Today was our first full day in Beijing, and boy was it ever. We started out by waking up at 4:30am - the unfortunate consequence of moving forward 12 time zones. At 7 we headed down to the hotel restaurant for the breakfast buffet: noodles, tofu in chili sauce, beef with sauteed zucchini, and eggs with curried tomatoes were just a few of the good things to eat. There were a few familiar western item there too, but when in Beijing...Then it occurred to me for the first time that we were eating Chinese food in China, and that made me smile.
Our guide Angela met us in the lobby at 8 and we started on a tedious van ride to downtown Beijing. Traffic crawls as vehicles compete with bicycles, pedestrians, and rickshaws on overcrowded streets. God help you if you need to cross the street; pedestrians do NOT have right-of-way in China. On a positive note, it was a very clear day with much better air than last night thanks to somewhat windy conditions.
Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven, a large area used by Chinese emperors for annual ceremonies and prayers for a good harvest. This was a beautiful complex of temples, courtyards, and parks. On the way in we watched some older men practicing water calligraphy on a stone pathway.
After leaving the Temple of Heaven we headed across the street to a local tea shop. We had a demonstration of tea-brewing and sampled several varieties of black, oolong, green, and flower teas. There were some dubious health-claims being made about the benefits of the individual teas, but they all tasted great, though Manu was more interested in the free peanuts they served. We purchased a few canisters of tea and then headed off to a silk factory. This place had a working demonstration of how silk was harvested, spun, and weaved into fabric. In true tourist-trap fashion,after leaving the demonstration we were corralled through a showroom of their products made from the local silk. We did end up purchasing a silk-filled comforter for our bed back home. The quality was good, the price was fair, and it was made there in their shop, but now we have to pack it through two more destinations and back home.
We then went on a bicycle rickshaw tour of some of the older parts of Beijing. We visited the home of a local Chinese family and admired their dwelling and surroundings.
Next, Angela took us to a local restaurant off the touristy path - we were the only Caucasians (and Indian) in the place, as far as I could tell. We ordered 5 dished and shared among us, Angela and our driver. The food was amazing. It did bear a slight resemblance to Chinese food back home, but this was definitely stepped-up a notch. We're all getting better at eating with chopsticks, especially Manu, for whom it's becoming second nature.
After lunch it was off to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. These areas are adjacent to one another and lie at the center of Beijing government and politics. The square is basically a very large courtyard full of lots of tourists, hucksters, and locals flying kites and playing games. There are a couple large-screen displays at the center of the square, erected for the 2008 Summer Olympics, that show patriotic images of all of China. It is a very patriotic pro-China environment without a single mention of the more notorious events that occurred her a few years ago. Across the street begins the Forbidden City; a palace for the emperors of old and their families. For most of history, commoners were not allowed inside. The architecture was stunning and you could really get a sense of what this place might have been like hundreds of years ago.
Lastly we caught an acrobatic show. It was a nice display of acrobatic feats, done in Chinese style, but by this time we were all dog-tired and only feigned half-interest in what was going on up on stage. We left the show, risked our lives a couple times crossing the street to get back to our van, and opted out of dinner at a restaurant. We instead ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut and ate in the room - total vacation fail, but it was quick and we could go back to the room! I'm the last one standing tonight, and I'm headed to bed soon. Tomorrow we take a 2hr trip to see the Great Wall; should be fun. Talk to you soon.
|Men practicing the art of Water Calligraphy at the entrance to the Temple of Heaven.|
|The three of us in front of the Temple of Heaven.|
|This is really why we came to Beijing :-)|
|Leslie, Manu, and our guide Angela at the Forbidden City.|
|One of the Forbidden City buildings.|
|Daddy and Manu on our Rickshaw.|
|We drove by the Bird's Nest; the central stadium of the 2008 Summer Olympics.|
|The Tea House|
|Chairman Mao on the Tienanmen Gate entrance to the Forbidden City, as seen from Tienanmen Square.|