Our China trip begins in Beijing on one of the heavy hot, humid and unbearable days of August. The color of Beijing is gray, except in rare sunny days, with a mixture of smog and sultry weather, even when you are away from the metropolis to approach the northern hills. Gray is also the color of Hutong, the popular neighborhood that surrounds the Forbidden City, a miniature kingdom of voices, faces and squeak of bicycles, where it's hard to stay even just for a moment.
What is striking at first sight of the city is its immensity. Beijing is as big as Belgium. While picking up a map we realize that to move from one neighborhood to another, it is much better to take a taxi. Tienanmen is the mirror of the greatness of Beijing, the largest square in the world. In front of the access to the Forbidden City is the face of Mao Tse Tung, protected by a guard of soldiers.
From the crowded streets of the center, including neon lights, rickshaws and street markets with silkworms and caramelized scorpions, the low houses give way to skyscrapers, the rickshaws to cars and the slow rhythms of the streets to the agitated pace of heels and suits.
We end up in a new bar with sound and lights dwarfing the furniture, with English DJ, African drummers, cohiba cigars and bottles of flying moet chandon. The new Chinese entrepreneurs reaches with mercedes or Porsche Cayenne, greeted by an army of attendants, who smile, open the door and accompany them to the table and even will massage their back while they wash their hands in the bathroom. In one evening they spend almost what a worker earns in a year, always following morbid Western styles in its most exhibitionist events.
The Great Wall
After three hours journey from Beijing, we reach the Great Wall. In contrast to the clamor of other points of interest, Simatai remained more genuine, partially collapsed, and still far from being rebuilt. It's a difficult feeling to express what it feels like walking on a small portion of the wall, with thousands and thousands of kilometers that separated two very different worlds, with a border that no longer exists but still full of myths, legends and meanings, related to construction of the wall and the bodies of the dead workers thrown beneath the wall, whose souls still roam on the night on the bare hills that mark the border between the empire and Mongolia.
Amidst gray skies and the silence of the day, when we trudge the ruined staircases, cropped towers amplify this sense of mystery around the barren landscape, sprinkled with bushes faraway, without homes or traces of human life.
Returning to the city on the wrecked bus, which eventually breathed its last just before our hostel, our thoughts fly to the desire for at least a week with backpack and hiking boots on the largest street of China, suspended in a universe away from the real one.
This China trip is a dream and sometimes a bit delusional with thousands of kilometers of long walls, large cities such as nations, monasteries suspended in space and terracotta armies that guard the sleep of emperors and temples hidden in the mountains with thousands of statues.