A gweilo in 1980s China – Chapter 17
Written by Tai Pan
If you haven’t had yet the chance to read the previous chapters, I suggest you do so by going to the ‘Story of my Life’ section and start from part 1.
CHAPTER 17 – BEIJING!
Finally it was the day of the departure to Beijing!
Since the first trip to China I had always wanted to go to the capital and visit the Forbidden City, learn all about the various dynasties of the Emperors and visit to see with my own eyes the construction that symbolizes China’s culture and history: The Great Wall.
When in Beijing I stayed at the Jianguo Hotel, at that time rightly considered amongst the best hotels in China, together with the White Swan Hotel of Guangzhou, which I talked about in episode 12.
I forced myself to concentrate on business, especially during the first 2 days there, as I had to settle and get ready for my business negotiations. On the third day, however, I finally awarded myself with a visit to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.
In this episode, even thou I was in China for business reasons, I’m not going to talk about business, factories and textile, but I will rather tell you about the wonderful history and ancient culture of China.
Today Beijing, as every capital city in the world, is a metropolis poisoned by pollution and covered in skyscrapers. However, what I saw at that time when I was there was something completely different to what we see nowadays in Beijing. The city was full of old colonial and typical Chinese buildings, and the whole atmosphere was incredibly magical.
The few vehicles that were seen around were only buses and government’s convoys, and thanks to the lack to traffic, I could actually admire the majesty of the main road. Surely nothing to do with today’s unbelievable traffic jams that cover almost every the streets of Beijing!
Anyway, on my third day there, the government officials I had to do business with organized a visit to the two places mentioned above. I call them deliberately places because I think it would be quite an understatement to call them monuments.
When we entered the Forbidden City I felt my heartbeats increasing exponentially, and I felt intimidated and at the same time amazed by what was surrounding me.
Those high walls that protected whoever was living in the palace from the outside world made me think about the sad story of the last Emperor of China, Aisin-Gioro Puyi, who had the misfortune to be born and raised in the wrong era.
Indeed, this is surely the reason why he ended up paying for what his predecessors did, and not for what he did.
While I was standing by the entrance admiring the beauty of that place, I began to dream and imagine about the eunuchs who ran back and forth throughout the halls talking with their high-pitched voices. Some of them were also greatly privileged and could directly take care of the emperor.
A strange feeling of amazement, fear and fascination was going through my veins, and I felt like I was being catapulted in a timeless reality.
However, this whole faded when the officials who accompanied me to the Forbidden City shouted my name to invite me to continue the visit since I had stopped at the throne room, and I was standing still for solid 10 minutes.
As we went on with the visit, I was absolutely impressed by how great and beautiful the architecture, the style and the atmosphere at the Forbidden City was, and I promised myself that I would have returned sooner or later.
The second place I visited that day was the Temple of Heaven.
When we entered the building, after having admired the outside facade, I was astonished by how detailed and well preserved the place was. No wonder in 1998 the UNESCO included this temple in the World Cultural Heritage list!
While admiring that peaceful and beautiful place, I began to think that I was “only” 27 (back then) and that I was visiting and experiencing some of the most wonderful places that made the history of the mankind. Bear in mind that all that was happening in 1983, when traveling the world and taking a plane was not as easy and common as it is today. Besides, at that time, China was still reluctant to open up to the rest of the world, and only few gweilos, like myself, were allowed to enter the country and visit these cultural spots.
I absolutely loved Beijing, I loved the streets, I loved the cultural places I had just visited and everything that concerned that city.
In particular, my love for the capital became even stronger on my fifth day, when after having successfully completed the business negotiations; I was able to organize a visit to the Summer Palace, the summer residence of the emperors. In addition to this, on the same day I even went to see the majestic and colossal Great Wall!
However, you will have to be patient and wait for next week to read about these other two places!
(All photos are from Google.com, and they all belong to their original owners)