Photographic travelogue of my time in Beijing
June 1995 to June 1996

Whilst you are reading this text, the 70 photos are fast loading (look at the bottom left of your screen) and it is a more enjoyable page if you let them load before continuing past this introduction. I arrived in Beijing on June 12th 1995 on a 3 month contract to assist in the installation of a Cellular (GSM) Digital Radio network for the Chinese government. It was the first time that I had worked outside of the UK and as I had resigned from a good job to see if I could make it on my own, my financial security was on the line. I had been given a choice of either Lebanon (Beirut) or China (Beijing) and China won the day on the strength of curiosity about the place and all of it's history. Having arrived at the old airport and got a taxi to the Shangri-la Hotel, I slept for about 16 hours and woke up to a hazy but, hot summer's day. As I was not required that day, I decided to go to Tiananmen Square. On leaving the hotel I turned the wrong way and ended up walking through backstreet Beijing and emerging at the rear of the Summer Palace. I never left a hotel without a map ever again. It was a huge advantage to be working with Chinese people as you really got to experience the local ways of life strange that they may have seemed to me at the time and no guide book will ever list all of the places I got to see during my stay. My thanks go to Weber Li, Norman Chen, Jackey Ho, Maggie Ho and Victor Sun for making my stay a pleasant and very interesting one.

The title of the page is "A Year in Beijing" and that was what it turned into when my contract kept being extended until I had seen the city and it's surroundings in all four seasons, learned many lessons, become more tolerant, opened my eyes to the needs of others and understood a little better why the Chinese acted in the way that they did. I left Beijing on June 12th 1996 exactly a year to the day that I had arrived.

On my return home I made a point of reading a book called "Wild Swans" by Jung Chang. A fascinating insight into Chinese life covering three generations of her family from Warlords and concubines, through the fall of the emperor, civil war, the creation of a Republic, revolution, death, destruction, rebuilding and finally up to present day politics.

The Photographs

All of the photos are free to use for non commercial sites. I do ask however, that you contact me by email first and credit this site URL. Each photo number can be seen by hovering the mouse over it.

The sign was posted at a busy road junction on Chang'An Boulevard. It struck me as odd that the people who ordered it had seen the importance of the translation but, lacked the means to get the text checked before getting it printed. This seemed to me like the people at the top going ahead with a plan without getting the opinions of the educated. Hence the problem with the text was not corrected. This "lead from the top" attitude allows for good strategic planning but the execution of the plan is left to chance. There are more of this type of sign towards the end of this page.

And so, the tourist sites. I caught the Gate of Heavenly Peace on a really nice day. It was flower festival time in late August and the flags were out all over the square, very pleasant. You can pay to go up to where Mao gave his 1949 Republic speech. I went up because it gave an outstanding view of the square and all the flowers. Tour guides devoted 2 hours to the forbidden city. I went there four times, spent at least 3 hours each time, did two audio tours and still didn't see everything. Same for the Summer Palace which I visited on numerous occasions. There is no picture of the Summer Palace on this page because the whole complex is a classic Chinese garden. You must journey through it to glimpse the sights. Not everything can be seen from one place. Again, the tours of the Summer Palace lasted about 3 hours which wouldn't be enough time to walk around the lake let alone visit the other sites.

Every morning at daybreak, the hardy souls up and around at that time would gather around the flagpole as the flag was raised for another day. The duties were carried out by Army personnel specially selected for their height and junior officer rank. I was fascinated by Tiananmen Square and sought out photos of what it had looked like before Mao's mausolium was built on it. A book for sale in a shop showed the official version of the 1989 events in translated text and photographs. One in particular showed the hanging and burned body of a soldier with the text "the people's soldier was armed but, chose not to defend himself by shooting our citizens. Though tortured and burned, he gave his life to protect his comrades". Another book, not officially sanctioned, showed the same picture although this time accompanied by other photos showing the soldier (a driver of a bus that had been carrying soldiers to the square), ramming a bike roadblock erected by students on the main road. Students are seen being hurled through the air by the force of the crash, some obviously would have died. The crowd, incensed by this action, overcame the driver and hanged him. At some point after his death he was then burned. One example of many where small events could be compared and you had to make up your own mind as to who you believed.

