Saturday, May 08, 2004

Beijing blog.

May 8-10, 1994. Can't believe it's been 10 years.

Our week in Beijing really began when we moved from the hotel in which we'd spent the first night into Bob & Kristin’s fine flat at the embassy compound known as Sanlitun, one of residential apartment complexes for people posted to foreign embassies. They have three nice-sized rooms plus a kitchen, pantry and a balcony. Lots of books (I spent a lot of time with a well-written bio of Mao). A good stereo plus tapes and CDs. An interesting selection of TV channels, including Asian satellite channels. A well-stocked refrigerator, including a Norwegian product I'd never had, caviar in a tube. An amah that comes MWF. I could go on. Only a small minority of a billion Chinese live anything like this.

The first afternoon Bob took us to see the silk market, and the place where Russians buy cheap clothes en masse for shipment back home. Cyrillic signs are common on the cargo shipping companies and the small restaurants in the warren of little clothing shops that make up the market, known as the "Russian" market. Later, we had a fine dinner al fresco -- northern Chinese food, what else -- at a restaurant with most of the staff of the Norwegian Embassy, where Kristin works. One of them told a story about getting kicked out of Tibet by suspicious apparatchiks.

Tuesday morning Yuriko and I got into a taxi -- one of those yellow van-like vehicles that Bob said were called breadboxes -- and said "Tiananmen." Said it a few times, actually, before the driver figured out where we wanted to go. Soon we were walking the cement squares that make up that vast plaza. It was a bright, windy moment. Spent the balance of the morning and then some of the afternoon at the Forbidden City. It was overwhelming, as I suppose it was designed to be, beyond the scale of any particular human being. After poking around its vast plazas and enormous structures and behemoth fixtures and countless art treasures, we headed across Tiananmen Square again and had a late lunch at KFC. The one with the view of Mao's Tomb. I’ve wanted to do that ever since I heard about that KFC. If the Great Helmsman could only see it...


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