Lisa had arranged for us to stay in one of the houtong area of Beijing which was a really good call. These areas are the old one story areas of Beijing that are fast disappearing due to the developers insatiable appetites for land on which to build the new high rise city of Beijing. Most Beijingers approve of this as they see living in a new apartment with hot and cold running water and inside toilets as the epitomy of modern living and who can really blame them. However life in the houtongs is rich and varied with a great sense of community spirit where everybody knows everybody else and if you are staying there a couple of days that includes you too. Our hutong hotel had about 20 rooms all en suite and a really pleasant courtyard that we could sit out in after the kids had gone to sleep. A well stocked fridge brimming with 750ml bottles of beer were a welcome addition to end of our busy days . We had great fun in Beijing.
Myself and Lisa had been here before on business, always for just a couple of days, so we never got to get a feel for the place, running from one meeting to the next in factories, racing past Tiananmen square, the forbidden city, whatever sites we saw we saw from a car window. So on this occasion all we had was the city to see.
We stayed in a lovely guesthouse, the City Courtyard . Our room was in a open courtyard with some tables and chairs and couple of old trees for shade. At night we could put the kids to bed and sit outside with a couple of drinks and relax after a days sightseeing which allowed us a bit more space than we usually had to ourselves.
There is a lot to do in this city and as usual we kept it to one or two things a day. One of the highlights for me was going to the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. I had previously been to the mausoleum of Ho-Chi-Minh in Hanoi and found the experience weirdly enjoyable if not a little creepy and I wanted to bring Axel to see Mao. I had him well primed as I had read a couple of biographies on Mao and knew enough about his agricultural reforms and the cultural revolution to know that he had been responsible for the deaths of millions of Chinese peasants and intellectuals. His eyes were wide open with anticipation at the prospect of seeing for himself a real life monster who had killed all those people, I think I might have over done it a bit. Anyway we tooled up to Tiananmen square, running late as is our usual M.O.D. Tiananmen these days is all barriers and security checks and plainclothes police so once we got through all of this it was five to twelve, it closed at twelve. We approached the barriers and they told us we couldn’t go inside with our backpacks and the cloakroom to hold them was closed so Lisa, gallantly offered to wait outside whilst Me and Axel went in to see the old boy.
So in we trooped, searched and x-rayed and asked had we got any cameras or mobiles on us, we hadn’t. Up the steps we clambered, it was hot that day, into the foyer where a very large statue of Mao looked down on us, I felt a shiver of anticipation and on through to the mausoleum. We marched in single file through this very softly lit room, the lighting would have been good for a date with a dog. There he was in his glass box, just like a murderous snow white, I slowed my walk right down, I wanted to see as much as I could in the short amount of time you are given to walk past. Axel said ‘is he dead’ in his usual booming voice which didn’t impress the guards who signaled for us to speed up and shooed us out.
Apparently they have cut down the amount of time he is on show for these day’s, after one of his touch up’s was messed up by his at the time soviet embalmers. Maybe its not him there anymore, a communist barbie doll, but they have to keep the show on the road as he has a huge adoring following still here in China.
I enjoyed my brief moment with Mao, I think Axel was somewhat disappointed. I think he thought he should have had horns and a tail. Oh well there was always the wall to try and impress him.