Beijing: Day 4
We extended our stay in Beijing by a day as we’d been enjoying it so much. I had wanted to visit some of the old city gates and Annemarie wanted to visit a park which is situated directly behind the Forbidden City and has excellent views over the city.
Our first task of the day was to buy train tickets to Tai’Shan for the next day. The square outside the train station was heaving, it’s incredibly busy, far busier than just about any place we’ve ever been to. The ticket office is always separate to the actual station in China and just getting to the ticket office was a chore. The entrance to the station is strictly controlled and there were huge crowds stood queuing outside. We had to get around these queues. The square which is teeming with people like us, wandering around, along with plenty of people coming and going plus people who are just sat down on the ground. It looks like complete chaos. But that was nothing compared to getting into the ticket office. There’s only one door, guarded by a few police officers armed with big guns. But they weren’t as intimidating as the military guy standing on a raised pedestal looking over the crowd, armed with what looked like a rocket launcher. I guess it fires tear gas. Is this really acceptable? To be fully armed in an area where people are going about their daily lives and buying train tickets? The Chinese government sure is paranoid! Through the doors we had to put our bag (the camera bag) through a scanner and finally we were allowed in to buy train tickets. Buying the tickets was actually very simple compared to getting in and after a bit of queuing we were sorted.
With that sorted it was back into the underground to go to the Front Gate. This required another bag scan to enter the underground system (in China all bags have to go through a scanner before entering the metro system).
At the Front Gate we took the wrong exit from the underground and came up on the wrong side of the road. We couldn’t go back down without a ticket and we couldn’t cross the road because it was lined with barriers. We eventually found a path under the road to cross, then another to take us towards the gate. This was when I realised that the gate is located at the bottom of Tianamen Square. Security here is oppressive to say the least! In the tunnel everyone had to undergo a pat down, have their bags scanned and have their ID card examined. Foreigners seem to be a low threat and we were just waved through. Finally in the square we could walk over to the gate and buy the tickets to enter.
The gate looks strange because it sits on a huge grey wall, making it look totally out of place and out of proportion. The wall is what remains of the city walls of Beijing. These city walls had defined Beijing for centuries but were fully demolished under Mao. The wall had a number of gates, each named after the main goods that would be transported through it. The communists had them torn down. I bet they regret that decision now! All that remains now are a few of the gates and the wall under those gates.
The gate was guarded by more military police, watching our every move. That’s nice, no risk of pickpocketing here! Inside is a large photo collection of the various gates around Beijing and what they looked like after been rebuilt. The Front Gate had burnt down at least 5 times! This was interesting stuff.
Out in the square we took our photos of the gate and got away fast. Too many armed military standing around for my liking! We went back through the underground passage and past the security onto the pavement on the other side of the road from the square. It was starting to rain and as we were in front of the huge grey concrete building which is the National Museum of China. As we approached the door we were pointed in the opposite direction to all the Chinese visitors. Strange. The museum is free but to enter we had to show our passports to get a ticket which allowed us in. I find these kind of rules stupid! Absolute pointless waste of time. My passport gives my name and nationality, nothing else of interest, so just let me in. I asked why they needed my passport, the guy replied it was to get the name for my ticket. But when my ticket was handed to me the name section was blank. I hate having to get a ticket for a free attraction, why not just let people in. We walked along a route lined with military looking guys to the entrance, maybe a touch overkill on the security. As we walked through the doorway we were greeted with a sight I don’t think I’ve encountered before. Standing in front of us was a line of armed police officers. There must have been at least 6 in front of me! Whoa! After been frisked, having the bags searched and been forced to drink some of my water to prove it’s not something bad we were allowed in. I’d have done those checks on the way out to check people aren’t stealing priceless artifacts, but the Chinese seem more worried about people smuggling stuff in…
The museum is a vast empty rectangle of a building. With pretty much no signage. We looked left, we looked right, we looked up and down, and still couldn’t figure out which direction to go. We went up a flight of stairs. Nothing really to see here, so we went up another flight. Still nothing to see. Up another flight. Here we found a jade collection. Inside were hundreds of pieces of jade and not a single one had any information. No dates, no names, no text even! What the hell were we looking at? Looking at the Trip Advisor reviews we found that everyone said to go to the basement for the Ancient China exhibition, and to get an audio guide. Supposedly this was an amazing exhibition. We went down to the basement and discovered that the side we were on was the exit to the exhibition. Going all the way back upstairs was just a hassle so we decided to walk all the way through the exhibition to the start and then view it properly. The exhibition was enormous! It took a few minutes of fast walking to get through the whole exhibition and back to the beginning. Now we couldn’t find the audio guides. We had to go upstairs anyway! Upstairs there was no-one around and no information. We found a desk with two woman sat behind it talking and eating. I asked them about the audio guides for the exhibition, they pointed me downstairs. I then realised they didn’t understand properly and used the translate on the phone to ask for an audio guide. She replied “all gone”. I couldn’t take anymore in the place and just had to leave! The pointless passport check, then the overwhelming security, the total lack of signage in the museum, the lack of information on the exhibits, and now no audio guides. This place is complete crap. Good riddance!
