counting down

September 30th, 2009

So tomorrow’s The Big Day, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

I was 20 days too late to enjoy the 50th anniversary. Apparently there was some disorganisation at the New Zealand school that sent me to Changsha which lead to a delay in recruiting and dispatching foreign teachers. Whatever, I arrived in time for the return of Macao, and now here I am, sitting in a farmhouse in Yanqing County counting down to the 60th. I think I’ll spend tomorrow morning guzzling tea and staring at CCTV 1.

Last weekend brought a lot of excitement. First there were the catch-up classes on Saturday. For some reason, BeiGongDa decided to hold our catch-up classes on Saturday, when everybody else, it seems, had to work on Sunday. Then on Saturday there was the reception BeiGongDa held for its foreign teachers in the lobby of the fancy, new hotel it built on the southwest corner of campus. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by just how fancy and grand the hotel is on the inside. It felt more like the kind of place that should have some big, famous, international luxury brandname hung on its walls rather than a place built by a university. And then on Sunday evening the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs held a reception for foreign experts at the Great Hall of the People. In other words, the weekend brought copious amounts of free food and drink at fancy locations.

I’ve been to the Great Hall of the People once before, also for the SAFEA’s reception. It seems they hold a reception for foreign experts each year in the Great Hall, but perhaps invitations, at least to small fry like teachers, are rationed out due to the sheer number of us in Beijing. I’m not really sure. At least, all these years in Beijing, I’ve only twice gotten an invite, and both times it felt like an awesome privilege.

But there’s something oddly Tardis-like about the Great Hall. Sure, it looks enormous from the outside, but you don’t get any idea of the collossal scale of the place until you get inside. Climbing what feels like dozens of metres of steps just to get to security, then following what feels like miles of red carpet through an immense cavern, then up dozens more metres of steps, then another mile or two, then into a space that dwarves any cathedral. Li Keqiang delivered a speech from a podium far off in the distance. I saw him in the flesh in the same way one sees a person standing several football fields away. At least, that’s how it all feels.

Leaving, unless one has transport parked nearby, means a walk through, or at least across the top of, Tiananmen Square. We had transport available, but who could resist such a walk at such a time? And there is, of course, something fundamentally wrong about going straight home after such an awesome experience. And so a group of us, myself and three colleagues, went in search of a subway train to Dawang Lu, thence to O’Farrells for a cooling off. We should’ve, of course, gone straight to Tiananmen West station, but security arrangements resulted in me getting “lost”. I knew exactly where I was, but getting to a Tiananmen West entrance proved more hassle than a walk through a tunnel over to the north side of Chang’an Jie then along to Tiananmen East station. And besides, such a walk gave a great view of the Square just a few days before The Big Day.

I really don’t have anything intelligent to say about Tiananmen Square that night. There were rows of stands lining the streets, fenced off from us mere plebs. There were giant TV screens. There were lights. There were crowds of people coursing through the drastically restricted space. There was no obvious increase in security, but then again, how do you increase security there without a total lock-down?

And no, despite the usual exagerrated reports in the Western press, there has not been a total lock-down.

My wife had to work this morning, while I took a welcomely relaxed start to the day, then packed up the rest of what needed to be packed- including a puppy. Puppies are not easy to pack, especially stubborn, tough little puppies which have already proven a willingness to chase cats five times their size (the stray cats of the BeiGongDa area are now rejoicing). But I got him in a box and managed to keep him there for most of the trip up here- the exception being when lzh took him out to play as we were waiting for out taxi.

Yeah, Bafangda really screwed up this time. I got to Deshengmen to find a ridiculously long queue and no buses. I wasn’t feeling the best, kinda headachy, and certainly in no mood to wait. There was a taxi driver doing the rounds, looking for passengers to pay his passage home. Can’t blame him. Crossing the Jundu Mountains costs petrol at the least, and most likely expressway tolls, as well. Crossing the Jundu Mountains also means taking time off work. So if I’m feeling less than ideal, we have a puppy to try and smuggle onto a bus, and the taxi driver is looking to make a couple of days off economically viable, we have a collision of interests, and we can deal, right? lzh did the dealing while I ran for the ritual Last Pit Stop Before Yanqing. Fifty kuai per human, no extra charge for canines, computers or backpacks. Sweet, let’s go.

And so we shared a taxi with the driver and a young woman with an equal level of patience for a busless queue. We popped on and off the expressway with a view to minimising tolls. We convinced the driver to take us all the way home for an extra 30 kuai- what we would’ve had to pay to hire a car from Nancaiyuan, anyway. I suspect our promise to show him the shortcut from the county town to our village helped, as well as the knowledge that he would be going close to one of the major county roads between our township and his, straight over a bridge across the reservoir, helped.

We arrived to find a new gate on the courtyard- that we had been warned about. I, at least, was not aware that the new gate came with the beginnings of a roof suggesting almost a gatehouse. Neither of us realised the complexity of the new gate. Actually having to turn a latch out here was a new experience. The added security, as weak as it may be, was a welcome sight, given the burglary two weeks ago.

And that burglary: A puppy that has been raised half-wild by only its mother, Ma’s dog Niuniu, with no human input, and which was probably making a huge amount of noise and biting ankles during the burglary, got a hard kick during the burglary. Diardiar (deliberate non-pinyin spelling) was looking very poorly and passing little more than blood for some time afterwards. The fact that he just managed to stink up this room with blood-free, but still less than healthy, shit would seem to be a sign that he’s on the mend. Still, Diardiar has gone all quiet when in the past he wanted a piece out of everyone who entered the courtyard- or at least barked as if he did- and is even more terrified of humans than ever before. Not so much terrified as timid, keeping a very healthy distance, keeping his head down, tail between his legs, and trembling should he ever find himself too close to a human. And he’s painfully thin, which seems to be largely a result of his injury. Just what does one do with such a puppy?

The weather when we popped out of the tunnel into the basin side of the Jundu Mountains was the same haze as over Beijing, but not as thick or heavy- mostly natural, in other words. It’s easier breathing up here, in other words. And yes, I know I’ve said that in a variety of ways a gazillion times already. But it meant that from the Badaling area we could not see across the basin. Indeed, even scooting along the north bank of the reservoir, we could not see the range that shelters us from the North Wind. But we just copped the edge of a big storm, and hopefully that will clear the air out and leave us good air for tomorrow.

Bate, the puppy we just brought up here, seems to be settling in just fine, on the other hand.

Yes, our courtyard ever more resembles a zoo, with three dogs, a myriad of cats, and enough sheep to satisfy any Kiwi.

Hopefully the rain we’ve seen up here this evening means there is rain down in Beijing followed by a breeze that will keep the air clean and clear for tomorrow’s parade.

Here’s hoping you get a clear day for tomorrow’s parade down in Beijing.

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