Blue sky day!

1 Sep

Finally, we could see a clear blue sky again above Beijing when we opened the curtains! :-D


Unfortunately, I still felt very sleepy when I got up in the morning, and the headache didn’t go away after the first half an hour, as would normally be the case for me… I’m generally not the type to jump out of bed with a smile on my face, I usually feel terrible after I wake up (Headache, painful eyes, and a “morning mood”…), and that feeling only goes away after half an hour or an hour… If I didn’t get enough sleep, that feeling can stay all day long though… Today, I slept more than enough, about nine hours, but the headache remained, so there must have been something else… I guessed that it would be the jetlag, as – strange enough – I usually feel very bad on the fourth day of a vacation in China… I have no idea why it’s exactly the fourth day, but it’s the way it is… You can compare the feeling a bit to getting the flu, but without the actual fever… So stiff, weak legs and a headache… Anyway, we decided to go out anyway, as I was almost sure that it was just the jetlag… :-)


The weather was indeed really nice, and when we exited the building the fresh wind and cooler temperatures were a very nice change to the grey, dull, hot and humid days we had before… It’s surprising how a city can suddenly become so fresh, bright and colorful! :-) On such days, it’s incredibly nice to walk through the streets of Beijing! It’s like a completely different city! :-D


By the way, the term “Blue sky day” refers to an official term here in China. The term is not always used properly in my opinion, but today was indeed a real “Blue sky day”! :-D


Our first stop was a shop called “Semir”, a few hundred meters away from where we stay. I was still searching for new trousers, and so I decided to try some. Most models looked (artificially) crappy and dirty, with a lot of holes and cuts… (I really don’t like that at all, to be honest…) But one model looked rather OK, so I decided to try it on… (The price was 139,- RMB, but Fan bargained them down to 125,- RMB, about 13,- Euro…) I chose a size 32 first. The trousers fitted perfectly around my waist, and the length was also fine, but it was way too narrow on my thighs.. I don’t know whether it’s because of the cycling (Mostly in the city, with short, intensive sprints from traffic light to traffic light…), and the long distance walks with a heavy backpack, but my thighs are rather strongly built. So when I pulled my leg up the trousers were about to tear apart! (Actually, after wearing Jeans a few years, it’s not unusual for them to start tearing apart there, when I have to climb up a ladder or something… Mostly I can discover this at home, before going out, but on one occasion I had to buy a new Jeans in Köln, after having torn my trousers apart while climbing on my locomotive after getting out to call the signalman at a signal telephone…) So I decided to try a 33, but that was a bit too loose on the waist… This could be OK, as I always wear a belt, but I wasn’t 100% sure yet, and so we told them we might always come back later… :-)


We quickly bought some drinks at the supermarket next door, and then intended to go to an electronics market, to search for a network cable (Ethernet), so that I could use the internet at the house on my laptop too… (That’s always more practical, as it has an azerty keyboard and all my files are in it…) The bus stop was just around the corner, in Nanding Lu, but we passed a brand new Mac Donalds on the corner, and suddenly we both decided to eat something there first… I normally never go to Mac Donalds, but in China I sometimes go there once or twice in a vacation. Firstly because it’s funny to observe the atmosphere here, and furthermore they have nicer stuff than in Europe, and not much with cheese! :-) For those who don’t know yet, I absolutely hate cheese! It’s really the only thing that I wouldn’t eat, not even for one million Euro! :-0 There are more things that I prefer not to eat, such as livers, brains, kidneys, etc, but if I really have to I would at least try to eat those… Even exotic things like fried insects don’t scare me, but cheese can frighten the hell out of me! :-D I just can’t stand it! Not the looks, not the smell, not the name, nothing! For me it’s just stinky, rotten milk… :-X But anyway, enough about that… ;-) This Mac Donalds was brand new, probably opened only days before, and we were almost the only costumers… :-) We had a sandwich (No hamburger!) with roasted chicken in pepper sauce, some fries, chicken dips, and a Coke… :-) For Chinese standards, these things are actually relatively expensive. A hamburger costs about 1,5 Euro here, almost the same as in Europe, but the staff is paid considerably less! Rumour goes that some of the staff get paid as little as 0,25 Euro per hour! I don’t know whether that’s true or not, because that would really be incredibly low, but unfortunately not entirely impossible… In Gansu province a factory worker once told me that they only get 600,- RMB per month… (About 65,- Euro only!) But then again, this is Beijing, where the living standard is much higher than in Gansu province, which is one of the poorest provinces in China, together with provinces like Guizhou and Ningxia… Anyhow, I don’t think the staff ears a lot more, and considering the fact that most of these fast food restaurants get a lot of costumers (Mostly the children of the new rich in China, who by the way also gain weight accordingly…), it’s not difficult to imagine that the owners of these restaurants should earn enormous amounts of money… These places are goldmines, without a shadow of doubt… It’s also interesting to notice that most Mac Donalds restaurants have a KFC nearby… Sometimes, the two are just opposite of each other, or even located next to each other! You might think that the competition between these two puts a downward pressure on the prices – After all, that’s what they always try to make us believe in Europe, and what they also spoon-feed to economy students, who usually don’t even dare to critically approach or question this dogma…), but that’s absolutely not the case… Another evidence for the fact that the so-called “invisible hand” of the free market mostly takes money out of our pockets to give it to the rich? ;-) Either way, from now on I’ll eat in Asian restaurants again… ;-)


