Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I will continue chronologically very soon. At this point I just wanted to let anyone who is interested know that I am now in Beijing. I have left Bangkok behind once and for all (though it tried to give me stomach trouble via the prawn meal on Thai Air, just as a going away present). Yesterday though I finally got to China and I have to say that I like it.
The operative word in Beijing is BIG. It even has it in it: Beijing. Sure you have cities like New York, which are tall, and sprawl, but Beijing has space, and grace. As I drove in from the airport, the sun setting, the road lined with thousands of birch trees, I was immediately reminded of home. Maybe it is because it is a little like the Ireland I left, an autumnal place. Despite coming into Spring, the trees were bare, what buds they had looking brown in the golden light. It looked peaceful and not at all the dirty, polluted place I had been expecting. Then getting into the city itself, with it's huge wide roads and bigger buildings, the similarities with Ireland ended and Europe began. Berlin in particular sprung to mind. Beijing is not, however, just as pale copy of somewhere else, it is very much its own city and perhaps more imposing than any I have yet seen. Mingled with all the big flashing stores and companies were older buildings, still large, but more decrepit. The more I saw the more I realised that these were coming down, they weren't part of the current plan and the future demanded something more. Indeed today I walked along many streets where whole blocks had been demolished and work was well afoot erecting new scenery. I am not entirely sure what this says but at one point I saw two workers washing the dust off the metal fencing around a construction site.
My hotel is fine and last night I had my room to myself. My tour has a full contigent though and this time I will be sharing with someone else as the numbers of men and women are more balanced. By the look of the names on the board they are predominantly English, though a few Irish might be on board too.
I took the time given me and, after a brief trip outside to eat some noodles, watched 'The Illusionist'. Not bad, but missing something. I might as well commit a blasphemy and confess that I think Edward Norton is not quite the genius actor he has been made out to be. In particular his whining voice doesn't make him a convincing leading man. I suspect it was this voice that necessitated Paul Giamatti (usually another high pitched actor) to adopt a strange, uncharacteristic baritone. Anyhow Philip Glass reuses his usual themes without much harm and the flickering cinematography gives the movie a distinctive style, but there just isn't enough chemistry between the leads to make one care.
This morning I got a map and went to the Temple of Heaven and Earth. Beijing being big I had a lot of walking. I wanted to though - it helps me get to grips with the place - and deliberately avoided using the subway or bus (though I'll admit I was nervous of either).
One thing I had been expecting on the streets was spitting. Given that I was feeling a little congested I thought, well, when in Beijing and hawked up with everyone else. Being me though I missed the path and got the wall, the wall with the mural, the mural of the soldiers holding the Chinese flag. I took a doubletake staring horrified at the mucus filled glob on the wall. I could feel the cameras that I knew were there all zooming in. I could hear the click of that button that was even then sending out tens of police cars. I knew any moment the people around me would rise in affronted anger. I muttered apologies and walked as fast as I could to the Temple.
Anyhow despite thousands of visitors the Temple, or rather temples, for it is a compound of many buildings dedicated by Ming emperors to appeasing the gods at harvest time, are wonderfully calm. Very well preserved too for temples over 500 years old. I suspect there has been a lot of restoration work and indeed the Palace of Fasting, in the compound was off limits due to ongoing work.
An observation for what it's worth. Having seen very few Americans in my travels, I am now encountering them everywhere. An American woman at the reception desk when I arrived confessed that she usually claims to be Canadian when asked as she's not proud of her country's current foreign policy (and perception).
I'd better get back to my hotel now. Another observation though. The Internet cafe I find myself in is a bit creepy. After six flights of stairs in a rundown building I finally found the tucked away cafe. There were three people in it, the manager and two foreigners (Americans?). When I tried I was denied access to wikipedia. I hope this gets published.


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