Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
At the Shanghai airport, we posed with our bus driver; who had driven and steered us around Shanghai-successfully-for the last few days but who had given most us temporary heart failure many times due to his driving skills-or lack thereof. Zhuling, our tour guide, herded us onto our bus from our Shanghai hotel to the airport and to the boarding area for our flight to Beijing. Being good little sheep, we obeyed and offered her our gratitude for her excellent service. The crowded flight from Shanghai to Beijing was uneventful.
A young Chinese girl sitting next to Ellen on the flight offered Ellen packages of vacuum-packed pickled fish; which Ellen graciously shared with our group or was Ellen trying to get rid of her gifts?
Beijing is the third most populated city in China with about 17 million people, Shanghai is second with about 19 million, and Chongqing has over 30 million people. Beijing is not as ultra-modern or as Western-style as is Shanghai; because, its history dates back hundreds of years as the capital for many Chinese dynasties and governments. So instead, Beijing, offers ancient temples, palaces, government buildings and monuments; and a greater feeling of being in the heart of Chinese culture.
We were greeted at the Beijing airport by our Beijing tour guide, Lily (western name). Lily was also delightful, friendly, and informative. She escorted us to our central Beijing hotel-which is only a few blocks from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. After getting settled in and playing musical hotel rooms for a while; we embarked on our half-day Beijing city tour, narrated by Lily. The musical hotel room game is because the “No Smoking” in hotel rooms, is just a suggestion-as our group determined.
This day still being in the midst of the 60th anniversary and autumn festival celebrations, and us being in the center of the celebrations in Beijing, the crowds were again massive. While causing some logistical problems for the bus driver, the celebrations and the crowds did give us all the feelings of being in the middle of something special. I compare it to finding yourself unexpectedly in the middle of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or at Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
This tour was an introductory tour of the major sites of Beijing. Since Tiananmen Square was closed to vehicular traffic, we postponed it for our walking tour later. We instead visited the royal lakes a few blocks to the north of the Forbidden City. This is a beautiful and tranquil spot full of paddleboats, restaurants, small shops, bars, and hutangs. In this area are also the bell tower and the drum tower for the Forbidden City and the old city of Beijing. The bell tower informed residents of dawn and the time of the day and the drum tower informed them of dusk and other events.
Outside of the historic city center, is new downtown Beijing, with impressively designed skyscrapers. This area is the center of modern-day Beijing’s financial and commercial activity. Western company names and logos appear everywhere here on building fronts, hotels, shops, restaurants and signs. We read in the Beijing newspaper, that plans are being made to double the size of downtown Beijing in about 5 years, displacing about 100,000 nearby residents to make way for more skyscrapers and hotels. Nearby to this area, we drove around the 2008 Olympic Village and saw the Water Cube Swimming Center and the Bird’s Nest Stadium, just as impressive in person as seen during the Olympics.
At the conclusion of our brief introductory bus tour of Beijing, we left our guide and driver and Robert and I offered to lead the group around to get a closer look at the outside of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square—along with a few hundred thousand of our newly found Chinese friends.
We found ourselves in front of the iconic portrait of Chairman Mao at the entrance to the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square at dusk. With music blaring, patriotic images beaming from the gargantum color TV screens and the streetlights coming on everywhere, the square took an even more festive atmosphere. In fact, at one end of the square it did seems that a festival was taking place; as we could see pavilions, decorations, lights and even more people. We were unable to get there, due to the crowd control barricades and the hundreds of police and military controlling traffic.
While this was all very exciting, our group was quickly becoming weary of the crowds, the walking and we were becoming hungry again. Marion and Judy were kept in line by telling them “don’t worry; the hotel is only a few blocks away.” Finally, we did make our way through the crowds and back to our hotel and found food. Another day, another adventure.
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