Two lions should guard the access to a door, one masculine and the other feminine. The picture is of the lion cub which is supposed to be feeding from the mother's paw. This was located at the gate to the Imperial garden near the "Dragons Chasing Pearls" stone. This stone was cut in one piece from granite located 15km outside the old city walls. A large shallow trench was cut into the ground and filled with water. In the wintertime, the water froze allowing the stone to be dragged over the ice and installed in it's present location.

The mythical Chinese Unicorn in the Imperial Garden. The garden (like all the parks) is actually a series of "islands" on which will be growing a tree or large plant. There is little grass anywhere unless it has it's own irrigation system to keep it watered. You would see workers out in the early spring planting clumps of grass alongside road junctions and parks. The grass would last one season only, die, and then be replaced the following year.

Ming Tombs - It was one of the few organised trips that I did. The Great wall at Badaling was OK but, then I had not been to Mu Tian Yu. On the way back from the wall you stop at the Ming Tombs for lunch and a tour. The only thing I liked was "Spirit Way" a set of 24 statues 12 human and 12 animal that protect the tombs from the spirits from the north.

In 1994 they installed a giant clock on the front of the Museum of the Peoples Revolution. It shows in both seconds and days the countdown to Great Britain returning Hong Kong to Chinese rule. When I took this picture there were still more than two years to go. There was an identical clock in the city of Nanjing which had been the capital of China at the time of ceding the Hong Kong province to the British on a 99 year lease. During my stay in China, stories about the return of Hong Kong and Taiwan were numerous. Although Taiwan was a different issue, the Chinese decision to conduct missile tests over the Straits and the resultant American reaction were widely reported.

Life is not great for the disabled in China and Beijing draws more from outer lying areas to try and earn a living. This was the first picture I ever took in China. This man was playing Chinese music outside the main entrance to Bei Hai park.

9Foreign tourists are not the only ones who visit Beijing. The overwhelming majority of tourists are Chinese. I had my picture taken with countless people, they would just come up and show you the camera and at first I thought they wanted me to take their picture but, then it dawns on me that they want me to be in their picture. Strange stuff. This photo was taken on one of the few days when the flags are out on Tiananmen Square and shows two men from Northern or Eastern China. Knowing the state of many of the roads outside of the city it was no surprise to find out that many of the "tourists" had travelled by road for anything up to two weeks to get to the Capital. This was a big deal as many native Chinese may only visit Beijing once in their lives.

The Great Wall - A Chinese person would ask you have you been to the Great Wall. If you say yes he then asks how many times. If you say three, he then asks how many places etc. This picture was taken at Mu Tian Yu when six of us hired a taxi van for the day. Much better than Badaling and still only 90 mins from Beijing. There is a cable car to get you up to the wall if you want or the steps are there if you don't. The distance you can travel on the wall is much greater here and it doesn't have the comfort of the iron railings to hold onto as in Badaling. What you see in the picture is how far you can walk. Even this place is now considered touristy and many people head to Simitar about a 3 hour drive north.

The photo shows Jackey Ho and myself riding horses in Yanqing county to the north of Badaling. I took every opportunity to try out new experiences and fortunately for me there were others who wanted to share it. Jackey had been in the army based in a Harbin as an anti-aircraft missile installation navigation officer. Then he came to work for Motorola.

I used to get out into the countryside two or three times a month and whenever I walked out of the hotel to meet the customer I would take note of how many there were. 1 person meant a trip to city limits. 2 or 3 in a taxi meant local trip but, near a good restaurant. 5 or more meant well outside Beijing, near a good restaurant and within driving distance of a major attraction. This particular day they turned up in a 9 seater van and we ended up at the Peking Man site near a place called Men Tou Gou.

