Right this minute I’m on a bullet train from Beijing to Taiyuan, China. It’s very much like the trains Brian and I took on our adventure through Europe in 2001 – except for the view out the window.
We keep going through enormous tunnels in the mountains with little peeks at verdant valleys before plunging into another cave.
I met up with Alice, Sundari and Courtney on Thursday evening after a marathon series of flights from Portland to Beijing. I was entirely unprepared for the view of Beijing I saw from the aircraft window as we descended into pink smog. The skyscrapers went on and on seemingly endlessly. The taxi waiting for me at the airport deserves a medal (or a NASCAR membership) for negotiating the peak hour traffic that was my first impression of Beijing. I wanted to just fall asleep in the cab, but all the honking and crazy moves made that impossible.
There are many many cyclists in this busy metropolis, and not one of them wears a helmet. Many of them have various children on precarious perches, or drive a laden tricycle. The motor vehicles honk their horns nearly constantly, and the cyclists ring their bells – however I have not seen a single instance of road rage – even at the scene of an accident. Remarkable. It’s more of a tootle tootle “sorry coming through in a bit of a rush – please don’t get hurt” kind of bedlam. After a visit to the night market and a stroll through one of the shopping districts the rain bucketed down clearing the air. It’s been clear and summery since.Chinese people have been very friendly to us and eager to help. Our hostel is in an authentic hutong with a lovely peaceful courtyard garden and walking distance to many attractions including the Night Market, Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square.
The following day we ventured to the 789 Arts Precinct with our friends Bronek and Pauline from RMIT. I hadn’t considered that China might have a bustling Arts community (although of course there must be many!) and it was such a great day. I splurged in the Woo silk gallery, and spent lots of time in small artisan studios and big architectural gallery spaces. My favorite exhibition was Yang Yongliang’s work at the Paris Beijing Gallery. We finished off the day with a big banquet on “Red Lantern” street (so dubbed by Pauline).
Yesterday the four of us took a tour bus to the Great Wall of China and walked from x to x. Much of the way was overgrown and crumbling and (literally) breathlessly beautiful the whole way. We had ideal weather for the hike – for a group of photographers we were in our own special Nirvana – especially as there was never a complaint about stopping to reload film or for one more photograph. Each of us took a different format camera and it will be exciting to see how the various cameras respond.