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Day 8 : Saturday 17th March 2007

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Tiananmen Square

I had a better night's sleep, having turned in relatively early and was up and about shortly after 9am. I took breakfast in the lounge, which was very nice and then took an inordinate amount of time to get ready in my room.

Once eventually out, the weather was similar to the day before. Clear and cold. Well, I would say clear if not for the Asian haze which casts a permanent grey fog over everything here . I again took the subway to Tiananmen Square, but this time I tried a slightly different route, staying on Line 2 and alighting at Qianmen at the south of the Square, rather than changing and alighting at one of the two Tiananmen stops at the north side of the square.

Luckily on exiting from the station I was pleased to note that the Square was open for business and, as with everywhere in Beijing, was positively thriving with people. I began by investigating Mao's mausoleum, only to find to my consternation that it was closed from March to September for refurbishment. Not that I wanted to pay homage to one of the world's most evil men, but I have always been fascinated by the idea of pickling someone and keeping them on show - as with Lenin, this is just unnecessarily macabre in my view - but stunningly curious all the same!

I walked up the western side of the huge square and crossed over when I could to the imposing Great Hall of the People which dominates this side of the square. Despite the People's Congress having only finished the day before, I was overjoyed to learn that it was open for visitors and readily parted with RMB30 to have a look inside. It did not disappoint in all its "Communist" glory - the main chamber in particular bringing back memories of the classic great Communist halls where the Politburo/Communist parties agendas are, to this day in China, rubber stamped by the people's "representatives".

Once outside,  I crossed the square, paying some interest to the closed off Monument to the People's Heroes, a 36m high obelisk adorned with Mao's calligraphy.

On the opposing side of the square to the Great Hall of the People is the slightly less imposing, but nonetheless architecturally magnificent National Museum of China. In between the huge pillars that make up the frontal facade is a large Olympic countdown clock, only 510 days to go until the openings of the Beijing Olympics next year. To my considerable dismay, when I made to enter the museum, it was closed for rebuilding!!! What was going on here? The whole place seemed to be closed or clad in scaffolding. I put it down to the fact that the Beijing authorities must be getting all the tourist venues refurbed for next year's Olympics - undoubtedly visitors in 2008 will find much more of Beijing's tourist attractions available to the public. 

Feeling somewhat down that two of my major attractions for the day had proved impossible to visit and having listlessly wandered around the square for some time, I headed back down to the south side and checked out Qianmen, the two large gateways which used to divide the ancient Beijing into outer and inner cities. To prove how downbeat I felt, rather than properly checking my Lonely Planet (where I would have found that you could in fact ascend one of the gates and get a great view over the city - if it was open, of course) I merely moped around looking for any excuse not to get back on the subway to the hotel. In the end, I was bereft of further ideas and with my legs still feeling tired from the last two days' exertions, I simply headed back to the hotel, aware that I really hadn't taken full opportunity of my two days in Beijing - through no lack of initial intention I might add.

Back at the hotel I couldn't even be bothered with a visit to the pool, but rather caught up on this diary in my room and relaxed on my bed watching TV until it was time to head to the lounge for evening canapés. Since Friday night, I had noticed how empty the hotel had become - it definitely had the auspices of a strictly business hotel - being based in the Financial district and for most of my visit I was the only guest in the Club lounge. THis did have the advantage that I could take a few photos without disturbing anyone's privacy (see the Hotels page).

And that was that really. I had a very early start the next morning - 5:30am, in order to get my morning flight to Tokyo. I had enjoyed my time in Beijing despite the setbacks with the tourist attractions, and would definitely like to return at some point, if not for at least a day tour up to the Great Wall.

Mao's Mausoleum

Great Hall of the People

Monument to the People's Heroes

National Museum of China and Olympic Countdown Clock