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The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿) at the centre of the Forbidden City

(..uploaded by Rabs 003)

I could hardly make out what Brassica was saying, as the skoosh

of the coffee machine, coupled with the background animated

conversation in Costamuchamoulah must-seen cafe left me

exhausted with the intense concentration which was necessary

to filter out the brouhaha , as well as the baristas’ choice of radio


George osborne hi.jpg

(Photo from HM Treasury)

I was talking about George Osborne and his Chinese fascination,

she shouted.  You went to China once, didn’t you?

Twice, I mouthed.  In the mid to late nineties.  It was a college trip.

What did you do? she asked.

Em, the first time, we mainly stayed in Beijing and went up to

Chengde to the Mountain Resort.  It was a summer getaway for the

Emperor- but it was February when we went and there was snow.

The students had a free day in the town, but I hailed a taxi and

went to the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, to see the golden roof of

the Wanfaguiyi Hall and the Five Pagodas Gate.

Did you go to The Forbidden City?

Oh, yes and the Wall at Simatai and Taoist and Daoist temples.

We had Sir Ben Ainslie with us.

Was he promoting Olympic sailing?

No, he was in my Form Class and was a very pleasant

young man.  He was only eighteen, but already well focused.

So, what did you do on the second trip?

Look, I can’t hear you very well.  I’ll e-mail you something


A poem?

Wait and see.


Mao Zedong portrait.jpg

(Portrait by Zhang Zhenshi and a Committee of Artists)

We filed past Mao before we left Beijing

and wondered if he had gone to meet Marx,

or his Maker, in his great leap forward.

The digital countdown in Tiananmen

displayed in red a hundred and thirty

days, till Britain would quit Hong Kong’s harbour.

The sleeper to Guanzhou arrived on time.

Some minor official’s car drove along

the platform.  His compartment was the same

as ours- First Class.  The red carpet was out.

We settled in our bunks and asked our guide

if the Chinese ever tried to de-bunk

their leaders.  Did they wait till they were dead?

No, not really, she insisted, for Deng’s

‘one country; two systems’ helped our peasants:

1.3 billion poor, to be precise.

She looked over her shoulder and we laughed.

At dawn we stopped at some dismal station.

Black market rail tickets were being sold.

Uniformed females with loudhailers quelled

a near punch-up.  We watched behind lace nets.

A man with torn shoes, grim smile and cake box

seemed resigned to his unsuccessful bid.

The next train would be in twenty four hours:

not a good start for The Year of the Ox.

We crossed the Yangtze where it was averred

macho Mao had swum to the other side

to show prowess..  The pink agapanthus

and formaldehyde had not fragranced him-

those floral tributes on sale, re-cycled,

we had thought, as none rested on the glass

against his tomb.  We felt we’d seen it all:

The Forbidden City and The Great Wall;

the dear-departed father figurehead.

We even speculated Deng was dead.

Our guide told us when Qin Shi-huang had died,

his courtiers were so afraid, they’d tried

to mask his corpse’s stench with crates of fish.

That whiff of death came with us from Beijing.

Peasants in Heze watched a meteor shower.

The entire sky became a vivid red.

They felt a dynasty was going to fall:

and fall it did.

Yet, contrary to what was said, some joked

when Deng departed later that same week.

Outside the Wax Museum, someone said,

Deng may be dead, but you can see him here

before 3.30, if you pay ten yuan.

A carp-shaped kite played in the sky above

Tiananmen, while yellow stars fell to earth,

from a venerated flagpole: a scene

so different from 1989,

when student posters said: The wrong man’s dead.

We were in the clouds when bold headlines screamed:

Deng has massive stroke; in Arrivals

when the news broke; had opened our brandies

by the time Beijing had been prepared

for the incineration of Xiaping.

(ROC govt, 1937.  Uploaded by Tholme)

As the smoke ascends, we watch his rival.

All over China, nervous firecrackers

exorcise demons, calm jittery nerves.

And the man on the platform, with stale cake,

wonders if he’ll get a ticket this time;

wonders if there will be a departure

from what he has accepted as the norm.

A hundred thousand line The Avenue

of Eternal Peace, while a minibus

travels through white blossoms on leafless trees.

Image- 2010: Austalian Cowboy talk)