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Tiananmen Square

Sunday, June 30th 2002

My base in Beijing was a very comfortable apartment on Chengfu Lu, a few minutes walk from the university. Having sorted out various administrative things on Friday, I then had the weekend to started getting acquainted with this massive city. I spent Saturday walking around the vast and beautiful campus of the university, and a few of the nearby parts of the surrounding area of Zhongguancun. It is about five miles from the city centre, but as China's technology hub it is far from being a distant suburb.

by Sunday I was recovered enough from jetlag to head for the centre. I walked down Zhongguancun Beilu, found a taxi rank and tried out some Mandarin. "Tiananmen Guangchang", I said, but my tones were clearly way off and in the end I had to point at my guide book. We set off through Beijing, and the scale of the city that I was seeing for the first time took my breath away. Eight lanes of traffic sliced through forest of giant buildings, and construction was everywhere. China's economic boom was evident.

After half an hour we arrived at Tiananmen Square. The air was thick with mist, and with the temperatures in the high twenties the atmosphere was quite oppressive. From one side of the square I couldn't see the other, which really brought home the point that it's the largest city square in the world. I walked around, taking in the atmosphere.

One vital point of reference here is Mao's mausoleum, but today I was too late to go in. Instead, I walked north, through the Forbidden City, ending up at Jingshan Park. Jingshan is an artificial hill, built to the north of the Forbidden City for feng shui reasons. It's an excellent place for views over the city, and even in the mist Beijing looked awesome.

The world cup final was on this evening, and I thought that Sanlitun, Beijing's main entertainment district, would probably be a good place to go. It didn't look like it would be too far to walk, on my map, but I was totally underestimating the scale of the city. About an hour and a half later I reached Sanlitun, and found a bar with a big TV screen to watch the game. A large number of German ex-pats were around to see if their team could beat Brazil, and as Germans do, many of them had arrived very early and marked out the territory which they wanted to occupy later. A fight almost broke out shortly before kick-off when someone strayed onto someone else's turf, but once the game started, all eyes were on the screen.

Germany were despatched 2-0, to the disappointment of most people in the bar. I'd been an entirely neutral observer so I was quite happy. And I was very happy when I got into a taxi, said "Beijing Daxue Dong Men" and got taken straight away to the East Gate of the University. Perhaps I would be able to make progress with Mandarin after all.

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