We walked to the bus stop through Nanding Lu, which is always an attraction to me… :-) This is also “Old China”, and a hive of activity… :-) A lot of three-wheelers,  cyclists, cars and busses competing for space on the road, in a chaotic mixture… Crossing the street here is really madness, too… After all, I guess that the first rule that Chinese drivers learn is to “never ever use your brakes if you can still make the other driver use his brakes first!”… :-D Actually, not using your brakes at all is the best thing to do, and most cyclists seem to always honor this principle… (Actually, I saw a Chinese young guy on a “fixie” today, a road bicycle which is normally only used on a race-track, so without brakes… How typical… ;-) Haha…) So sometimes you see a crossing of some very busy roads, full of cars, but with one cyclist riding his bicycle diagonally through the traffic… :-0 Today another young guy did that at Qianmen, one of the busiest places in Beijing, just south of Tiananmen, and he wasn’t even paying attention but making a phone-call instead! :-0 Simply incredible, and a surprise that accidents don’t happen more often… :-0 (Although there are many traffic accidents in China nonetheless… The sources aren’t always reliable, but I’ve read numbers of 220.000 people getting killed every year on Chinese roads… Given the fact that China has such a huge population these numbers automatically seem very high of course, but related to the number of vehicles, the numbers are much more clear. Apparently, according to People’s Daily, there were 5,1 people killed per 10.000 vehicles in 2007, which is the highest in the world… :-/ The world average is 2 deaths per 10.000…


Anyway, we hopped on bus 71 and headed towards “Shazikou Wenhua Yongpin Shichang”, that electronics market I mentioned before… :-) The bus was very full, and we had to stand… Shortly after the bus left the stop, it was clear that a big discussion was going on in the back of the bus. A middle-aged woman was proclaiming that she had a very big and expensive house, that she made trips to Europe and that she was related to a member of parliament! Actually, after about a minute, she herself became that member of parliament! :-D It seemed the woman wasn’t very well furnished in the brain department anymore… ;-) But soon afterwards, a second woman talked to us! She pointed at our drinks in a plastic bag we carried, and told us that we weren’t allowed to bring them on a plane! :-D True of course, but anyway, let’s forget about it and hop off the bus, as we’re already there… ;-) (Fortunately!)


After walking around a bit, we found such Ethernet cables, and to my surprise a cable of 5 meters only costed 6,- RMB, a staggering 0,65 Euro! (Why the hell are those things so crazily expensive in Europe, then!?) I also bought an alarm clock, as I won’t be able to bring my mobile phone to North Korea, and so I won’t be able to use the alarm clock of my phone… :-) That costed 15,- RMB…



