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Saturday, September 3, 2016

When staying in bed is the better option

You know the feeling you get when you have gone out of your way to see something special, and you end up wishing you’d simply stayed in bed all day long…

The web is full of snippets of information telling us that “About 60kms northeast of Beijing, the memorial of Jiaozhuanghu Tunnel Warfare Site is a striking reminder of China’s efforts to repel Japanese occupation during the Second World War”.

According to china.org.cn “The intelligent people in North China found a new way for struggles: Tunnel Warfare. Tunnel is the major object for your visit. It has a length of 23 li. At present, about 600-meter-long tunnel has been renovated. The five-storey cannon tower where the militia watched and combated has also been repaired. Inside the tunnel, you can find individual blindages, planks, meeting rooms, headquarters, gunshot holes, warehouses etc. The entrances of the tunnel are out of your expectations, such as the kangs, kitchen ranges, hogpens, donkey slots, wardrobes etc. The tunnel site displays the immortal achievements the Chinese people made in anti-Japanese war and the great and magic power of the people's war.”

I didn’t need much persuading to go see for myself. The Jiaozhuanghu Underground Tunnel Museum(焦庄户地道战遗址纪念馆)is a good two and a half hours travel from downtown Beijing – over an hour on the subway to the end of Line 15 (FengBo) and then another hour-plus on a local bus – Shun 31 – to the end of the line at Jiaozhuanghu West. (Shun buses accept the normal Beijing travel cards, BTW.)

The bus station, for want of a better word, is a mere 250 metres to the entrance of the Tunnel Memorial Museum. Streaming out of the side road are loads of school kids who had been taken for their indoctrination lessons, for this is clearly what the base is now used for, if et97.com is to be believed…

The memorial hall was 1991 Shunyi County The Education Bureau named "primary and secondary school students in Shunyi County revolutionary tradition education center"; 1994 Beijing municipal government named "Beijing city youth education base"; 1995 Shunyi county government named "Shunyi County patriotism education base"; in 1996 six national ministries and the Jiao Zhuanghu tunnel warfare site memorial is one of hundreds of "patriotic" the national primary and secondary education base "; in 1997, Beijing fourth, Guangqumenwai , Jingshan Hill middle school Beijing Normal University, Niulanshan middle school , Yang More than and 20 middle school, it is the patriotism education base. Currently, more than 40 schools have determined to identify the memorial hall as a patriotism education base. ” (sic)

et97.com continues: "Visit the exhibition hall area is completed in August 14, 2005 opening, covers an area of nearly 9000 square meters, construction area of 2000 square meters, the exhibition area of 1000 square meters. Is divided into three parts: respectively. Jidong The burning flames of people's war, spectacular, today Shunyi Better. The exhibition content in photos, pictures and objects, the museum also built in the historical figures for other relief group as well as the large-scale three-dimensional sandbox".

beijingtrip.com tells us that “There are other interesting tourist activities here. One can watch films and listen to stories of the Jiaozhuanghu people's struggle against the Japanese aggressors. Another interesting activity is sharing a special meal of steamed corn bread, cornmeal porridge and pickles. For tourists curious to know the real life of that period, the video showing the daily life of the Jiaozhuanghu people is the best choice.”

And not to be outdone, et97.com adds the absolute clincher: “the audience can attend apple picking activities.”

I enter what it turns out is a massive car and coach park that is also full of souvenir stalls and endless people selling apples. Surrounding it is a frieze on the carpark walls which appears to have little if any relevance to tunnels that I can see.

Passing though the gaps in the wall, and crossing the road, the memorial hall site is straight ahead of you. I spy an old fighter jet off to the right, but the main entrance is in front of me.

Two men are standing gossiping as I approach, but I ask if this is the way in and am waved forward, before a long involved torrent of words pours forth from them, as one of them waves what looks like a green ticket and points back from where I have just come.

I have no idea what they are talking about, and take out some ID to show them, since many museums require this, I have found. No, no, ID not needed. Come, says one of the men and I am ushered in and pointed the way to some steps going down into the bowels of the earth.