This picture was taken at a place called Chang Gou. A place remote enough that the guys that worked there, also lived there for two weeks each month. Earlier that morning we had stopped at a supermarket. My colleagues came out with cucumbers and cabbages, carrots, onions etc. Well you can imagine that this is not normal procedure in my profession but, all was revealed later. Being so remote, there are no restaurants etc within 30km of the site so, we took our own lunch. They supplied the meat and we supplied the vegetables, they cooked and we all ate together. This is an exception. The usual lunch would be in a restaurant where one person on the table would be selected to receive the menu and order for the whole group. The order would be for cold starters, hot starters, main meals and finally rice. As I was used to having rice with the meal, I would get rice on my own. The locals viewed rice as a dessert to be eaten on it's own or with whatever morsels were left on the table.

Another 9 seater transport day saw us stop at Lu Gu Qiao or Marco Polo Bridge as most people know it. Now bypassed by a main road bridge that crosses a dry riverbed, when the Japanese crossed it there was much resistance as it was one of the few bridges in the area. Funnily enough, two of my colleagues that day had never been there before.

This day saw the longest journey of my stay in Beijing. Four hours one way drive to the place where we would be working. During the trip I had commented that something had "happened" the day before. More than an hour later I mentioned that something had "occurred". On our return drive, more than 5 hours after the original conversations and after much talk in Chinese, I was asked "what's the difference between happened and occurred?". This type of question and "can you spell that?" came up more than once during my stay.

Before I left to go to Beijing, a friend had commented that, as Capital City of China, that it should be easy to get around as all the streets will be signposted. It gave me great pleasure to send him a copy of this picture. As we were not allowed to drive in China it was not too much of a problem.

Whilst visiting my local "Shang Chang" (indoor market) in Xi Dan, I noticed the side delivery gates open and two men get out of a lorry. They then proceeded to start throwing bike after bike into a big pile so they could get their lorry out. I stayed long enough to watch people coming out of the shops to try and locate their bikes. When I showed this to my Chinese friends they laughed at the sign in the background which says "No parking for bikes".

Of course even if your bike was parked legally you could also find it in a heap as this picture shows. Taken in Wusi DaJie just along from the Modern Art Museum you often saw this "domino effect" of bikes falling on each other all over the city. There was of course the problem of finding your own bike among the hundreds that would be parked.

After one month, I found that I was walking further and further to get to new places so much so that I asked my friends where I could buy a bike. They advised me that a new bike was "easily lost" and so we arrived in some back alley where a guy showed me two "Flying Pigeon" bikes from the Tianjin factory. I bought the one with the rear bike rack, got my registration licence, number plate, all for Y100 (about 8 pounds), bought a good lock and was on my way. The main streets have their own bike lanes and vehicles must give way. The puncture repair places are on most streets (as anyone knows who has ridden in Beijing) and are often used. This guy was my regular stop. While he fixed the tyres he practiced his English and I had a crack at Chinese. After the winter, I bought two new tyres and two new inner tubes from him. His smile lit up the road.

At the junction of Chang'An and Xi Dan there was a Deli-France which was one of the few places where you could get a pastry and a coffee. I would often get this to takeaway and stand on the corner just watching the thousands of bikes that traversed this junction everyday.

A regular juction in Beijing (photo taken from an overhead pedestrian bridge). Any white lines were for decoration only as cars, vans, small bikes, big bikes and people fought for there own piece of space. I never quite understood how it sorted itself out but, it did.

Xi Dan, the road where I worked, and another day of chaos. It was often made worse by the Electric Buses that ran up and down the street as they would stop for other traffic and then not be able to start because the contacts were in a "dead zone". This would then get all able-bodied people off the bus to push it to a place where it could get started again. An area power cut would leave these blue beasts stuck in the road at any point, powerless and blocking roads.

The first of the food pics. I was warned to stay clear of ice cream that wasn't properly sealed so, I used to stick to Cornettos. Most locals went for lollies or scoop ice cream which for this boy would be a small luxury as his father was collecting cardboard to sell.

