Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beijing on Sunday

Sunday Sep 24

The one thing you notice in Beijing is the speed at which the chinese talk -- it's rapid fire, and when your command of the language isn't strong like mine, it's a tad difficult to understand what they're saying sometimes. This is in stark contrast to the speed at which Beijing taxi drivers drive. On my way out on Sunday morning, I caught a cab which drove at approximately 40km/hr, and it wasn't just him, the rest of the taxis on the road were driving at a similarly languid pace. Bicycles are the choice of transport here, and if Singaporeans cyclists think they have it bad, they should come have a look at the road etiquette here: basically, there is none.

Beijing is pretty much a grey city -- from the sky to the buildings around you, there isn't much colour around. Still, sometimes you pass sprawling temples with Qing dynasty architecture or old historical houses along hutongs (alleys) that lend the city its character and that makes all the difference.

Like this church I went to on Sunday:

Known as the North Cathedral (i think because it's situated in the North district, according to the taxi driver who took me there, there's one in the south, east and weat of Beijing as well), it dates back to 1703 when the Emperor of the Qing dynastry granted the land to the church. Nondescript outside, you just have to step through the metal gates and you're greeted with a Kodak moment.

The next cab I hopped into took me to a favourite haunt -- a shopping strip. By and large Beijing taxi drivers are a friendly bunch and this one yakked non-stop although I'm sure he knew I didn't understand all of what he was saying. He took me to Xidan, a shopping mall a 5 minute ride from my hotel, and it was here that you could see China's progress at its best (see above pic right). Construction and development was all around, and the roads were lined with cars, bicycles and people. Drivers here are a fortunate lot -- you get to park your car right in front of the shopping centre, and there're parking wardens to guide you as you parallel park. If you have a manual car and leave your gear in neutral, the warden will even push your car forward when lot ahead of you is vacated.

The highlight of the day though was the WTA tourament -- we arrived at around 3pm and watch a doubles match against Spain and Russia. The Spaniards won (see below pic, left). The electric moment though was the women's final match between Amelie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Though the match was marred by an overcast sky and patchy rain which delayed the play, the audience was an appreciative one, clapping frequently and letting out collective "aiyah!!!!"s whenever a shot was missed. The crowd was also clearly in favour of Mauresmo, cheering her on even when it was clear she was going to cede the match to Kuznetsova (that's her, below pic, right ). It was the first time I was watching a match live and while it wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be (I thought Mauresmo gave up too easily, but she had a difficult match on Saturday while Kuznetsova was more rested) it was good enough.

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