Mirinda and Sarah left the hotel for a work thing and I set off for the Beijing Police Museum. Funny thing is, I never found it. Most things in Beijing that aren’t huge tourist things, are not signposted in English (odd, I know) and I could easily have walked right passed it.
Anyway, I accidentally found myself at the China Railway Museum. I thought it was a station and was going to check it out only to find that I needed to buy a ticket because it was a museum. Not that I minded. It was, after all, about £2.
So, I visited the China Railway Museum which is not the Beijing Railway Museum which actually has real steam engines in it. This one is a pale imitation but, nevertheless, interesting all the same.
This one traces the history of the railway in China from the late 1800’s. It mentions Zhan Tianyou, a great pioneer who is known as the Father of Chinese Railways.
They even had their own Rocket! Of course, the whole railway was a bit dodgy until the Glorious Revolution came and the Qing dynasty was finished but later, it was brilliant and just forged the whole thing forward.
During the early years of the Chinese republic, the engines were named after the leaders. For instance, there was the Mao Zedung and the Chou en Lai. Not satisfied with just naming the trains after them, there would be massive great faces on the front of them.
Something I forgot to mention yesterday but also noticed today is that the cleaners are continuously working through the museums. They clean grubby finger marks off the display cases and polish the floors with remarkable regularity.
To be honest, I’ve notice a lot of people just standing around in Beijing. At first I thought maybe they were just out of work and hanging around but I think they’re actually employed to do something quite small and the rest of the time they just stand around and chat, spit or smoke. The public service bill in this country must be massive…unless they’re not paid an awful lot for just waiting.
The museums today, like yesterday, are a brilliant way to escape the pollution (and the almost constant stream of people asking you if they can practice their English or if you’ve seen the Great Wall). I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of them. I wouldn’t have spent as long in the railway museum otherwise as it did get a bit boring by the end.
I left to walk to the Natural History Museum.
Now, walking around the touristy bits of Beijing is interesting but it’s nothing when compared to wandering through a back street market.
I took a wrong road on my way to the Natural History Museum and found myself in a network of narrow alleys (hutongs) made narrower by the piles of fresh produce laid out for purchase. This is (possibly) the real Beijing.
The food looked freshly picked and there wasn’t any of the ghastly smells I’ve come to expect at open markets. Also, no-one paid me a blind bit of notice. That made a huge change and could be because I bought a Mao hat yesterday. Today, I bought a couple of bananas for about 20p – they were delicious.
The Beijing Museum of Natural History is very much like any other’s I’ve seen around the world in that they very strongly cater for children. In fact, apart from the architecture and labels, you could be in New York or London or Sydney. And it seems to work because I saw many adults enjoying the museum with their children.
It was fun to hear the unmistakable Sir David Attenborough talking about plants while I walked through one zone.
The security wasn’t as strict as it has been closer to the centre of Beijing but even so, I had to have my bag scanned and was frisked. There was a rather odd procedure to get a (free) ticket to get in as well.
I had to go to one window and show my passport. I was then given a small piece of paper with Chinese writing on it which I was told to give to the woman in the other window. She then gave me a ticket. There was no sign to tell me this. I went to the wrong window first and she managed to communicate that I had to go to the other one first.
A most confusing system that seemed oddly inefficient. It was actually pleasantly quirky while I was the only person in the queue however I’m sure it would wear a bit thin rather quickly with a crowd.
However, once inside, everything was great. They even had a free guide so I could see everything I wanted to.
My favourite two bits were:
The Dinosaur Park
Located at the bottom of the museum, it features a whole host of moving dinosaurs with the following written at the entrance.
Welcome to the Dinosaur Park. In here is a landscape of the dinosaur world from 200 million years to 65 million years. Many dinosaurs are alive in the park; most of them are quite tame, but some are feral. Please be careful.
Okay, a couple of the beasties looked a little worse for wear (maybe they get into fights when the museum is closed) but, overall, I reckon they look pretty fabulous.
Unlike London, it wasn’t full of noisy, irritating kids, something I really enjoyed. Oddly they didn’t have an animated T-Rex.
But this was easily my favourite exhibition. Totally bizarre and not for the squeamish, it features a whole series of animals with their skin peeled off to reveal the muscles, sinews and bones while the animal is in a natural attitude rather than on a dissecting table.
There are also cases containing various internal organs sat side by side for comparison. It’s seriously weird seeing a horses stomach right next to a human one, for instance.
In order to get to the museums, I had to walk in a straight line from Tienanmen Square and discovered another pedestrianized shopping precinct. This one is called Olan Men Emperor’s Avenue. It’s all very lovely without any cars or bikes – there is a tram for tourists but it only runs twice a day so the chances of being run over by it are extremely slim.
What is a lot better than the Olan Men Emperor’s Avenue is the road that runs parallel to it that’s very narrow and crowded with all manner of Chinese shops. It is also a lot more popular with both Chinese and Westerners. I walked back through it and was almost charmed.
Back at the hotel, I found Mirinda and Sarah in the midst of downloading the day’s meeting. This means they were talking about it. And, while it sounded rather exciting getting to the university, the rest didn’t even come close to being as exciting as my day.