From the second week of November 1995 this place became my regular breakfast stop (my hotel had no restaurant). It is a Jiembi stall. A Jiembi starts off as a batter mix poured onto a hot plate and cooked on both sides. An egg (or two in my case) is broken onto one side and spread over the whole area. Herbs, spring onions and a sweet sauce are added and the final piece is a large prawn cracker. The whole thing is quartered by folding it and served hot, perfect for a 15 minute walk to work. Breakfast in the summer was sweetbread (partly raised dough fast fried in oil and sugar added). The cost of the Jiembi (with two eggs - Liung gur chidun is what it sounds like to ask for two eggs in Chinese) was Y2 or about 15 pence.

As I was eating Chinese food every breakfast, lunch and often in the evenings, at the weekend I would make sure I got to the Hard Rock for Sunday Lunch or the closest thing to it. It was a common haunt for a get-together when people came in from out of town and we wanted to party a little. We all knew that if you reserved a table to eat before 8pm, you went straight to the front of the queue and didn't pay to get in. Around the corner was Schillers, my favourite bar.

One day on a bike trip to visit Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven) I saw a pigeon get hit by a car and although stunned, it was able to stumble half flying across the road. Two Chinese men on bikes also saw this, dropped their bikes and took off after the bird finally catching it. I'm sure it did not become a family pet.

As I had no idea how long I would be in China, I elected to save as much money as possible by moving into a Chinese hotel. This also had the effect of forcing me outside to eat as it had no restaurant. I used to go to the restaurant in the picture (my hotel is in the background) and on my first few visits I ordered by pointing to what others were eating. When the dishes arrived, the other people would stop eating to look at me. Unfortunately for them, after 4 months in China I was very proficient in using the rough chopsticks. When they saw this, they returned to their meals. I eventually built up a fair menu by getting waiters etc to write on a sheet of paper the name of a meal in Chinese so I only had to point to it to get what I wanted.

This was a level of cooking that I chose not to try. Forewarned is forearmed and my local colleagues convinced me that I'd be a fool to try it. The large oil drum would often contain cooking oil which was weeks old, reheated again and again cooking breads, tofu and other bulky but cheap food. As there was no real kitchen, they did the cooking outside. There was no menu as everybody who went there knew what they wanted.

Seasonal food made for gluts of certain food for a few weeks and then you would never see it again. Pineapples, Oranges, apples etc you could get a sackful for a few pence in the right season. I would often stop for a certain "kebab" made of Strawberries and segments of orange on a stick and covered with toffee. I always bought fresh as the ones premade would rapidly acquire the dust from the roads. During Melon season in August, people stop drinking bottled water as it is cheaper to eat water melons during this time. In October/November the cabbage season brings the people onto the streets to buy enough cabbages to see them through the winter. Local people living in hutongs would bury the cabbages in the ground and retrieve them as they were needed so avoiding the damage caused by the winter frost.

After eight months, we had made friends with others during our stay and the wife of one of them was coming out for a visit. By our request, she arrived with six pounds of cheddar and red leicester. It was the first "real cheese" we had seen during our stay and along with some "dynasty" red wine it turned the day into a nice party. Even the staff of the hotel got involved.

Probably the cheapest and most filling meal during the winter was the Sweet Potato. Oil drums bolted onto bikes to make mobile restaurants, you would often see them in their "patches" next to bus stops and bike parks. The red potatoes turned a nice yellow/orange inside when they were cooked.

The only time during the year that I ever got sick from eating food was after a kebab. I found out through experience that it had not been the meat that had affected me, rather the stick that it had been put on was to blame. These kebabs were around 10 pence each, people would buy them, walk away eating the meat and discard the sticks along the way. Children would then retrieve these sticks for some of the vendors to use again. It was the same with with "takeaway" polystyrene plates. People using polystyrene always used to put their chopsticks through the box so that it could not be used again.

A regular weekend meal for me was the Peking roast duck or rather half a roast duck. Most restaurants in Beijing will slice the duck (as opposed to the shredding of the duck which happens in Europe) and serve it with the pancakes, onions and hoi-sin sauce etc. At the end of the meal, the waiter would bring a bowl with what is left of your duck made into a soup. This was considered the "drinking" part of the meal.

