Around the World

23 February 2013 | Similan Islands Thailand
21 February 2013 | Bay of Bengal
15 February 2013 | Cinque Islands
15 February 2013 | Henry Lawrence Island
12 February 2013 | North Button Island
10 February 2013 | Henry Lawrence Island
09 February 2013 | Havelock Island
06 February 2013 | Neil Island
04 February 2013 | Rutland Island
01 February 2013 | Andaman Sea
30 January 2013 | Port Blair
26 January 2013 | Andaman Sea
26 January 2013 | Andaman Sea
03 December 2012 | Burma
02 December 2012
08 November 2012
08 November 2012 | Thailand
08 November 2012
10 June 2012 | Rebak Marina Langkawi
06 February 2012 | Malaysia

The forbidden city

14 January 2010 | Beijing
Michael and Jackie
We flew by China Eastern Airways to Beijing. It was again quite an eye opener. We flew from Shanghai's domestic airport. It's a well set up airport with as usual in Shanghai a new terminus just about to be completed. Planes fly thousands of Chinese to all points of their country. No longer are the planes dirty or old fashioned. The planes are invariably Boeing 737 or the Airbus equivalent. The sheer volume of people flying is incredible. Three different large jet flights were leaving for Bejing in the same half hour. The planes are fast and efficient. The only difference is something we noticed at Heathrow. Chinese people immediately dash on to the plane regardless of instructions about the order to get on. Directly the plane hits land everyone ignores the instructions to remain seated and gets their seat belt off and bags down ready for the rush for the exits. It's a bit like their approach to driving.

Beijing is quite a contrast to Shanghai. The people too look very different - far more Mongolian. The food is also very different. Shanghai is the great commercial centre of China. In fact it is probably the greatest centre of production and commerce on the planet. Beijing is the political and cultural centre. Shanghai has narrow streets with some boulevards over which a vast network of overhead motorways criss cross. The underside of the motorways are lit in blue to form blue lines cutting through the gaudy lights of the shops and hotels. Beijing in contrast has massive wide boulevards in the centre culminating in the enormous space of Tienaman Square and the Forbidden City. The wide boulevards reminded me of Baron Von Haupmann's stated aim when rebuilding Paris in the 1850's. He wanted to ensure that the roads were wide enough to shoot cannon down in the event of popular uprising. Beijing's street planners would have no problem getting tanks down their roads.

The buildings of Beijing overwhelm in their monumentalism. They express the same confidence as the 19th century buildings of Manchester and the City. They lack the panache and spectacle of Shanghai's skyscrapers but they express power, confidence and the exuberance of new found wealth. The height of the buildings in the centre is less overwhelming. This is partly because of the space between buildings. It reflects also the imperial command that no buildings be higher than the emperor's palace. Most now are but few overshadow it.

Yesterday we visited the palace in the Forbidden City in strong, biting winds and subzero temperatures. The maximum temperature was -7^C. We walked along the edge of the massive concrete wasteland of Tianneman Square. The sheer size is immense, although it is broke up with safety barriers and monumental statues. We decided to give the mausoleum a miss, one of few public sites with a large picture of Mao. Local restaurants and shops often seem to have a picture of him, although his image is not often seen in the more upmarket places.

The winds lash through the palace buildings catching you in all directions. We were totally amazed by the size of the Forbidden City as we passed through gate after gate into square after square of highly decorated pavilions and temples. A truly great sight, all the more so by the absence of any high rise buildings in the vicinity. You could probably spend a week exploring the various palaces and buildings. You walk through an entrance and find another web of palaces, buildings and museums. In most cases you find artefacts of Chinese culture dating back centuries demonstrating the longevity and continuity of Chinese culture. Curiously though one of the more popular exhibitions is devoted to clocks, in which alongside the inevitable Chinese clocks, 18th century British clocks predominate. Apparently the Chinese emperors were fascinated by the grand scale, accuracy and decorative features of these British clocks. So much so that British clockmakers set up workshops in China.

The sheer bitterness of the wind eventually brought to an end our visit, and we circled back to our hotel which was in easy walking distance of the palaces. The road back presented interesting contrasts. Smart government buildings lie cheek to jowl with undeveloped areas where hovels lie hidden behind small doors and alleys. We returned by the street of food, a street lined with food sellers to Wangfujing the main shopping street with its state-of-the-art malls and our hotel.
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Vessel Name: Lady Kay
Vessel Make/Model: Lagoon 380
Hailing Port: Falmouth
Crew: Michael & Jackie Chapman
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