Sandra sends us a ‘postcard from Beijing’…
I can see the sun! This feels like a miracle. For the first three days of my brief stay in Beijing the skies have been thick with pollution; my throat was so full of grit that I resorted to wearing a face mask on my first evening and have thus when walking round the city, borne a close resemblance to a duck.
My hotel is in one of the few 19th century hutong areas of Beijing most having been demolished to make way for the high rise blocks of flats which house a population of nearly 20 million people. In the hutongs single storey rooms open on to courtyards which in turn open on to narrow alleyways, the tiled roofs are edged with a row of gruesome faces to keep away the demons.
Red and gold lanterns brighten the otherwise grey scene .Washing hangs across the alleyways, men trundle carts of cardboard, sticks, mail, motor cyclist sound the horn impatiently at foreigners who block the path. Round the corner from here an old lady sits all day in the day in the dust sorting old bits of wire,and paper, and two children are engrossed in their own games in the tiny area between a shopfront and the path.
There is a toilet block on every corner since many of the courtyards and even blocks of flats don’t have their own toilets. The local blocks at least have cubicles; in some areas they have just an open row of holes in the ground. Needless to say I am grateful for the hotel facilities.
My son , who lives here, complains that he can order toilet tissue on line but not the parts for the toilet . A totalitarian state has not led to any useful standardisation. Sanitation is little better in most of the modern cereal box buildings though I don’t know what it’s like in the flashy glass buildings which mark modern Beijing as one of the world’s most interesting places architecturally.
Crossing the road has been the biggest challenge. Cars,trolley buses, motor scooters, and bikes stream past, constantly ignoring pedestrian crossings , driving through red lights. I have taken to holding my arm out imperiously to claim the road, and am thankful I am not crossing with children.
Beijing is an interesting city to visit for a few days but it is not the place for the feint hearted or the asthmatic.