As I had previously come from an environment where "Safety at Work" was a quality performance indicator, I was shocked at first to see the local methods of "securing" a workplace. It was unfortunate for them and everybody else that somebody started stealing manhole covers probably for their value as scrap or to be used to fabricate something else.

The buses never failed to amaze me. They arrived full, swallowed another 50 people and set off for the next stop for the same process to begin again. It was no surprise to find these buses (red diesel, blue electric) broken down all over the city and people waiting for a replacement.

On all of my trips around the city wandering into parks and backstreets, I never saw any other game more popular than Chess (with Chinese characters). You saw the odd game of Chinese Chequers and you heard Mahjong games going on as they slapped the pieces down but chess was everywhere played by all ages in all places. The biggest spectator sport in town.

As I walked or biked to work I would often travel through the backstreets and shortcuts between the main roads. Most of these were hutongs which would consist of an open alley (maybe one car width across) from which there would be openings on either side going into a common courtyard. Within this courtyard would live usually a whole family maybe three generations or maximum two families. The work of maintaining and running the residence would be divided among the people living there. I got to see inside one of these courtyards after a Chinese teacher of English invited a group of us from the Chinese hotel into his home for a drink. Very simple house and high walls to defeat the wind whilst maintaining an open space. With population growth these hutongs are being destroyed and replaced by apartment houses and flats.

As I explained in the introduction, I was in Beijing to help install a cellular radio system. At the time in Beijing, most communicating was done by pager. You were paged and you had to call the number that paged you or a message centre. With few payphones and no mobile phones so, that left this company called "Truly" which offered metered charging of phone calls. It was a commercial business but, often you would see the grandmother of a family outside the front of their house sitting on a chair by a table. On the table would be a phone and a clock offering the same service.

This was the workhorse of Beijing, the cargo bike. It had one gear set by the length of the chain and the selected cog. Most fruit business worked off the back of one, workers were often ferried around on them and I even saw a 3-piece suite being carried on the back of one.

I arrived in China I stayed first at the 4* Shangri-La then I moved to the 3* Holiday Inn Downtown and then, being on my own and for financial saving, I moved to the Huguosi Binguar. Binguar was a category of accommodation above a guesthouse or pension but, below a hotel. I picked this place because it was at the other end of the street from where I worked most of the time. It also had air-conditioning, cost U$20 per night and accepted the AMEX credit card so I settled the bill once per week (you couldn't use Mastercard at the time and VISA had a small limit meaning you had to pay every three days). You didn't see many tourists around as it was on the west side of the city.

Another mobile business, this time somebody riding around the hutongs selling bakery. Few people could afford to run a car in the city so many took advantage of the people selling from bikes.

This was always the job of the grandfather of the family. When cooking, the heat was provided from stoves that used a special design of fuel. It is coal but, lots of small pieces put together around a set of spikes. When the coal "cake" was dry it would fall easily from the spikes and be a perfect fit for the stove. As these "cakes" were bought and kept outside they would sometimes break and, like coal, there would always be lots of powder at the bottom of the box. Once per week it was grandad's job to mash up all the broken stuff and powder etc and make new cakes for use the following week. All waste was used as fuel, very little being thrown away.

Why use a machine when a dozen men with wooden sticks can do the same job in twice the time. Manual labour in China is cheap. We heard that the Chinese manual wage was quite small but, that it was more than the Russian manual wage.

Chinese New Year or "Spring Festival" as it is known was very cold that year. It is not just a one day event but, more likely to last the week. I visited Di Tan park (Earth Temple) rather than the more touristy Tian Tan (Heaven Temple) to see what was going on. Thousands of people was what was going on. On a trip in the summer there were only about 20 people in the park. Now it was in it's full glory, trees festooned with red umbrellas and balloons. People eating and drinking and placing their josticks in the burners.

