up from the airport by a driver with his name on a card. It had always been his wish to be greeted in this way and his desire was finally being realised. Air Asia did not provide any in flight entertainment other than his fellow passengers who seemed to flout the regulations and a kind of chaos ruled. Was this going to be his understanding of China when he arrived. People were changing seats, getting up and going to the toilet on take off, getting bags down when seat belt signs were alerted, it was an enjoyable carnival and cacophony of noise. As it got later he was pleased to see that things quietened down. He was delighted to have a window seat and he himself flouted a rule when he took a photo from the plane on take off. His transfer went smoothly and he was able to organise having a guide for three of his days. He got to the Beijing Traditional View Hotel by 2.30 and was grateful for a translator as there were some issues on checking in with the extremely sleepy Night Manager. The room was lovely and authentically Chinese and he was asleep by 3pm. He woke at 7.30 and started on working out what he would do with his day. He was staying in the heart of old Beijing in JuEr Hutong and it was these long small streets with their imperial yet grubby Oriental architecture which he wanted to explore. Nicholas was overwhelmed with a sense, that despite the advance of the modern, he was indeed in Dynastic or Mao’s China. He had felt compelled to come to Beijing on his Odyssey and the early signs were that he had made the right decision. He found a cafe to breakfast in an ordered a fruit Platter which was an astonishingly well presented dish. He met a young man called Wei who in the course of their conversation offered to be his guide for the day. Wei led Nicholas to the tourist centre and he witnessed some of the more excessive elements of Chinese culture, particularly some really gross dining habits, like live scorpions and fried squid. The centre of course was like any modern city but he was pleased when Wei suggested the look at the State National Gallery. The art dating from Ming Dynasty to the present day opened his eyes to the immense artistry and beauty in this art form and Wei’s commentary on the artists and their work a humbling lesson. The experience was heightened too by the fact that he was consistently stared at for being the only Westerner/Foreigner in the massive building. They enjoyed a huge and delicious meal and then, as there was no theatre on, they went to the movies. The film was ‘Detective Chinatown 2, a high octane piece of hokum set in New York and the strangeness of the experience overrode any concerns he had about the quality of the piece. The Beijing audience loved it and he was reminded of Swingers Safari, the film he had seen with Ol in Sydney where the audience too had loved the partisan nonsense both movies espoused. How fortunate he had been in meeting Wei and they agreed to meet up again later in the week. Tired by the previous days travelling and lack of sleep he went back to his hotel and to bed.

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