Boundless in Beijing (A diary, sort of)

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 15, 2014 - 12:00am

BEIJING — As STAR columnist Wilson Lee Flores kept on reminding me days before we left Manila, I packed a new pair of rubber shoes into my bursting, travel-wornout maleta and a thick jacket. “We will do a lot of walking,” warned Wilson, “and we might climb the Great Wall of China where it is cold.”

“We” also included Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David and some Manila businessmen (George Siy, Dorian Chua and Oliver Go). Up to now, I’m still clueless how Wilson was able to include an entertainment writer in the Philippine entourage that attended the dinner celebrating China’s 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at the Great Hall of the People right across the historic Tiananmen Square. Served at the austere sit-down dinner (where Premier Li Keqiang delivered a speech in Mandarin translated into English and French on the printed copies) on Sept 30, eve of the National Day (Oct. 1) were: Hors d’Oeuvres, Assorted Delicacies, Beef Brisket in Soy Bean Paste, Seasonal Vegetables, Lemon-Flavored Salmon and Desserts (Walnut Cream, pastries and Fruits). Wilson is expected to expound on the finer points of the event in his column.

First Day, afternoon: CNN Beijing Bureau Jaime FlorCruz took us on a leisurely tour of 798 Art District which, he told us, used to be a huge factory. It’s a city in itself, an artist’s paradise where art works greeted us at every turn. There are galleries, little shops selling artistic souvenir items and a compound housing the Space for Contemporary Art (where we found a sculpture of a headless Mao), manage by Xin Dong Cheng.

Near the entrance is a long wall painted in multi-colored art works, so eye-catching that I thought of it as an “Art” Wall. Along the way, lighting up the sidewalks are figurines and statuettes, some of them so cute that the ladies would be tempted to string them together and flaunt them as pendants.

The new pair of rubber shoes was useful at the 798 Art District as they were the next day when Wilson and I (Rina and company visited other parts of the city) were driven to the Great Wall of China which, as if you didn’t know, spans (according to the brochure) 5,600 kilometers starting from the banks of the Yalu River in the east and meanders toward the Qilian and Tianshan Mountains in the west, and which is (according to American astronaut Neil Amstrong who manned the spacecraft Apollo) one of two sites on Planet Earth visible from outer space.

Some scenes of one of the Mano Po movies produced by Regal Matriarch Mother Lily Monteverde were filmed on one of the four entrances to the Great Wall (with Vilma Santos leaning on one wall wrapped by winter finery). Wilson and I barely made it one kilometer up the Wall but that was good enough, qualifying us to receive a “commemorative certificate for ascending the Great Wall of Beijing (side).” Then, we had our photo taken on a large stone on which were engraved Chinese characters, said to have been written by Chairman Mao, if I’m not mistaken, that means this in English: He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true man.

On the third day, we (with businessman Dorian Chua) visited the Forbidden City (I might as well call it a “Walled” City because it’s secured by high walls) but we were “forbidden” to go inside. It was a holiday (a week-long holiday for the National Day celebration) and we contented ourselves with simply posing for pictures outside of it, capping our visit with an unhurried long walk around the promenade by the lake that commanded a panoramic scene. “Did you know that we are walking on the same ground that emperors had walked on many, many years ago?” Wilson informed us.

After dinner that same night, our group did more leisurely walking around another lake (full of lotus flowers),  surrounded by bars and restaurants and curio shops and coffee shops and whatever, festive at night with loud music and strollers/revelers enjoying themselves to the hilt. An entertainment hub.

The main event came on the night of Sept. 30 when we queued up to the Great Hall of the People for the National Day dinner where we met businessmen from Manila, three of them Lucio Tan, (honorary president of the Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc.) Robin Sy and Carlos Chan (Oishi Snacks/Liwayway boss) who were among the philanthropists honored the night before by the Chinese government at another event for being the biggest philantropist helping the Philippines during Typhoon Yolanda. Other achievers in philanthropy, science, business and other fields from foreign countries were also awarded.

In my Paul Cabral Barong Tagalog, as we joined a toast led by Premier Li Keqiang, I kept wondering how an entertainment writer had this once-in-a-lifetime experience of breaking bread and sipping red wine with the leader of China and other distinguished guests in the Great Hall of the People. 

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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