Di Tan park covers less of an area than it's opposite attraction at Tian Tan. Dominating the first part are tree lined paths that open out to a large open area where in it's centre is a large raised flat altar-like construction about 50 metres square. During Spring Festival the central path area is a mass of small stalls selling souvenirs and small goods. On the right was the food area and this was the warmest place to be on that day. I strolled up and down the aisles of kebab, sweetbread, jiembi and all manner of noodles and hot food stalls all steaming away in the sub-zero temperatures.

Bai Yun (white cloud monastery - Taoist) is only open to the public, both Chinese and foreign, during Spring Festival. This picture shows everybody reaching up to touch the first of three monkeys which was believed to bring fortune to the family. It was only possible to touch two monkeys at the time as the third was at the top of a large column. People in previous years had been badly injured after falling from this column and so the third monkey was denied.

The business side of the monastery kicked in very quickly with small booths for buying incense and coins. A huge wall with figures from the Chinese horoscope lined one side of a courtyard and people threw real money or leaned over the fence to try and balance the money on a particular figure. The air was thick with incense most of the time and I never saw a monk. The incense (in multiples of three for appeasing the past, present and future) was duly prayed with and burned. The "coins" were just metal discs of which you spent Y10 to get 20 discs.

This was the target of the day (an identical replica was on the other side of the bridge). All around the pit was 4 or 5 deep with people throwing their discs at the hole in the middle of the target coin. Even if somebody succeeded in getting it through the hole and ringing the bell, so many people were throwing that 6 or more people would claim it was them. In the regions of China there is still some sense of religion attached to these ceremonies but as I was told in Beijing, it was all about money.

At the Holiday Inn DownTown there was an Indian restaurant which we frequented often. The manageress and waitresses were friends of ours and we were privileged to have been invited to the home of one of the girls to celebrate the first day of New Year with her family. We arrived with some knowledge of what was to come. Each of us had experienced the Gan Bei, when somebody would offer a toast of their choice of drink and you would be expected to "down it in one". This, alongside the choice of drinks and the Chinese cold starters, was a dangerous pastime. We had a wonderful meal full of different dishes and I am not ashamed to say I had to have a little sleep in the afternoon. I woke refreshed in time to join a game of Mahjong and drink beer for the remainder of the day. In the evening we lit sparklers (explosives and hence, fireworks are banned in the city), thanked our hosts and walked home.

A sign at the entrance to the exercise square in Toaranting Park in the south of the city.

A sign in Bai Yun Monastery.

Another sign in Bai Yun Monastery.

A sign outside the apartment block at the China Trade Centre.

A sign next to the Beijing Hotel in Chang'An Boulevard.

On my travels I would frequently see people for whom seeing me appeared to be their first sight of a foreigner. These two little girls were playing right outside their front door when I walked past camera ready. I turned and took their picture and all was quiet for about 5 seconds then "Laowei, Laowei!" Foreigner, Foreigner was the call. So it was camera back in pocket and stand looking at some old buildings whilst the mother came out and ushered her children back into the house.

Close to the Observatory in Jianguomenwai I was waiting to cross a road when I heard "Laowei". I saw who it was and where they were going so I captured them on film as they passed. They continued their chanting until they went out of sight.

If you are in a country for more than a month then chances are you will need a haircut. This place was the closest to my binguar and as I did not want to try the street barbers, I thought I would give it a go. It actually turned into a regular visit as once a month I would go for a head massage and a haircut and then onto my local restaurant for dinner and a beer.

Like all major cities, Beijing had it's share of beggars. If you were out early around silk alley you would see a van arrive and wheel out people to be stationed at various points along the approach. I used to get off the main road at the Friendship Store and go around the back of the embassies to avoid them. These two in the picture were close to where I worked. The classic style of an older individual using a young child to get charity. Most would ignore them but, often you would see some kind of food being given. Rarely money.

Some people couldn't be called beggars simply because they didn't beg. Somehow they got enough money for alcohol and they slept wherever was convenient for them. I never gave money to beggars for one reason. I have a picture at home of a clump of bamboo sticks with two parakeets looking at each other. Stamped and signed by the artist who I found in and underpass used for crossing Chang'An Boulevard. The reason I never gave to beggars was that this artist had no hands, he painted and wrote with his feet. If someone has gone to that trouble to teach himself a saleable skill then why should I give to the able bodied holding out an open hand.

