I haven't seen the sun in three days since I got to Beijing. I don't know if it's just cloudy, or whether it's the pollution. Everything is hazy, so I assume it's more than just storm clouds. The air is thick with humidity. Even at its most muggy Toronto can't touch humidity like this.
I worked at the hotel till about 4 on Friday, then headed out to Tienanmen Square. I can't believe I've been here this long and haven't seen the sights. I made the 1 km hike to the Forbidden City first for a stroll around the grounds. I didn't bother going into any of the buildings yet, I've got time for that later. Besides, I've been told much of the place is closed for renovations leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But I did get to see the painting of the big guy himself, the Great Helmsman. There were soldiers everywhere in their green uniforms with red patches. But they were vastly outnumbered by the Chinese tourists. That portrait of Mao has to be the one of the most photographed site in China. I bet it rivals the Great Wall in terms of number of pics.
At the gates there are big doors with brass knobs. Men have fondled the paint right off of them. Funny to watch.
Tienanmen Square itself is right across from the Forbidden City. The two are divided by a huge road that is in a perpetual state of congestion. You have to go through a tunnel to get over there. I can't decided whether in real life the square looks bigger or smaller than it does on TV. I often find when I go places that I've repeatedly seen in the movies or on the news that they don't live up to my expectations. But the square is pretty damn big. It's quite a long walk from end to end. You have to dodge some obstacles along the way. First there are the hawkers, selling kites, maps and paper Chinese flags (I caved and bought a few). The bigger hassle was all the "English students" who want to practice on you. In fact, what they do is act very friendly, try to get you to go with them for a drink or food, and then stiff you with the bill. It hasn't happened to me, but I was warned about it. They're usually young couples. And if you talk to them long enough, their conversations all follow the exact same pattern. "Hello, where you from? Canada, nice country, very clean. How long you been in Beijing. Do you like China? Would you like to go with us to tea ceremony?" It's like someone gave them a script to read from. I've found that by telling them I've been to China, say, 20 times, they immediately lose interest and walk away. It's kind of fun to string them along when you're bored.
After a couple of hours I had to leave. I had tickets to see a Beijing acrobatic show. I hopped on the subway (it's a bit grungier than Shanghai's but far less busy, or at least, it was this evening) and got as close to the theatre as possible. The traffic is excruciating here, so it's best to cut down the taxi time by as much as possible.
The show was at the Chaoyang Theatre. It was a neat old place, though the seats were in a severe state of disrepair. But they had popcorn. And good Orville Redenbacher-like popcorn at that. I grabbed a bag and a pop and took my seat.
The show was amazing. I was snapping shots and clapping the whole time. Great music and costumes. You can see where Cirque du Soleil gets many of its performers, and a lot of its ideas. The show lasted about 1 1/2 hours. I'd watch it again in a second.
I was just watching CNN International and the coverage of the terrorist bust in UK, and wondering whether Canada will change the rules on carry on before I return. The airline execs must be rubbing their hands at this. No more carry on food, or drinks, or entertainment. It'll all come from Air Whatever, and it'll cost us.
P.S. I love some of the Chinese signs. I'm posting one I saw near the Forbidden City. I'm assuming it means "No car bombs allowed" which should put all those would-be terrorists in their place. But it could also mean "No burning cars allowed" or "No cars with giant cheese puffs strapped to the roof allowed."