Nee hao from China.
Only time for a brief entry, as I’m trying to milk every last second I have in this peculiar, phenomenal and entirely frustrating city.
China has been an absolute education. It’s my first time in a country with an autocratic government, and the tentacles reach further than you can possibly imagine. I believe the state views tourists simply as a source of money and provides tour companies in order to act as a financial lubricant whilst persuading naive foreigners to part with their cash. Although our tour of the city was in many ways fantastic, taking in the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City, we spent a considerable chunk of our day being ushered into shops where they fish out pearls and make silk, and then told we can ‘look around’ afterwards. Except that ‘looking around’ took a good half hour each time. I understand the thinking behind all this, but I took it as a very inisidious way of being treated like a complete imbecile, and as I looked around at the other tourists gleefully throwing yuan around so they could take that delightful silk rug back home, my head was filled with the noises of cattle, oblivious to the real order of things as the state sheep dog runs around them snapping at their heels.
Here endeth the bitterness. Beijing really is a fantastic city, baffling in its enormity. But, of course, hugely different from anywhere I’ve been before. As I walked out of the station I was greeted by the usual city soundscape: car engines, hooting, shouting…accompanied by a symphony of spitting noises. First culture shock. I took an instant shine to the place, though – it’s hard to put my finger on, but there’s some intangible element to the city that just clicks with me. It’s difficult to get an overall feel for the place because it is so large, and the people vary greatly in their attitudes towards Westerners. Thankfully, though, there hasn’t been anywhere near the same level of myopic incomprehension that I encountered in Mongolia, insofar as I no longer have 95% of the people in any given area staring at me as soon as I happen to chance upon it. However, it has been incredibly hard work to try and make myself understood in just about any situation. The first problem, of course, is the difficulty in communicating. Chinese, or at least Mandarin, is an absolutely impenetrable language. Normally when I spend a little while listening to a language being spoken, I can get some feel for the intonation and pronunciation of it. Yet I’ve been here three days and I feel even more incompetent than I did before I arrived. Japanese is supposed to be one of the hardest languages in the world to learn; personally I think that Mandarin is infinitely more challenging.
It’s not all been a case of things getting lost in translation. There is just a completely different mindset towards everything here, and it’s been an intensely laborious process just to get simple things done. As I said before, however, it’s been a real education, and my eyes are wide open.
As ever, this blog is just one blade of grass in the insane, technicolour garden that is my trip. In Beijing alone I’ve seen live scorpions skewered on a kebab stick (yes, for consumption; no, I wouldn’t either), had a cab ride with a half-blind taxi driver, been treated like a criminal, a moron and a piggy bank, and laid eyes on the most superlative architecture imaginable.
Tomorrow, finally, I fly to Japan. How do you prepare for a moment that’s been 15 years in the making?
Some more messages:
Eva F: Your message cracked me up! I will pass on your concerns to my ‘brat’. Hope you’re well and looking after yourself!
Raksha: St. Albans sounds great, but just going to have a quiet one in the Cork that Friday. Perhaps you gals could start off there for a quick drink before heading out?