China 1982

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1982

Phoning home to Australia from China is not an easy exercise.  I have made several unsuccessful attempts to phone my wife, Di, and every time I have been defeated by the labour-intensive process of manually booking a call and then running out of time.  Calls have to be booked for a certain time in advance, and then connected through a manual operator.  I tried to phone home this morning.  The operator in Peking took an hour and a half to connect to Sydney, and by that time Di had gone out (or at least there was no answer).  When there is no answer, the whole process has to start again from the beginning, and I didn’t have another hour and a half to spare as I had already missed breakfast while waiting for the first attempt.

We began this morning with a flying visit to Peking Zoo to see the pandas, which are just inside the gate.  This convinced me that we really were being treated as tourists rather than participants on a study tour.  The pandas didn’t do much for me, but it was a good chance to buy my 18-month old daughter, Liesl, a little cuddly panda.  Pleasingly, I conducted the entire purchase in Chinese, including the bargaining.

After the zoo we drove to the Forbidden City in the centre of Peking.  This is the area where the emperors lived before the Nationalist (Kuomintang) revolution in 1911.  It is 72 hectares in size, contains magnificent architecture with more than 9,000 rooms, including elaborate throne rooms and reception halls, and is now converted into a museum (referred to as the Palace Museum).  In sparkling contrast to the low grey dull courtyard housing that characterises most of Peking, the Forbidden City has bright vermillion-red walls and gold-coloured ceramic tiled roofs rising above the surrounding skyline.  Interestingly there are no trees in the Forbidden City, apparently because an attacker in the 1700s used trees to scale the walls in an attempted assassination attempt on the Emperor.

From the Forbidden City it was a short trip to nearby Peihai Park, a large green area centred around a 2,000 year old artificial lake where many local people go to recreate.  It also contains an artificial hill constructed from the waste material excavated by digging the moat around the Forbidden City, and with Peking being so flat, it offers one of the city’s few viewpoints.

Leaving Peihai Park, we took a short trip for three stations along Peking’s new subway train line.  The beautifully smooth, quiet ride, with very rapid acceleration of the train and extremely clean stations made the trip most enjoyable.  Apparently the train line was built in tunnels that were originally excavated during the Cultural Revolution as air raid shelters, underground factories and emergency accommodation as Chairman Mao was convinced that the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack on China – and if the Soviets didn’t, then the Americans would surely do so.  As things turned out, Mao’s paranoia was quite productive, as the new subway service demonstrates.

Exiting the subway, we were given an hour to explore the Peking Friendship Store, all three floors of it.  It is by far the largest Friendship Store in China, but unfortunately it is not located in the most interesting part of Peking to explore – apart from the potential of the tantalisingly off-limits Ancient Observatory on the old city walls just to the west of it.

We drove from the Friendship Store to Peking’s new international airport in the north-east of the urban area.  After being able to finish only three courses of our dinner at the airport, we were hurried to the plane which was unexpectedly on time.  Our one and a half hour flight was on another CAAC Hawker-Siddeley Trident (registered B-261), the same type of plane we had for our earlier flight from Rangoon into Kunming.

The landing in Sian was quite the sharpest I have ever experienced.  Like most Chinese airports, local people stand along the sides of the runway to watch close-up as planes come in to land.  Our plane was a bit late to touch down, so it landed too far along the runway for comfort.  The pilot engaged reverse thrust in a sudden,noisy, violent, but probably necessary manner, causing the plane to decelerate uncomfortably, finally stopping just a metre or two from the end of the runway.  As the local people lining the runway ran for their lives, the baggage in the open overhead shelves slid rapidly to the front of the plane and fell over the passengers in the front few rows.  It was quite remarkable that there were no injuries.

The name of our hotel in Sian is fairly easy to remember.  It is known simply as the Sian Hotel. 

Day 17

Peking, China


18 April 1982