Fourth time in China - first time in Beijing.
And I am so lucky. A cheaper and earlier flight across, combined with a cancelled meeting on Sunday, buys me extra time in the Beijing region. And before I know it, the carfreax network has caringly absorbed this lonesome traveler. Although I manage to only catch one hour of sleep on my Moscow-connected flight, I decide to grab my chances - and after a damn' good cup of coffee I find myself on an orange (!) coloured designer bike, trailing closely behind my host, criss-cross past the Beijing highlights. Jetlag is for sissies! A snapshot tour, shooting from the hip. Three hours to go, the clock is counting. Yet, I am so lucky. Thank you Wout!
It is hard to believe that only six years ago, half of the Beijing population lived like this (source: Wikipedia). No sanitary rooms, no electricity. Such confrontation with the speed of development here. Yet, these are real pearls in the cultural necklace that is Beijing. Luckily, the authorities are aware.
We carry on and reach the Drum- and Bell Tower, two towering structures, which are even more impressive with the empty square in between. How different that must have looked, last week, when China celebrated its 'Golden Week' national holiday. This square is where China time was kept and communicated, across many dynasties, 'till way into the twentieth century when modern day clockwork finally replaced it. The soldiers of old are now frozen in time - like ancient Han Solos - while their modern day colleagues are busy exercising drills, a couple of miles away, inside the Forbidden City walls. This is Old Beijing's central axis, no longer the city's main north-south connection but certainly the cultural spine of the city.
We make our way back south, past the beautiful lakes where the top party officials live today. Tons of clubs and bars by the lakeside. I'll be back tonight, when this will be the center of activity. It's now or never.
Meanwhile it's 5 PM and this Cinderella is racing the clock. Sunset at six! We make it in time for the much-anticipated meeting with Chairman Mao, as he is overlooking the hugely impressive Tian'anmen Square. Together with huge flocks of Chinese tourists, we witness the flag lowering ceremony as the invisible sun sets over Beijing - and decide to call it a day.
It's the white against the red this time. Hard to choose sides.