Monday 11 January 2010

Fur coat weather? Depends who's wearing it.

Ok, so now I'm feeling sorry about making fun of Britain flailing about in the snow, because this really is a snowstorm and a half they're suffering through. I have Linton on my iPhone weather, and it keeps showing the snow symbol, plus the temperature seems stuck close either side of zero, night and day. Except when it was -10, that is. Miserable, especially if, as is likely, they're without power too. Same for vast tracts of Europe, and North America, and China.

Tianjin was on the news tonight too - blizzard, harbour iced up, everything at a standstill. It was cold enough when we were there in March...

>>> Old things are still valued in Dalian, however, and on a hill above the city centre I follow a 2000 year-old tradition and fly a kite, helped out in a fickle breeze by passers-by who take this activity seriously. Gazing up at the kite briefly soaring above the giant red and white soccer ball in Labour Park, I don’t notice the snow-melt beneath my feet until my shoes stick fast in the mud, so I’m pleased to encounter the shoe-shine lady later on my way to the Russian Street. This is three pedestrian blocks of incongruous-looking Russian buildings complete with onion-shaped domes, peeling and crumbling in an authentic nineteenth-century manner although most of them are reproduction. Stalls of Babushka dolls and Russian hats are manned by Michelin girls in thick quilted jackets, faces hidden inside hoods, and I marvel that this is spring — how cold must winter be?

Docking at Tianjin, Beijing’s port, I get some idea when we’re warned not to go on deck because of the ice. There is an upside, however: not normally known for its clear air, on this freezing March morning China’s capital glows in bright sunshine. The intricate blue and green patterns of the Forbidden City dazzle against the red and gold of the pillars and massive doors; Mao looks benignly from his portrait at the end of Tiananmen Square over guards in green greatcoats, red banners flapping in the sun and crowds of respectful citizens. At the Temple of Heaven doting parents parade muffled-up toddlers with oddly bare bottoms, and old couples push unwieldy loads on trolleys along the crowded, narrow lanes of the hutongs. At the morning dirt market, stalls of Buddha hands, bizarre modern art and an army of porcelain Maos draw crowds of customers; at night, by the lake, couples dance to piped waltz music. I eat deftly-sliced Peking duck, drink tea in a tea house with my little finger crooked, and am intrigued by shiny red kebabs that I can’t identify and am too timid to try...


Meanwhile, I got my flight details today to go to Adelaide to see the pandas the weekend after next - furry pandas, from China, in Adelaide, where it was 41 degrees today. Absurd.

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