Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China) -> Hong Kong (SAR, China)

Walked into the 北京西站 (Beijing West Railway Station) and purchased a ticket just the day before I was supposed to depart for Hong Kong (or 九龍 or Kowloon). No credit cards accepted so happily, I had enough Chinese renminbi. The entrance to the departure lounge would not have been easy to spot if I hadn’t just been next door at one of those ubiquitous places selling instant-noodles-in-a-tub and assorted drinks.

From there, the usual security checks and immigration controls, then out the other side, just one platform and the Z97 Sleeper Train that would take me to Hong Kong.
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong KongIt was a neat, clean, new train,
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kongwith temperature and sound controls, some movies on repeat,
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kongdisposable slippers,
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kongand a very sanitary attached bathroom.

Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong KongThe toilets operated on vacuum flush, so you were never indisposed even at station stops.

I shared my compartment with a father of one who spent most of his time with his wife and kid and returned only to sleep late at night, disappearing when I went to brush my teeth in the morning.

Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong KongThe Chinese restaurant car was well-patronised, and the food, wok-fried a la minute was tasty.

Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
H had sent me away with instant coconut-flavoured milk tea with nata de coco bits – a nice sugar boost.

Outside, the view changed from remote fluorescent-lit train stations to bucolic countryside scenes with atmospheric mist:
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong Kong
Z97 Sleeper Train from Beijing West Railway Station to Kowloon, Hong KongThen, the foilage changed to banana trees and sugarcane, and before we could determine where the border between mainland China and its newest territory had been, we were in Hong Kong.

Advertisements

Welcome to Disneyland – Authenticity in Jingshan Park, Hou Hai, and the Hutongs, Beijing, China

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China)

How do you like your disneyization? I love mine full-blown, all-encompassing, no-holds-barred, please.

So the hyperreal bronze sculptures along the pedestrianised shopping street full of international brands in Wangfujing, Beijing, China? Meh, ok.

bronze sculpture, Wangfujing, Beijing, China bronze sculpture, Wangfujing, Beijing, China

A little better: 景山公园 (Jingshan Park) that was just across from the Forbidden City and had been constructed from the excess earth excavated while building the moat around the palace.

景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, China
景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaIts Ming-dynasty pavilions (that is to say, the originals were constructed then but who knows how much original material remains) offered great resting spots for courting couples and retirees.

view of the Forbidden City from 景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaAnd right at the top of the mound, from the Wanchun Pavilion (Pavilion of Everlasting Spring), a great view of the Forbidden City complex.

景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, China
景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaBest of all was the opportunity to dress up in period costumes, and take selfies.

Oh but 后海 (Hou Hai)? Oh, hello!
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
All this landscaping was first conceived a few centuries ago (or at least during the Ming Dynasty, 1368 – 1644) to conform to the Chinese idea of a place of natural beauty, where leisurely strolls could be taken by the water, under the hanging branches of willow trees.

hutong, Beijing, China
It was surrounded by spruced up hutongs that had been cleared of their residents and renovated into a historically-themed amusement park for tourists, with its tropes of ancient tea houses with caged singing birds, oriental-tiled roofs,

rickshaws, hutong, Beijing, China
rickshaws, hutong, Beijing, Chinaand shop-owners and rickshaw rider cartel all appropriately-attired and performing their set-pieces.

rickshaws, hutong, Beijing, China
Yet, they were not playing at riding rickshaw, for that was their true occupation, and one that might not have arisen if this theme park had not existed. What delicious hyperreality in (in)authentic Old Beijing!

And then, there was just the period-insensitive merchandising: candied fruit on sticks, giant cotton candy puffs:
candied fruit seller, hutong, Beijing, China
cotton candy, Beijing, China

And not quite behind the scenes, but people you might want to ignore to maintain the illusion, the road-sweepers and cleaners:
road sweeper, hutong, Beijing, China
road sweeper, hutong, Beijing, China

One cannot google “hutongs” without coming upon loads of complaints about the loss of authenticity after the hutongs were demolished or sanitised of all grime, rats and vermin, falling tiles, pot holes.
sun setting over the Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Beijing, China
But first, what is this authenticity that we all seem to hold in high regard yet appear unable to accurately define?

景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaWould this scene be less authentic if you knew these people had been auditioned and given costumes to wear? What if they were really from a minority race, local tourists visiting from a village, but told to put on these outfits by their tour agency? And should they not even have gotten help from a tour agency to see the big city because that would make their experience inauthentic?

And second, why would the presence of “authenticity”, if it could be defined, be preferable for life and for society?

Culture Shock and Eating in Beijing, China

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China)

Beijing was a bit of a culture shock.

