China, Beijing: Day 15

Today is the day of my presentation to the China Population and Development Research Center (CPDRC). This is what brought me to Beijing in the first place. Yet the day couldn’t have started much worse.

As I left my room I discovered it was pouring down. And with no umbrella or hooded-coat, I braved the elements in the hope of flagging down a taxi within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, it was almost rush hour in one of the world’s most populated cities, so naturally all the taxis that passed me were not available. Given that I was already soaked by the rain, I decided to turn back in order not to waste any more time. Unfortunately a miscommunication between me, the hostel receptionist and the taxi company arose. According to the receptionist, she had rung a taxi on my behalf and it would only take 10 minutes. However, after a 15 minute wait, as I approached the desk she told me that there is no taxi on its way. With no apology, she stood motionless and stared at me. I had no other option (unless I walked for over an hour), but to call my contact at CPDRC. Thankfully she was more than willing to offer her assistance and got the Center’s driver to pick me up in no time. I already loved this place, and I hadn’t even set foot inside the building yet!

All this commotion meant that the presentation had to be delayed by almost an hour, but thankfully the Center was extremely understanding. I had a brief tour of the building before settling into the conference room. Slowly but surely staff trickled in. Anyone would think they were students… I guess it’s one of those situations whereby “you must do as I say, not as I do”, as a wise man once told me! More importantly, the presentation went very well and it stimulated far more discussion that I anticipated – despite the obvious language barrier in some instances.
Afterwards the Deputy Director of the Center (XYZ) presented me with a gift, and I was treated to a ‘canteen’ lunch, which was far better than any other canteen I’ve eaten in, that’s for sure. If that wasn’t enough, because the torrential rain showers no signs of relenting, they then arranged to have me dropped off at the Summer Palace! This was very timely actually as, mentally, I had just come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to fit the Palace into my itinerary.

Arriving at the (not so Summery) Summer Palace, the first thing I did was buy an umbrella and a poncho. Typical isn’t it. With my totally unsuitable outfit/attire somewhat protected from the torrent/incessant downpour, I was ready to explore the scenic green maze that is the Summer Palace. Being a Geographer, one would assume that my sense of direction would be unrivalled. Yet today, that sense failed me. Considering there were no useful maps available (just sketched signs that might as well have been drawn by my nephew), I was left to rely on my internal compass. The might of the maze was too much.

Despite the gloomy weather, it was still possible to appreciate the beauty of this traditional and scenic area. (Tbc.)

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