250 PEOPLE line dancing to Aqua outside a cathedral with facial expressions like they'd just been told they had days to live. Just another average street scene in Beijing on a Tuesday night.
Beijing Museum is one of the better museums one can visit. I found the money display to be the most interesting. The Chinese were doing money long before the rest of us.
A recurring theme was "this currency started well, then during a tough fiscal time the Government printed to much of it, it devalued, there was a depression and it ultimately failed..."
Examples include the Yuan Dynasty in the 1200s and the Qing Government in the 1800s.
Who would have thought it? How quick can we send the Bank of England and the officials at the Treasury for a visit to China? The more things change...
Anyhow, I'm back in a free country for the weekend. After taking the train, plane, ferry, bus, scooter, taxi, rickshaw, horse (but mainly train) on an Edinburgh - London - Tallin - Helsinki - St Petersburg - Moscow - Ulaanbaatar - Beijing route for a whistle stop tour, I've returned home for a good friend's wedding.
Most of the countries have been, recently, or still are, under communist control. The train line I travelled across Siberia on was built by slave labour, often political prisoners. They say someone died for every sleeper on the train track. It's the longest train line in the world...
In China even the internet is restricted. Potentially subversive sites like Facebook and Twitter are tough to access (though, as with most things on the Internet, if you really want to, you can) In most of the countries we have to carry our passports to prove our identity if asked, an idea that doesn't and shouldn't have any support in the UK. We have to register in cities and let the authorities know were we have been staying. It still surprised me though just how "free" we are in the UK.
In six weeks I've committed, or been complicit in, dozens of things that would be a crime in the UK, but are perfectly legal in the countries I was visiting.
I've drunk beer whilst watching a football match. I've stood at a football match. I've clapped along to tunes that Russian and Estonian football fans were singing to their opponents without stopping to ask if they were offensive in any way. I've enjoyed the fireworks, flares and assorted pyrotechnics that they've been setting off.
I've enjoyed an alcoholic drink on a train after 21.00, as well as smoked a cigar. In the carriage. Whilst it's moving. A crime I committed again in a pub/restaurant more than once (the room was stationery but I might not have been).
I didn't object to my taxi driver smoking as he drove me around. I never gave a hoot if he's licensed by his local council or not. MOT? I'm no mechanic, but I can tell a lot of the cars would fail just by looking at them. But I'm still happy to jump on in.
No seatbelt? No problem. I'm happy not wearing a seatbelt, especially when the drivers not wearing his. I've heard very compelling arguments that NOT wearing a seatbelt makes you drive that bit more carefully!
I've been in buses, cars, rickshaws that went, when safe, straight though red lights and riding horses, bikes and scooters that did exactly the same.
I've been with people as they ate dog - and worse. I've eaten at various places with no hint of a certificate from a local authority assuring me that they've a food hygiene certificate. I've bought food on the street and train platforms and enjoyed (nearly) it all. I've paid cash in hand for all manner of things and not concerned myself about the taxman and if he will get his share or not.
I've packed myself, along with 30+ others, into a minibus with only 16 seats. I've spent the day trekking without wearing a riding helmet, and drove a scooter without wearing a helmet. I've fished without asking anyone's permission.
I've drunk home brew from what, in Scotland, would be an illicit still. Not as nice as the Irish Poteen, or Albanian Raki, but I still tried it. I've seen children involved in the production of alcohol - it's a family enterprise - and working hard at it. I've seen children in bars late at night with their families. Bars that open and close when the owner chooses, not when some politicians tell him he has to.
I've enjoyed looking at all manner of fur products - mink, reindeer, fox, bear - all sorts. When did that go so badly out of fashion? The Finns, Russians and Mongolians certainly know it's value. I'm pretty certain we would again if we had the sort of winters they have!
Now I'm back in free country I'll need to remember that I cannae do all those things...
Until next week when I hit Central America and see how "free" they are there! If I make it down as far as visiting Chavez I'm sure he'll appreciate my hard earned US dollars, if not my politics...