Back on the street I was now in a bit of a bad mood… We decided to go visit the Gate of Heavenly Peace. This is located at the top of Tianamen Square, the first gate towards the outer shell of the Forbidden City. It’s the gate with the photo of Mao on it and is a national symbol for China. This meant entering yet another highly locked down area. The section of footpath in front of the gate is under huge police and military presence and we had to go through yet another bag check. The only good thing is that foreigners aren’t treated like the Chinese nationals. They have their ID cards checked, full pat down, bags searched and drinks checked. We were just waved through. This security was starting to grate now. I’ve visited the Palace of Westminster, the seat of government in the UK and gone though nothing like this. I’ve seen the crown jewels of England and still the security wasn’t this oppressive and in your face.
We paid our entrance fee for the gate and walked over to the cabin near the gate. The cabin had another bag scanner, three full body scanners and quite a few military officers ready to check us. Again. Bloody hell! How do they think wet got this far? Oh, and this time I wasn’t allowed the water bottle which had been OK in the last gate and the museum. We drank the water whilst mocking the guard. We called him names, demanded money to buy more water after the visit, and generally took the piss. He didn’t understand it and he looked unhappy and kept trying to look away from us as we stood on front of him and downed the best part of a litre of water between us. We threw the empty bottle on the bin and submitted to the full body pat down.
At the top of the steps on the main floor of the gate it was lined with plain clothed guys in their 20s. Most had sunglasses and were trying to look tough. Some had small weapons. This is just disgraceful! The national monument guarded by young thugs! Armed and probably allowed to do what they want. It’s enough to make me feel sick. And China has the nerve to call other countries militaristic. I’ve never seen such a police/military presence. The gate itself had very little history in it and a whole third of the gate was just photos of Chinese politicians either standing on the gate or in a car on parade in front of the gate. The irony in the name of the gate must be lost on the Chinese leadership. We left very soon after. I couldn’t stay here with this. It was just wrong!
We went down the stairs and back towards the gate to exit. This prompted the military to start shouting at us. Apparently, although without actually been signposted, the gate is one way. The guard made some noises and pointed the opposite way. The exit was very badly signposted and we had to ask how to get out. Luckily there’s no shortage of police standing around and one gave us directions of how to get out. Because we couldn’t walk 25m in one direction we had to walk over a kilometre in the other direction. This made me much more angry than I already was.
After calming down we went to Jingshan Park, which is located directly behind the Forbidden City and has a hill which has great views over the city. We climbed the hill and as with everywhere in China it was very busy. But worst of all, it had no view. The city was hidden under a huge layer of haze and probably air pollution. We could hardly make out anything. We’d had enough for one day and headed back to the hostel.
Overall the day was a bad one. Every other day in Beijing had been great and this one had ruined it. Why had we disliked it so much? Mainly the police and military presence. Usually in China there’s a small police presence everywhere you go, but it’s a guy in an in fitting uniform, usually sleeping or looking the other way. In central Beijing the police are in your face. Everywhere and in massive numbers! It’s a reminder that China is a thuggish police state and we are are not happy to have seen that side of China. Coming into contact with this kind of overpowering presence had been unpleasant.
Posted from here.