The individual is a street sweeper and what he is looking at is a friend of ours who, after a few beers, had decided to get his hair cut by a street barber. The street barbers came in two classes; 1) Manual cutters only or 2) Machine operated (with power coming from a car battery). Our friend went for the manual option and it only happened the once.

In Taoranting park I had spent a lazy afternoon walking around exploring. I sat on one of the many benches and watched people flying kites. This particular man was with his grown-up son and no other children. The kite was homemade of wood and black plastic. At this moment it was about to ditch into the lake. After the picture had been taken, the man's son hired a row boat to go and get the kite which was then repaired and as I left the park some 45 minutes later, the kite was back up in the air. Kite flying was very popular especially on Tiananmen Square and from the bridges which spanned the ring roads where some were so high as to be almost invisible.

The birdmen were an interesting sight and on one occasion I followed a guy to see where he went. Invariably he would arrive at a piece of scrub land with a few trees dotted about and proceed to hang his birdcages in the trees. He would then uncover selected individual birds or pairs so that he could listen to them sing. If more than one birdman was present then maybe only one or two birds from each would be uncovered. In Xi Zhi Men there was a bird market where these men would sit for ages just concentrating on one or two birds in a cage that held 30 or 40, only to hear them sing.

On the far side of Bei Hai park was another park although less showy with no Pagoda, it was called Qian Hai and was one of my favourites. In keeping with park design it had a man made lake on which you could hire boats. It had the usual winding paths and the communal area. On my trips here I would see the men and women in their own groups with the women sitting talking and the men playing cards or chess. Performers would play their instruments and impromptu dancing or exercising would take place.

I always saw this guy on Tiananmen Square and nowhere else. This type of bike was fairly popular with anybody who had limited use of their legs. It was a tricky act of both peddling and steering at the same time but, this guy got around quite quickly and he could use the bike lanes.

At the entrance of the building where I worked was placed this board showing all of the employees that had only ONE CHILD. I thought it a medieval practice to restrict the family in this way but, over the course of my stay, I realised that this had to be the way forward for the cities if not the overall country (you can have as many as you want in the regions). What I didn't agree with was if a second child was born, it meant almost total exclusion from the social group and limited chance of financial support or promotion. During my stay here, at least two pictures were replaced with different families.

We caught the evening exercises being performed at a bus turning area on the outskirts of the city. All the movements are basic martial art techniques peformed until they become second nature. As my friend Norman Chen once told me "Be careful Jason, there are some dangerous old men out there". State radio plays the same music every day and night and the groups of people agree on excercise movements from a basic 15 up to an advanced level or 70 or more variations.

So your wife has broken her leg and is leaving hospital today. How do you take her home? well this guy chose to carry her home on the back of his bike. Regular goods on the back of these things were Bottled gas, another bike, your kids, your grandmother....

Although I was on my own in Beijing for long periods, there were times when friends working in other parts of China, came to visit the capital. One of these was my good friend Paul Emmerson and we would regularly go to Schillers, eat chilli con carne and play Jenga for beer.

My parents. The first time they ever flew and they chose a 5000 mile trip to China. It was my privilege to show them the Great Wall.

My Friends, Zhang Xiaoming and Zhang Tao on a night out.

This last picture was very deliberately chosen. Zhang Xiaoming on the left and Zhang Tao on the right. If I wasn't working with one then I was working with the other. One of the difficulties of working abroad is that it can take a while to fit in and that process is made better if the local guys are willing to be sociable. I've only known it twice and the first was in China. We drank San Miguel beer, ate chilli con carne and burgers, played pool, went to nightclubs and on the occasion of a Gan Bei session, Zhang Tao got me back to my hotel in one piece. If anyone ever tells me that the Chinese are a threat to any western nation, I think of these two guys and smile in the knowledge that we are different only in appearance and that I play better pool.