We then walked to an enormous shopping mall called “Bairong”. The place is truly gigantic, but had a very “second class feeling” to it… There was no airco, so the air inside felt hot and humid, which was not very pleasant… I comforted myself with the idea that things like that are actually indirectly paid by the costumers who spend money in those places, and that it might mean that the prices could be a little lower there, but unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the case… The first shops we entered even asked crazy prices! No doubt because many Chinese still see foreigners as “walking ATM’s”… Although recently this is changing, certainly in bigger cities, and some Chinese now seem to aim more at the extremely wealthy newly rich Chinese, who are not so picky and difficult to satisfy as those “irritating foreigners”, with all their crazy wishes… Indeed, if you think about it, it eventually had to happen… Most foreigners who visit China outside of the classical tourist sites are young backpackers. They don’t swim in money and are relatively conscious about what they spend, and furthermore foreigners usually value the real thing more than “Mickey mouse attractions”… On a lot of cultural or historic sites, the Chinese have unfortunately not been able to resist the temptation to tear down those authentic, historic structures, only to replace them by fake versions… :-/ Sometimes not even fake versions, but simply new buildings… Luxury hotels, etc… The historic city of Pingyao is a sad example of that, unfortunately… I visited it twice, in 2005 and 2008, and so I saw a lot of things that broke my heart… Entire blocks of buildings were being demolished, and replaced by fake things, really unbelievable… Actually Unesco has already threatened to scrap several historic sites within China of the list of world heritage historic sites, exactly because of things like this… But the only people who seem to whine about that seem to be those few foreigners, who don’t spend a lot of money anyway… (And of course some genuinely worried Chinese people, too, but their voices are not so often heard…) The rich Chinese, who seem to go to such places only to have their pictures taken there and to be able to tell everyone that they have been there, don’t seem to care less about those things, as long as they can have some fun… So they need luxurious places, no Spartan, old, boring historic buildings… And “whose bread is eaten, whose word is spoken”, as we say in a Dutch saying… Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but for example in Reshui, in Inner Mongolia, you can see that very clearly! A lot of Chinese tourists drive to there in summer in their expensive SUV, but the only thing they seem to do there is hanging out in Karaoke bars, drinking alcohol and eating… I’ve never met one of them in the mountains (Fortunately, maybe…), where nature is still very beautiful… Of course there are many Chinese people who are genuinely interested in the history of their country, and who feel the same sadness as we do when looking at such evolutions, so I know that what I wrote is only partially true, but the phenomenon can’t be ignored, either… I guess it’s actually simply the price to pay for a generation that made it from peasants’ sons to extremely wealthy rich men… They became rich overnight, yes, but it’s impossible to get a deep, cultural and historic knowledge and sensitivity overnight… Maybe the next generation won’t make those mistakes anymore… To be honest I have good hope that that will be indeed not be the case anymore, but the question is how much of China will have already be ruined during this one generation… They are well under way of destroying most of their own country, even the remote corners don’t seem to be spared… :-/


Anyway, where were we? :-D Ah yes, walking ATM’s… ;-) I didn’t feel like bargaining anymore, and as a matter of fact I still felt rather weak because of the jetlag, so I decided to sit down for some time… In the mean time Fan went to search for some material to make jewelry… Recently she seems very much into making cheap plastic jewelry herself, which seems a nice and creative hobby to me… :-) When she came back, we went to search for the clothes department, as I still had to find a Jeans, and I also needed to buy a collared shirt and a tie for my visit to the DPRK. At the “Kumsusan Memorial Palace”, the mausoleum where Kim Il-Sung lies in state, visitors are required to wear those, as a sign of respect. The mausoleum is included in my tour, too, and so I have to bring it, of course… (Not doing so would be an insult to the North Koreans of course, and it’s very important to earn the trust of the guides to get the most out of our trip, so I think it’s quite essential… By accident, after walking around for five minutes, I suddenly found a blue collared shirt with short sleeves, for only 69,50 RMB. The normal price was 139,- RMB, but it was hanging in a row of clothes, discounted at 50%… :-) I actually liked it, and so I decided to buy it… :-) Also, I found a Jeans that was also discounted, and it fit me rather well! :-) I paid that one 80,- RMB… So finally, I could find an extra Jeans! :-)


After leaving the “Bairong” shopping mall we went to the photo shop near Meishuguan again, to pick up the films from the previous days… It turned out that the 200 ASA color slide film was still too dark, but that the 400 ASA black & white film was perfectly lit! :-) (Actually, I quite liked the result!) So it was obvious that on grey days a 400 ASA film is needed… On sunny days, a 100 or 200 ASA would be able to do the trick, but that still has to be tested… :-) Actually, I wonder whether slide film wouldn’t simply be way more difficult to light perfectly, whereas negative film is a bit more forgiving? That’s something they often say, but I’ve never really had that problem with color slides in the past… :-0


Fan also went to a bookstore nearby, to search for some books about her new hobby, while I bought two large maps of China there… :-) When I give presentations about China, people sometimes tell me that a map would be nice, so that they could follow my trip on it, and see where certain pictures were taken… :-) An A4 or A3 map would not be of any use in front of an audience, so I needed a larger map, about 1,5 meter wide or something… So now I finally have those… :-) (One geographical map, one with the provinces in different colors and the roads and railways indicated…)


Fan needed a lot of time in the shop, so I decided to wait outside and sit down… The weather was really glorious today, and I could actually sit there for many hours… :-) Foto at the bookshop:



After that it was off to home on the upper deck of “Special 11” again… ;-)



And after some nice home-made Chinese food once again, we had an early night… :-)

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