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Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 16:59 | SYDNEY
Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 16:59 | SYDNEY

Beijing diary (part 3)

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21 June 2010 10:17

Part one here; part two here.

Outside every official or semi-official building in Beijing, there is a security guard standing on a little pedestal. I understand the point of the pedestal, but I found it hard to be cowed by guards who were so young and fragile-looking, with waists like those of runway models. The rough, hawk-faced plain-clothed fellows in Tiananmen Square were another matter, however.

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Another less pleasant aspect of Beijing is the smog. The city deserves the moniker given to it by an acquaintance: 'Old Chokey'. Not all the pollution is the product of rapid industrialisation, either. I have never seen so many smokers. At one famous duck restaurant I found that every urinal had a little ashtray sitting neatly on top. You'd hate to miss the chance for an extra fag, would you?

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While I was in town, I called on Washington's man in Beijing, US Ambassador Jon Huntsman. The US representative is always a figure to be reckoned with, but Huntsman has unusual cachet given that he is a former governor of Utah and a plausible moderate candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He's an impressive fellow who has had a lot to do with Australians, in particular the Packer family. His fluent Mandarin also gives him a more rice-roots view of the country to which he is accredited.

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Speaking of rice, I found it surprisingly hard to get any while I was in Beijing. In restaurants, it took repeated requests to obtain a small bowl of the delicious stuff. The general view seems to be that rice is peasant food: why would you eat rice when you can have pork or duck instead? I can see I will have to revisit my use of the phrase 'for all the rice in China'.

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