24 Apr 2003
START OF CHINESE VISIT FROM BEIJING
We left for Beijing from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris aboard an Air France Boeing 777 aircraft on the 25th March at about 3.55pm. We were in a group comprising 21 people: 2 Frenchmen , 19 Cameroonians ( 9 men, 10 women). According to information gathered on the plane, the distance was about 8210 km and it will take 9 hours 20 minutes of direct flight from Paris to Beijing. The flight path took us on the trajectory above Luxemburg-Frankfurt-Berlin-Warsaw-Minsk-Moscow-Gorki-Yokaterimburg-Ural Mountains-Western Siberian lowlands-Omsk-Novosibirsk-Sayan Mountains-Ulan Bator and then above rocky desert before Beijing. Some parameters of interest: highest speed noticed 959 km/hour, highest height 11125metres and lowest external temperature –60 degrees centigrade. Because we had to cross seven time zones, we arrived Beijing at 8.30 am on the 26th of March (7 hours ahead of Cameroonian time).
After landing at Beijing, I was informed by a Chinese representative of Air France that my luggage was forgotten in France and will come with the flight of the following day. I filled a missing luggage form and was given a copy to use if need be to contact the airlines. I asked the airline representative about the person I could contact as there was no name on the form. She answered that her name was on the form. I adjusted my reading glasses, looked carefully on the paper and told her bluntly that she has forgotten to put her name. She pointed to some Chinese characters (meaningless to me) at the bottom of the page as her name. I was a little bit startled before telling myself ‘welcome to China’.
(photo Chinese Paliament building facing Tian Anmen square at link below)
Our first visit that morning was to Tian Anmen square. This enormous space (largest public square in the world) is the very heart of Beijing. Beside it is the Chinese Parliament building, the Museum of Chinese history and revolution, the gate to the forbidden city, and in the centre of Tian An Men square is a monument for Chinese heroes and the Mao Mausoleum. Thousands of people visit the square daily and long lines form to visit the Mao mausoleum. Many Chinese were very curious to see us Africans( Africans rare in most of China) and some opted to take photographs with us for souvenir. While many of them were curious to see us, they made every effort to conceal their curiosity so as not to embarrass us. Of the very few that could speak some English, only about one in ten could say he or she has heard of Cameroon (those that did was mostly because of football). When I asked some Chinese to guess where we came from, some thought we were from the U.S. and one told me we were from France. For our ten days in China, I only came across one black man that was not a member of our group.
After having our first Chinese meal on one of the floors of the Museum of Chinese history and revolution, we drove to 175 Yong An Road, where we checked in at Jianguo Hotel Qianmen. This is a 410 room hotel with nice internal decorations and costing 836 yuan (almost 100 euro or 65,000cfa) per night. Beijing is quite a nice and clean city with large roads. The city has thousands of storey buildings for residential purposes (most 10 to 15 storeys). We never saw any ghetto. A variety of cars in relatively good working conditions ply the roads. Car fuel is cheap 3 yuan/litre (225cfa) or half the cost in Cameroon. Electricity cost is 53cfa/Kwh. Electric powered and gas powered buses are popular means of transport, not forgetting the bicycles. China is a nation undergoing fast transformation and for the past decade she has been experiencing an annual economic growth rate of more than 8%. In China education is free and compulsory for the first 9 years. According to our Chinese guide; in the fifties the Chinese had three dreams: a bicycle, a radio and a sewing machine. In the eighties they dreamt of a house given by the state, a television set and a washing machine. In the nineties their three dreams were a car, a computer and a private apartment. Unlike us, they surely are realising all their dreams.
In the evening of our first day in Beijing, we paid a visit to the Forbidden city (imperial palace where for over five centuries, ordinary Chinese were forbidden to set foot there). It is from here that 24 emperors ruled China for about 500 years beginning from the 14th century. According to information obtained from publications on the forbidden city; “It is the most magnificent ancient …and the biggest and most intact architectural complex of palaces in the world.” “It occupies an area of 720,000 square metres with (over 9,000) bays of halls and rooms and the surrounding walls are 10metres high, 3,428metres long.” A moat (wide ditch filled with water) which is 52 metres wide, 6 metres deep and 3,800 metres long surrounds the outside walls. Thus the forbidden city was made a strongly fortified castle. The place (a UNESCO listed world heritage) contains an unbelievable treasure of art and antiquity. For example, a chime clock produced in 1798 is in there and still working.
