Back at our hotel we showered, changed and checked out before returning to Dongchang’an Jie, this time heading west towards the city centre. Walking slowly in the hot sunshine it took us a while to reach Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s main shopping streets.
Our duck was wheeled out by a young man in a chef’s hat, surgical mask and latex gloves who set about carving it for us. We had a brief demonstration of how to fold a pancake round spring onion and slices of duck smeared with plum sauce – a task we had failed at before and failed at again. Looking round the room we were gratified to find that other diners – overwhelmingly Chinese – were equally inept.
I love duck but a question remains unresolved: for my final meal on earth would I prefer duck in Beijing or confit de canard beside the Dordogne (before, of course, fresh pineapple and coconut ice cream)? Further research will be necessary.
We ate a whole duck between us, which cost £35, extravagant by Chinese standards but cheaper than the bottle of wine which accompanied our wedding anniversary meal at the Yorke Arms in Pately Bridge.
Wangfujing has several of what appear to be department stores, so we wandered into the nearest confident that a Chinese department store would have a tea department. It was not, we discovered a department store, at least not one I would recognise. I might be out of touch, the department store is not my natural environment, but last time I was in one it consisted of departments selling various related items. This store housed a series of individual stalls, each selling one particular brand name, some we knew and others we had never heard of. There were six floors like this - yes, we went up the escalator to the top and checked every single one with a growing feeling of disbelief. As market stalls go they were certainly posh, some were larger than many shops, but market stalls was what they were and clothes were pretty well all that was on offer.
We tried another ‘department store’ and it was the same. Brand names here are everything. For the second time that day I found myself cursing Jimmy Choo, Hugo Boss and their ilk. I am sure there are people in the west who are obsessed with brand names and feel themselves naked without an Armani suit or Gucci handbag, but I doubt there are very many and they include nobody I know (or want to know). The Chinese have a fascination with all things western and the advertising campaigns of Vuitton, Versace and others are attempting to convince (have already convinced?) a gullible section of the newly wealthy that brand names are the pinnacle of western culture. When they eventually see through it, and see through it they will, the Chinese view of western culture will have been damaged beyond repair. If all we have to offer is KFC and Oakley sunglasses, then we truly are culturally bankrupt.
That was the rant.
On a lighter note, the obsession with western culture has led the sweatshops of Guangdong to produce tee-shirts by the million bearing slogans in English, very few of them making any sense. For some choice examples see the top of this, and the preceding three posts (here, here and here).
We eventually found a tea shop giving tastings and actually using tea tools. We inquired, mainly by mime, whether they had any for sale. The assistant looked blank, but fetched a colleague whose slightly more agile mind deduced what these weird foreigners were after. We soon became the proud owners (if only until we passed them on to our daughter) of the cool tools below.
We rested on a low wall near the portrait of Mao inTiananmen Square. During a ten minute sit we were approached by two different touts trying to sell guided tours to the Great Wall. They each gave us business cards, should we change our minds. They were identical except for the name.
We walked to the entrance of the Forbidden City but did not go in - we did that in 2004. The Forbidden City is big and to do it justice requires several hours. After a long, hot walk we lacked the energy.
Instead we decided to stroll across Tiananmen Square. On our previous visits we merely walked through the underpass and emerged on the square, but now we had to negotiate a security check. There is nothing the Chinese authorities like more than a bit of intrusive security to remind the people who is in charge. [a month later (28/10/13) a car was driven deliberately into the crowd by the entrance to the Forbidden City and burst into flames killing five (three of them the occupants of the car). ‘Security’, I repeat, exists to remind people who is in charge, it rarely makes anyone safer.]
*Gungbo (not gungo) is the pinyin transliteration for a dish of chicken, chillies and peanuts which might produce a smiley face. Harvey Ball was a commercial artist credited with designing the 'smiley face'. Unlike the others, which are pure gibberish, this tee-shirt has some sort of narrative, or at least stream of consciousness. How aware of the narrative the designer was is another issue.
Part 6 Panmunjom and the DMZ
Part 7 Sariwon and Nampho
Part 8 The Nampho Barrage and back to Pyongyang
Part 9 Last Day in Pyongyang (1), Gifts and the Metro
Part 10 Last Day in Pyongyang (2) Serious Study and Juche Thought
Part 11 By Train out of the DPRK
Part 12 Datong
Part 13 Pingyao, Preserved Ming City
Part 14 Pingyao to Taiyuan and the Bullet Train back to Beijing
Part 15 Beijing (3): A Duck and a Rant