Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beijing Sept 5

If you are only in Beijing for one day, then today was the perfect day to do it. Bright sun, clear skies, warm and dry. Beautiful late summer day.

We got in last night, and Clinton went to the foreign ministry for her first meetings with Yang. We followed her there, and then came to the hotel. There were a few quotes to update the story with, but nothing much. The hotel is pretty fancy -- I have a two room suite, with two bathrooms and a very comfortable bed. That's great because tonight (again) I'll be sleeping on the plane.

This morning we gathered at around 9 and headed to the Great Hall of the People, where Clinton was meeting President Hu. Just as we were leaving they told us that the Chinese had cancelled her meeting with Vice President Xi (who will succeed Hu as China's top dog after a party congress this year). Lots of speculation on why this was...were they sending a political signal over her comments on the South China Sea? Was this some sort of snub? The U.S. wasn't saying but our bureau said they had heard he had also cancelled events yesterday, so perhaps it wasn't anything beyond a sick day or a bad back. Still, a little mysterious.

It was funny to be back in the Great Hall of the People. I remember it so well...the gargantuan rooms, the endless chairs lining the hallways, the giant Chinese landscapes on the wall. It is really a throwback to old China, and I feel like I spent a lot of time there, once, covering official meetings. And when you are in there, you feel like you ARE in old China: the same unsmiling security people, the same people in dark suits ghosting around, the same hush of power.

Because Xi had dropped off clinton's schedule, the press conference was moved up. It was a small room and not many reporters -- I guess the Chinese had limited it to American outlets. Clinton and Yang came in and said their pieces (Yang said his piece at interminable length). But the upshot was neither made news. They both restated their positions on various disagreements (Syria, South China Sea etc) all the while pledging that they would do more to cooperate and ensure "pragmatic and cordial relations.

I sent thru the quotes and some paragraphs, and the pros in the Beijing bureau turned it all into a story. By the time we got back to the hotel everything was basically done. That left time for lunch at DinTaiFung (the excellent Taiwanese dumpling place) and then back to the hotel to pack.

After debating a nap, I decided it was too nice a day, so went for a walk. Beijing is not much of a walking city, tho ... at least around here ...but it was still great to be outside and to gawp at all the money, cars, buildings and people. The mall across the street had the crazy English "essay" pictured above outside to let people know that Beijing is the home of drama.

After a bit of that, I had another brainwave and went back to the hotel to ask about a foot massage place. They steered me to a shop in the basement of a nearby mall which was perfect. You walk in, they take you to your own room with a huge recliner, and tell you to change into some Chinese pyjamas. Then a VERY STRONG young woman comes in and starts working on you -- mostly feet, with pressure points, but also arms, shoulders, and back. I won't say I didn't flinch a few times, because they really know where to dig in their thumbs, but it is also extremely relaxing just to sit there, drink Chinese tea out of a water glass, and watch Chinese TV soap operas (which now seem to feature troubled young CEOs and various other capitalist characters exclusively). I wanted to stay for the next show -- some kind of game show with the (English) name "Your Face Sounds Familiar", but sadly it the 90 minutes (!) were up all too soon.

Now I'm back at the hotel, waiting for our background briefing and then the overnight flight to East Timor...