Early start for Laurence’s taxi to the airport, safely off, I go, via a food market to Tian’amen and the National Museum of China. It is a very symmetrical square even down to the odd shaped twin police surveillance vans bristling with cameras and drawn curtains neatly each side of the extensive outside video advertising screens.
I thought the Museum of China a very impressive and calm space in a busy city. Downstairs there is an excellent history of China in objects and artwork. Starting with functional pots dating back to 3000-5000 years BC to Terracotta figures and household objects of the 19th century.Really well laid with informative cards describing object,which dynasty and function.
The main central hall has some enormous oil paintings of the revolution.
I have always had a liking for heroic revolutionary art, the workers with scythes or hammers, all working together for the common good, but I particularly liked the painting below of Chou En Lai with the intellectuals.
I was looking for the history of the revolution hall but couldn’t find it, found out later that it is often closed due to revisionism.
Near the Forbidden City I came across a delightful little park with a stream running through it. There were small groups picnicking, others playing Chinese checkers, a man practising the saxophone but mainly it appeared to be a park for middle aged people to meet. Some of the women had dressed up to kill but the men were a bit dowdy.
Back to Beijing West train station, a little better prepared for my 2000 kms 29 hour journey south to Guilin, than our previous journey.
I had the middle bunk in our little section of 6, which although disappointing at, first turned our to be the winner. The top is claustraphobic and the bottom although easiest ends up with everyone else sitting on your bed.
Really you live in a little world of about 20 people , your little section and the ones either side. No-one in my section spoke a word of English and I had only three or four words of Chinese, but in the next section there was a PhD Engineering student who had good English. As many Chinese adopt a western name, he had chosen Ivan. !
Everyone was very friendly, offering food and getting hot water for my tea.
Everywhere in China involving travel trains, stations and airports has a machine that dispenses scalding water, which are used for the epitomous pot noodles and to fill your flask of green tea. Everyone has green tea re-using the leaves for days.
There is a constant procession of fruit sellers, drinksellers and cooked food sellers followed by the emptying of waste bins, a sweep of the floor and then a quick mop.
I had put Cartier-Bresson’s pictures of China in 1949 onto my little laptop and everyone was fascinated. Later I showed them my pictures of Sudan in 1981. Everyone likes the Cairo pics for some reason.
The first eleven hours were night but from early morning on we started arriving at these huge central China cities. Changsa, one of them, whose arrival was announced long beforehand with clusters of thirty or fifty , perhaps more, of high rises. All grey concrete in the grey polluted morning light. Not really inspiring enough to up sticks from the French Riviera and move here..not for money…not for anything.!
The twenty nine hours in the end passed quickly enough, although the countryside was fascinating it did get a bit monotonous;
Ate Pingyao cured beef and bananas.