Beijing Sightseeing 2008

Beijing Sightseeing

No visit to China would be complete without a visit to Beijing. Beijing is the cultural center of China, as well as the center of government. While it is a commercial center, it is not Shanghai or Hong Kong. With that being said, Beijing’s commercial development is astounding. Everywhere is construction-high-rise housing developments, office buildings, shopping centers, civil centers, and infrastructure developments. Sadly much of these developments are at the expense and destruction of the hutongs—the old Chinese neighborhoods. Equally visible are the beautifully kept parks and roadside gardens-full of roses and flowering plants.

Our hotel was located in the Wangfujing District, an area known for being a few blocks from the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and great modern shopping and restaurants. Our hotel was a four-star hotel meeting western and eastern standards for services, comfort, safety, dining, and bars that serve rum and coke (private joke.)

Arriving in Beijing at around noon, we went through customs and collected our luggage. Upon exiting the restricted areas, we were greeted by a very nervous and anxious young woman named Lydia (her selected western name.) We had taken our time in customs causing Lydia to think she had missed us and she was very worried about us. We assured her we were ok. She quickly noticed that Erika was the elder of our group, so immediately from that point one, Lydia carried Erika's bags and called her Auntie. She reminded us that it is Chinese culture to honor one’s elders. Lydia remained our Beijing tour guide whenever we had organized sightseeing outings and for our transfers to and from the airport.

That afternoon we got ourselves settled in at the hotel then went out exploring our area. To our surprise, the weather was a bit chilly and rainy. As mentioned earlier, our hotel area was in a ritzy modern shopping area so we saw familiar fashion shops intermixed with Chinese department stores. Robert and I had been to this area before and were surprised to see that many buildings had been demolished to make way for newer shops in time for the Summer Olympics in Aug 2008.

We did find a great place selling various Chinese teas. Now food exploring was next. We wandered down a side street with cart vendors selling various types of foods-like fried scorpions, noodles, chicken on a stick, fruits, etc. We didn’t sample these but instead opted to dine at a small restaurant with small, enclosed rooms for each group. The food was authentic and OK in taste.

Second day, Robert and I ventured out early in the morning to revisit the entrance of the Forbidden City, just so we knew we really were in Beijing. When I’m in New York, I know I’m there when I see the Empire State Building or Times Square. We were able to see men fishing in one of the many lagoons surrounding the Forbidden City.

Our scheduled tour for this day was to a section of the Great Wall and one of the Ming era tombs. Lydia joined us on this private tour, about a one-hour drive from Beijing. We did travel through the Olympic village district and saw many of the stadiums to be used—many still under construction.

The section of the Great Wall we visited in nestled in a mountainous area. In fact, we took a cable car to reach the ridge from which we saw and walked on the Great Wall. The Great Wall is an amazing structure even when compared to today’s construction feats. We walked on the main walkway on the top of the wall and along the side to get different perspectives. We got a good workout climbing the sometimes very steep stairs and inclines. Many times there were people traffic jams. There are many views that allow you to see the wall extending for miles over the mountains or into the horizon.

Leaving the Great Wall, we traveled to a nearby area to see one of the underground tombs of an emperor and empress from the Ming era. A Ming era tomb is similar in concept to an Egyptian tomb—a great power buried with his or her treasures in a secret compartment, looted eons ago and now restored for today’s visitors to better understand and learn.

I did ask our tomb tour guide about the history and safety of the underground tombs considering earthquakes. She assured us that there are no earthquakes in this area. I knew this to be incorrect. Coincidentally, it was on this day and during this time that the massive Sichuan earthquake struck central China. No harm came to us.

Other sightseeing trips we took in the Beijing area were to the Temple of Heaven and surrounding beautiful park, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, a teahouse ceremony, and an acrobat show. All of these are amazing and beautiful in their own right. We also went to the Beijing Opera at the Liyaun Theatre. Not opera in the western manner but more about storytelling of ancient Chinese folktales using singing, dance, martial arts, and elaborate costumes and makeup. Best of all, we were served food and drinks while we watched the show.

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