(photo: Forbidden City)
The following day, we embarked on a trip to the Great Wall of China (another UNESCO listed world heritage and one of the wonders of the world). On the way to the Great Wall (some 50 kms) from Beijing, we stopped at a pearl (gem) manufacturing unit. We were told how oysters could be nursed for up to 40 years so as to obtain good pearls. When we got to the shop, women almost elected to stay there indefinitely sourcing and buying. As we continued our trip to the Great Wall, I inquired aloud in the bus why, since we came, nobody has asked about the Cameroon embassy in Beijing? Everybody in the car said such an idea never crossed their mind ( a clear indication of the type of relation that ordinary Cameroonians have with their government ). It was pretty chilly when we got to the Great Wall and I had to purchase extra warm clothes there. The Great Wall (5660 kilometres long) is a masterpiece of man’s creativity. According to a Chinese proverb, “One who fails to reach the great wall would not be regarded as a hero”. The wall (3 to 7 metres high) is thick and visitors walk on top of it. 3 to 10 people can walk abreast on it depending on the portions of the wall. It took more than two thousand years starting from the seventh century B.C. to be completed. Different emperors constructed different portions around their territories to ward off invasions and these portions were eventually linked over time. “ In terms of designing and constructing, the Great Wall is a paragon of the resourcefulness of Chinese strategists and builders” says a publication on the Great Wall. Thousands of visitors flock daily to the Great Wall at the portion we visited.
(photo: Laborex Cameroon at the Great Wall Of China)
We next paid a visit to the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum that lies at the foot of mount Ziji on the outskirts of Beijing. It is said that it took 25 years and about 100,000 labourers to complete the construction in 1405. The original wall of the Mausoleum was 22.5 km long. The most striking part of the Mausoleum is one of the multiple entrances to the place known as the ‘sacred path’ or ‘the spirit road’. It is lined on each side with 12 pairs of stone lions, Xiechai, camels, elephants, qilin and horses and four pairs of military and civil officers (twice my height and thrice my size.) Carefully planted flowers and trees add life and beauty to the place. As you walk along the sacred path, the serenity and beauty is simply erotic.
(photo: Spirit road)
We did visit a commercial district in Beijing. Supermarkets have large spaces and many are in multiple floors with each floor specialising in specific goods. You can bargain in most supermarkets and the sales ladies are polite and very persuasive. I had to keep on reminding myself that I am shopping from a government supermarket as the work ethics of Chinese in these shops are better than those of Cameroonians in even the so called private sector. Majority of people on Chinese streets wear black clothes, but many women we met working indoors (hotels and supermarkets) prefer red clothes. The Chinese believe the red colour brings good luck to their women and at the same time helps keep evil spirits at bay. There was no physical evidence of congestion and disorder on Beijing streets (compared to Douala) considering that the city has a population (15million) equivalent to that of Cameroon. Almost all the people we came across were either friendly or indifferent. There was no act of hostility that I know that was directed towards any of us for the duration of our stay in China. Hawkers, though few are really aggressive in marketing their wares. We were advised by our guide to avoid hawkers (they operate illegally) as some are dishonest.
On the third day we had lunch in the magnificent 30 storey plus China Resource Building and in the evening we were thrilled by the famous Beijing Opera at the Liyuan Theatre Qianmen. About 50% of the spectators that evening were foreigners.
(photo: lunch in a Chinese restaurant)
We rounded our trip to Beijing on the fourth day by visiting the summer palace (another UNESCO listed world cultural heritage). The rulers of China in those days spent their Summer here. Located about 15 km northwest from Beijing city centre, this place ranks number one among China’s ancient parks. It was first constructed during the Jin dynasty in 1153 but much of the work that has transformed this place into a paradise was done by empress Cixi starting around 1888 during her rule. Exquisite architecture laden with works of art is sandwiched between the longevity hill and the kunming lake that make up the 290 hectares of real estate called the summer palace. We had lunch in a restaurant at the summer palace and took a ride in a typical dragon face Chinese boat across the lake. It was really a taste of imperial life.
(photo: Boat on Kumning lake)
Copyright ã 2003 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]