I’d worked in Shanghai before of course, but had been driven around in company cars or taxis, and stayed in hotels where every requirement and request had been met efficiently by the concierge. (Shanghainese friends would say disparagingly at this point that the superiority of Shanghai has nothing to do with this.) Now, my backpack full of Mongolian winter clothes and I were being pushed towards the exit of the 北京火车站 (Beijing Railway Station) by a sea of humanity, drowning in the cacophony of shouting and high-pitched women making the announcements.

I held up a bit of the tide enough to ask a security guard about left luggage, but could barely hear her replies or, be heard.

“Can you speak-a English!” she shouted, waving her handheld metal detector about.

“I AM SPEAKING ENGLISH!” I replied. To no avail. She was not familiar with such a business concept, and said kindly that I could leave my bag with her if I wanted. Outside the 北京火车站, after buttonholing several groups of security personnel, one man left his post to show me to the door of the left luggage facility. It was on an upper floor, but its entrance was along a row of similar looking shops with gaudy red signs.

A further problem: Beijing yuan, or the lack thereof. Surprisingly, there were no moneychangers at the railway station. Across the overhead bridge, the Postal Savings Bank of China did not have a foreign exchange service, but perhaps I could try the bank a street away? That bank did not accept British pounds or Singapore dollars, perhaps I could try another bank a block away? Yes that bank did accept British pounds but they did not look new enough.

I did end up with just enough money to pay to leave my backpack in safe hands for a few hours while I went exploring, avoiding the innumerable globs of spit all over the tiled floors and pavements. Everywhere, you could hear people behind you and in front of you about to hack another to join its fellows on the ground. I could not tell if it was the notoriously polluted Beijing air or the Beijingers’ rampant smoking that caused them this trouble. Worse were the pedestrians who stopped suddenly in mid-stride to empty the contents of their leaky noses onto public walkways.

However, for once in the last few weeks, food was readily available along the streets, and relatively cheap.

老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China

老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China

smoking indoors, 老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China

老北京炸酱面 (Lao Beijing Zhajiang Mian), Beijing, China老北京炸酱面大王 (Lao Beijing Zha Jiang Mian King) was rather bland, even after a week of Mongolian mutton. Note the lack of ban on smoking in enclosed restaurants.

 After this hiccup, there wasn’t another bad meal in Beijing:

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Beijing, Chinabao in fast food eateries and in holes-in-the-wall along the pavement, one basket for just 10,

Beijing, China

Beijing, Chinadeep-fried garoupa with chilli, washed down with a light Yanjing beer,

Beijing, Chinagiant cotton candy clouds,

Beijing, China北京酸奶 (Beijing fermented milk drink or yoghurt drink),

oh, and those amazingly diverse food choices along dedicated food streets (aka. night markets):

东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

centipedes, beetles, spiders, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

hearts, livers, and other organs, x东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

deep-fried crab, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

how to eat so your clothes stay clean, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

potato spirals, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, China

skewers of candied fruit, 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), Beijing, Chinawe were early at 东华门夜市 (Dong Hua Men Night Market), but already, thick clouds of cooking and frying enveloped us as we walked along, deciding what to sample. Would it be 串儿 (chuan er, lamb skewers, كاۋاپ in Uyghur)? Or star fish and frogs and sea urchin? Or beetles and centipedes, finished off with a hairy tarantula spider? Or hearts, kidneys, livers, and other organs and spare bits? Or just deep-fried whole crabs? Or spirals of fried potato? Or colourful skewers of candied fruit?

A few minutes away, equally interesting food on offer at 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market)

singing noodle hawker, 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, China

quail eggs, 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, China

王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, China

baby scorpions, 王府井夜市 (Wang Fu Jing Night Market), Beijing, Chinaa singing noodle hawker, quail eggs on a stick, two men pounding peanut brittle candy, and squirming baby scorpions on skewers.

Not sure what to think of the Chinese costumes – the half- 长衫s with mandarin collars with frog buttons, etc. On one hand, it panders to the Western orientalist (in the Edward Said sense) gaze that would prefer photographs of fake pig-tails to Jeremy Lin basketball shirts. It is a simulated authenticity staged for the benefit of the tourist yuan. Even further, it mixes orientalist signs with authentic differences of language and foods to further confirm themselves as the Other, the Altern, for the consumption of foreigners. On the other hand, why not?

At Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant though, there was modern sophistication a world away from the costumes of the street stalls. Ah, but do the white crockery, white table cloths, chef hats, internal water feature, dramatic setting of the duck ovens not constitute a different category of signs?

北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China

北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China

aubergine stack, 北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China

different ways of eating duck, 北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, China“Look, the eyeball!” exclaimed B, who was determined not to act the part of the squimish Brit,
北京大董烤鸭店 (Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant), Beijing, Chinaand promptly wrote home about her authentic experience. I do love B, and also truly loved the irony. 🙂
Beijing, China