It is at this point that I realise I’m glad I read up some of the web blurb before stepping forth into this museum, for the lack of information, even in Chinese, is simply astounding. Or is it, as I am about to find out...

During the War of Resistance, Jiaozhuanghu was under the leadership of the Jidong branch of the Communist Party. It was the only road leading to Pingxi and Pingbei communist strongholds, so strategically it was an important area. In the spring of 1943, the Japanese launched a ferocious attack against Jiaozhuanghu. To fight them off, local soldiers and civilians, led by the Communist Party, made up a series of tunnels. At first these could only hold one or two people; but as time went on, they came to connect every house and then every village in the area, serving as underground fortresses.

By 1946, the total length of the tunnels had reached nearly 12 kms, and had connected Jiaozhuanghu to Longwantun, Tangdong, and Dabeiwu villages.

With the kids all gone, the entire place is now deserted. Ahead of me a carefully manicured tunnel meanders off into the distance. The walls are, in the main, well plastered, and I can, in the main, walk upright for most of the way.

Lest I get carried away by the atmosphere of this ‘haunted house’-style fairground tunnel, a warning sign reminds me to behave myself!

Suitably admonished, I next come across a sign informing us that kerosene lamps were used ‘for digging and other things’ – nicely lit up by an electric light bulb, with not a single kerosene lamp in sight.

I continue on through the only route there is, wondering what other choices I have to go off and explore.

Ah … here’s something interesting, I guess. ‘The spot where Jar was Putting’, the sign reads. Obviously things are getting more exciting now; but there’s little to explain this snippet of information, save for the fact there was an entrance somewhere near here.

Likewise one is led to believe there was a well used for drinking water somewhere nearby, but again, no more information is forthcoming.

At last one comes to a fork in the road, but one’s choice of route has already been determined…

This exit tunnel would have taken me to a neighbouring village all of two kilometres away, but it is not to be on this occasion.

Ahh… perhaps now we are getting to something more interesting. A Trap Plate (whatever that is) lies ahead…

Yes, a notice confirms I am now standing at the Trap, but I have absolutely no idea what it refers to. I continue on…

A meeting room lies ahead…

Sorry, a SMALL meeting room lies ahead…

Yes, I can confirm it is small… maybe room for about five people standing…

And then comes the bombshell: it turns out that up till this point, the tunnel I I have been following is a reproduction! “For the purpose that the historical scene in the war years can be shown in a better way, a 30-meter original tunnel was recovered for the site. The original scene at that time and the history is reproduced by using modern hi-tech measures of sound, light and electricity etc. The average height of this section is 1.49 meters and the minimum height is only 60 centimeters.”

In other words, apart from a small – 30-metre – section, the nicely plastered tunnel that tourists wander through up to this point is nothing more than a fake.

The notice continues: “The technologies of glass fiber reinforced plastic and environment-friendly adhesive originated in the country are adopted for this section of tunnel which can not only enable the tourists to follow the historical trace of the tunnel at that time, but also play the function of protecting the tunnel.”

I note the warning to mind my head and walk through an equally well-plastered bit of tunnel that involves me having to tilt my head a little to get through.

And that’s it! On the other side of the “real” bit of tunnel is an ‘emergent exit’ …

…with the final tourist exit a few metres beyond that.

Sorry, guys, but I feel definitely cheated!

As I emerge into the daylight again, another sign points in the direction of some dwellings that it would appear are worth looking at.

But it appears they are all closed. Most courtyards have a chain across them – possibly everyone has gone off to lunch.

On the side of one padlocked building is a mural depicting happy peasants doing whatever it is that happy peasants do.

To its left is an old fighter jet that looks like it fell off the back of a lorry on its way to the military aviation museum some 30kms to the west. Maybe it did. Certainly there is nothing to explain its presence here, save for an old stone tablet that is impossible to read, whether you speak Chinese or not.

Near the exit of the site is a loo which I note has a 2-star rating. Is that good or bad, I wonder? But I will never find out as it, too, is locked.

So, it’s official – a locked toilet is awarded 2 stars by the Beijing Tourism Administration; while I would venture one star for the entire museum itself… and even that, I think, is being generous!