The Chinese are very hard working people, and despite the fact that I had travelled all that long distance, and actually gone to bed around 2am (China time) I was expected to get up, eat breakfast and be ready to go at 9.30am which was like 1.30am Salone time.
As I struggled to get out of bed reluctantly, I turned on the TV and BBC was relaying news about a Tonga ferry disaster. The reporter said the ferry was built in 1973 … and then it showed the picture … Christ I said the ferry looks exactly the same as our own in Sierra Leone. It must be that all of them were built at the same time. Well made the good Lord continue to look over those who use the ferries and it got me thinking about the NASSIT ferry when will that come on board?
The Forbidden city
With these disturbing thoughts I got up and not surprisingly there was hot water, constant electricity and … I had no excuse. So after a quick breakfast I jumped in to a big air-conditioned bus – our first port of call was to visit the ‘Forbidden City.’
“The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420. In ancient times, the emperor claimed to be the son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven. Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named.” Courtesy China Highlights
The Forbidden City is said to have 10,000 rooms and it has now become a massive tourist attraction having been adopted by UNESCO as a World heritage. However we were not able to get in because the Namibian Speaker of Parliament was on a visit there. So we had to settle for another choice – the infamous Tianamen Square.
Our Chinese host boasted with a little hesitation of course that “this is the biggest square in the world” … then he said “but you have to check that.” Actually Google says “It is 880 meters from north to south, and 500 meters from east to west, with total area of 440,000 square meters and can hold one million people.” So he did not lie afterall, but the square is typical of the Chinese appetite for building big. Maybe with 1.3billion population the government certainly thinks of being able to accommodate as much as possible of its citizens hence the big buildings and big spaces.
Tianamen square is the place where several years ago protesting students were killed in what was to be one of the most brazen clamp downs on dissent by the then Chinese rulers. I kept listening if I could hear the voices of the ghosts of those students. Instead what I heard were the voices of different languages. High pitched Chinese laughter, French, German, Spanish, Japanese were all there eager to witness the awesomeness of Chinese architecture. Safely said the place had been transformed immensely and the Chinese who actually outnumbered the other visitors looked relatively relaxed. There were soldiers standing guard and unarmed policemen milling around the crowd and I picked out some youths with plain clothes standing ramrod straight by the gates with their shirt collars turned up. Who were these I asked, trainee soldiers was the answer I got. Certa inly china had opened up but this opening up it seems is done cautiously in an effort not to sacrifice that which has kept the nation alive for so long.
After soaking in some of the most gracious uses of space we set out for Lunch then a meeting with our host. On the way we passed the National Theatre. I was told it could seat five thousand people – yes 5,000 – and it had 3 rooms with one for the famous Opera the second for musical shows and the third for meetings. What was interesting for me was that the architect of the building was the French man who had built the Charles De Gaulle airport. This shows despite the seeming supremacy of the Chinese architecture they were also allowing foreign nationals to be part of their history.
At the Foreign Ministry we met the assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun who welcomed the 21 senior African journalists from 15 African countries south of the Sahara. He was asked the question what was China’s stance on corruption. A very clever man indeed he answered that Corruption was rife all around the world, and that China was opposed to corruption. “it is a disease and we have to treat it.” He reiterated his country’s stance on corruption outlining efforts that they were making to control and minimise it.
Then it was on to the ‘Hutongs.’ Over the years, a lot of buildings in the Beijing area were pulled down to make way for the “high rise” according to our guide. However with some sort of a conscience to preserve their history a local community known as the Hutongs is now being preserved to show the original homes and life style of the indigenous Chinese who lived in Beijing. Our guide says the word “Hutong” means “narrow alley’. The Chinese government is now renovating or rather doing preservation work in the Hutong, which is now declared as their national heritage and so it is the duty of the government to preserve it. He took us into the house of one of the residents in the Hutong. The house has now been modified and now has an airconditioner with proper toilets and running water. The original people still live there and the government is now responsi ble for them. The children have all moved to the high rise apartment buildings and only their old parents still live in the Hutongs, but they come back once in a while. This again is being used as another big opportunity by China to make money out of tourism. People ride in rickshaws to be shown around and there are even boat rides. The place is now lined with houses turned small bars which spill out into the very narrow streets.
All of these people and the guides are gainfully employed and benefit from this tourist enterprise. Can we relocate some of the people in Kroo bay and then preserve the place to make it a monument to how lowly a life we used to live? I am sure some of the educated elites would dismiss this as rubbish and protest that we will only be showing our nasty part to the world and that is not good. Yet here is an example of a people who are really proud of where they have come from and are making all efforts to keep remembering that this was where they started, and how their people used to live. The slate roofed house along Dundas street is long gone. I dare say instead of renovation the beautiful stone architecture of the Clock Tower is now gone also along with the originality of the oldest market place in the City Krootown road – all in the name of modernising the city. Well there is a lesson to be learnt here and the Chinese will be only too willing – if not more than willing to teach. By Kelvin Lewis