Saturday, 28 May 2011

Shopping, acrobatics and a dead guy

Saturday 28th May 2011

2 days left traveling the world.

MP3 track of the day: Show must go on - Queen

Weather: Without the usual breeze it's been hoooot all day.

I walked out of my hostel, around 8:30am, leaving my camera, and my mobile phone, within my locker. As I walked towards my local underground station I formed a 'plan of action' for the day; first of all I'll have breakfast, and then I'll go to see Chairman Mao before clothes shopping. I made my way to Tienanmen square where, before joining the horrendous queue to see Mr Mao, I went for a quick bite.

After breakfast I returned to the square and joined a queue consisting of Chinese looking people. I tried to blend in but my height, colour and the fact that I wasn't wearing a 'tour group baseball cap' gave me away. I stood as far from the guards as possible and never made eye contact. The queue circled Mao's mausoleum which was a square building, located within the middle of Tienanmen Square; the queue moved at a steady pace and it didn't take long to reach security. 'Camera!' a stern female guard asked me; I shook my head and I was allowed to proceed into the mausoleums gardens. As the queue edged forward I studied the gardens liking the way the red flowers – constructed to form a pattern – were surrounded by grass and fern trees blocked the outside world from view. Once inside the first hall had a white marble sculpture, of Mr Mao, sitting on a seat with his legs crossed and flowers all around him. I could have purchased a yellow rose, to lay at his feet, but I didn't. Unlike 'Uncle Ho', Mao's final resting place was on the ground floor, in a separate hall, behind said sculpture. With my hat off, head bowed and a sad expression upon my face, I went into the chamber trying not to laugh. Finally Chairman Mao came into view; he was lined in a similar coffin to Ho Chi Minh, with a communist red flag drooped over his legs. Apparently the Vietnamese helped the Chinese entomb him. I have to say that he's a lot shorter than I thought he would be, and he did look a little plastic. I slowly walked by and then, once past, quickened my pace and left the mausoleum through the back entrance.

Once again I found myself on the underground; this time, however, I was heading to a station called 'Yong'anli' where the silk market could be found. The name, silk market, isn't quite suited for the five storey clothes complex I found myself in. Exit 'B', from the underground station, entered into the heart of the market and, only three stores in, I was accosted by a short, Chinese lady, asking me to 'buy something'. I found myself within the basement level, where shoes played the dominant role. This lady had one pair of red, and one pair of blue, converse that I liked very much; she said that she had my size and so, as her sister ran off to their warehouse, we made small talk focusing on where I've been. It took an age for her sister to return but, within her hands, were two pairs of converse my size. I asked how much and then the lady started the – what was to come – usual speech of 'these are real leather, well made and retail at £70. But, just for me, I'll discount them to £50'. I smiled and started to walk away but she blocked my move, calculator in hand, asking me what was my final price. I typed '£5' into the calculator and she frowned asking for £45. I continued to lace up my shoes and, as I did, the price kept falling until we got to £6.50. She was a really nice person, and we'd laughed a lot, therefore I agreed to purchase both pairs for £13. She frowned at me saying that I was a 'hard bargainer', to which I suggested she go to Cambodia for bargaining lessons.

I continued to walk past hundreds of stalls all selling the same items; ladies would grab my arm and shout 'look in my shop', or 'want bag' or some other call. I would either oblige, say no or walk by giving a witty remark. In a couple of stores I was prevented from leaving, by the saleswoman continually shadowing my moves. Now, you would have though that I would have hated this experience … but I found myself loving it. Some, of the saleswomen, were a little rude but most were up for a laugh and I had a great time joking as I shopped. I walked down many isles, and up many floors, eventually spending £150 on:

3 – pairs of converse (1x red, 1x blue and 1x black and white)

1 – pair of trainers (white)

1 – belt

1 – jacket

1 – polo shirt

2 – shirts

5 – beanie hats

1 – bag

Everything above was a 'designer label', though I would question there authenticity. I had a great time but, as I checked my wallet, I had £4 remaining. Spending a little more than I wanted I left the market, satisfied with my purchases, and took the underground back to my hostel. Once back I went to the local bank to withdraw £40, before having lunch and then waiting for my acrobatics pick-up. The time was 5pm and my pick-up was due within thirty minutes. At 5:30pm, on the dot, the receptionist tapped me on my shoulder indicating that my pick-up had arrived. I, and another British bloke called Andy, found ourselves within a mini-van being driven through the crowded streets of Beijing. It took an hour to get to the theatre; the driver pointed to a building, on the opposite side of the road, indicating that it was said theatre. With an hour to kill Andy and I wandered the surrounding streets chatting about our individual trips; time flew and we soon found ourselves, at the theatres entrance, fifteen minutes before the performance started. If we'd known that there was no seat allocation we would have entered earlier; as it was the theatre wasn't full and we still managed to get good seats ... though they were off to the left a little.

We continued to chat until the lights went down and a golden robbed figure appeared on stage. It would appear that the performance told a story - as well as being full of acrobatics - though what the story was I had no idea, as it was told in Chinese. The golden figure disappeared, through a trap door, and a clown – who, I think, was supposed to be a narrator – seemed to be continually on stage as each act came and went. The show was fantastic; it started with a dance routine before moving onto human balancing acts. I sat captivated as performers balanced on top of one another using only one hand. Other acts included a evil looking dude who 'face changed', people flipping through rings, people balancing on rings, a juggler and a group of girls playing with a cone thing which they threw up into the air, and caught on a piece of string. The final act was the most impressive; the stage doors opened and out came a huge metal ball. Motor bikes would be driven into said ball and they would do loops within. At one point four bikes were whizzing around, almost hitting each other. As the entertainers came on stage, for their final round of applause, I was satisfied with my end to my tour. The show had been stunning and only the audience (plus, as the juggler was on-stage, I could see some female acrobats practising to the left of a stage screen) had put a slight dampener on the event, with their photo taking and chatting. Still I didn't let it bother me; I exited the theatre wishing the show had gone on for longer than an hour. Once back at the hostel I went on the internet – to find the F1 qualifying results – before retiring for an early night.

So tomorrow is my final day around the world. I thought about making it manic, however I quite like the idea of a lazy day. I think I'll have a lie-in before packing my bags and, in the evening, I'll have a shower but, apart from that, I haven't got anything else planned. Current thoughts, on how to spend the day, include:

- crying

- eating lots and lots of cake ... before crying

- or going out for a walk – sightseeing Beijing's Olympic buildings – before visiting a park

I think I'll decided tomorrow morning.

Toodle Pip!

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