"Cold and snowy" that was our impression of Beijing as we landed on December 17. The tall buildings looked like a collection of silent ghosts standing side by side on a flat landscape. The airport facilities, modern to a fault, matched the swift and courteous passage through Chinese customs and immigration and we were standing in the exit lounge less than twenty minutes after deplaning. This country is on the move.
Our tour guide, Julia, an energetic Chinese interpreter of twenty-five, helped us through the airport and onto a modern tour bus for our trip to our hotel. She was a bit distressed to find out that we didn't speak or understand German (it was a German tour after all) but she was such a go getter and many of the Germans spoke some English it just worked out. The trip to the hotel took over an hour even though the distance was less then 15 miles. That should give a hint to the amount of traffic on the city streets of Beijing. As we rode to our hotel along streets with new high-rise buildings everywhere all I could think of was "What happened to Communism?". Beijing is apparently has a new layer of architecture that looks like it is about ten to twenty years old. Beneath the chrome and glass you can still see the socialist reality in the grim, state-built structures in the governmental zones like Tiananmen Square. When passing by the crowded hovels of the Hutong District that was typical, we are told, of the old city before the Reds came to power in 1949 you get a look at the layer beneath communism. Seems the Chinese have reinvented themselves once again. They are true survivors, just don't pay too much attention to their political spin. Money is what it is all about now.
The city has a "big" feel. It can take two hours or more to drive out of from the center. Our hotel, a four star Holiday Inn, with the imposing name of The Temple of Heaven was just that as we finally arrived the first night. Some of the younger Germans took off with Julia for a midnight walk, but we hit the sheets. Next day it was off to see the real Temple of Heaven about a half mile away. Many of the photos presented in the beginning of our album were taken at this locale. Next we bused to Tiananmen Square to visit Chairman Mao or at least his huge portrait that hangs on the entrance to the Imperial Palace. We finished up the downtown tour with a visit to the Forbidden City which was closed to everyone except the dynastic in-crowd until the last Empress passed on in the early 20th Century. I passed on the tour of the Buddhist temples next day having seen many in Japan, but Lana went and enjoyed the trip. That evening, we attended an amazing display of acrobatics by a Beijing acrobatic group. I didn't think the human body could get into those positions, but then I think tying my own shoes is a feat of flexibility. Next we visited a re-built section of the Great Wall about 30 miles north of the city. Just getting out of the city required almost two hours of the old stop and go on the highway. Our bus inched along providing an opportunity to see just how huge the city really is and how much development has happened in the past couple decades. Beijing seems to be a city of four distinct layers based on its political history. The famous old imperial sites dating back over 2000 years visited on the first days form the first, the humble but tidy homes and businesses of the Hutong district predate the third era comprised of the dull, grey, functional structures built after 1949 by the Communist architects followed by the glass and stainless steel high rise structures representing the re-birth of capitalism.
The following is credited to a well organized and informative web source: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/ "The Great Wall of China, one of the greatest wonders of the world, was enlisted in the World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987. Just like a gigantic dragon, the Great Wall winds up and down across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus stretching approximately 6,700 kilometers (4,163 miles ) from east to west of China. With a history of more than 2000 years, some of the section of the great wall are now in ruins or even entirely disappeared. However, it is still one of the most appealing attractions all around the world owing to its architectural grandeur and historical significance. The Great Wall was originally built in the Spring, Autumn, and Warring States Periods as a defensive fortification by the three states: Yan, Zhao and Qin. The Great Wall went through constant extensions and repairs in later dynasties. In fact, it began as independent walls for different states when it was first built, and did not become the "Great" wall until the Qin Dynasty. Emperor Qin Shihuang succeeded in his effort to have the walls joined together to fend off the invasions from the Huns in the north after the unification of China. Since then, the Great Wall has served as a monument of the Chinese nation throughout history. A visit to the Great Wall is like a tour through the history backwards; it brings tourists great excitement in each step of the wall. The construction of the Great Wall, drew heavily on the local resources for construction materials, was carried out in line with the local conditions under the management of contract and responsibility system. A great army of manpower, composed of soldiers, prisoners, and local people, built the wall. The construction result demonstrates the manifestation of the wisdom and tenacity of the Chinese people. The Great Wall as we see today was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty. It starts from Shanhaiguan Pass in the east to Jiayuguan Pass in the west traversing provinces of Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Shaanxi and Gansu."
There, it is said better and more definitively than I could have. One item that was omitted is that the wall building effort consumed nearly thirty percent of China's manpower. It was built literally over the bones of its workers. Our visit lasted about three hours during which time we walked along the one-lane tread that forms the top of the wall as it climbs up the steep grades of the rugged hills north of the Chinese capital. Depending on your level of physical conditioning you will either find the experience enjoyable or tortuous. On the way back to our hotel we stopped for lunch at a cloisonné factory/store/restaurant. For those who are wondering what cloisonné is a definition follows courtesy of cloisonné on Encyclopedia.com
(kloizenā´, -senā´) , method of enamel decoration of metal surfaces, such as vases and jewel boxes. Metal filaments (which form the cloisons or separating elements) are attached at right angles to the surface outlining the design to be used. These miniature compartments are filled with colored enamel in paste form, and the object is then heated in order to fuse the enamel to the surface and develop its transparency and permanent colors. When finished, the enamel and cloisons are closely joined in a smooth, even surface showing the pattern in various colors defined by the metal partitions which prevented their fusing with one another. Probably invented in the Middle East, cloisonné has been highly perfected by the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French.
After a very hearty lunch we waddled out to the waiting tour bus and snoozed back into the city. That evening we attended a performance of the Beijing opera company. As you will in our photos, the costumes sequentially representing the various dynastic periods are spectacular both in design and color. Following the performance we ate a late dinner in the opera house restaurant which in my opinion was the best food of the entire trip. I don't know what was going in but it was delightful. One of the inherent risks on any trip like this is keeping the lid on your appetite when bombarded with so many new and tempting choices. One should starve for at least two weeks before setting off.
The last two day in Beijing we finished with a flourish of tours including the Coal Hill Park, Imperial Summer Palace, and the Confucius Temple. From the Coal Hill Park, the highest landmark in the city, one gets a fine view of the Forbidden City and sees just how large is the complex of temples, courtyards, and gardens. A unique feature of the park is the three star toilet so denoted by an impressive plaque mounted on the outside entrance, a first in our travel experiences. Perhaps all public toilets should be so rated. The Imperial Summer Palace didn't look very summery on our visit. Our photos make it look more like Winter in Siberia. However, it must be very lovely in Spring when the tress and flowers along the pathways and around the temples are in full bloom. The Confucius Temple finished us off and nearly froze us. We only were able to get a little warmth from the large braziers where bundles of incense sticks placed there by worshipers smoldered and filled the air with pleasant odors. In one temple we witnessed a short demonstration of music played on ancient Chinese string and percussion instruments. But the cold temperatures discouraged standing around very long in any spot. Monks dressed in traditional brown habits appeared to be doing the daily chores of sweeping and cleaning the numerous temples. They must have adapted to the cold climate. None of them wore coats over their costumes.
The last evening before departing for Istanbul we ate dinner at one of the famous restaurants who specialize in Perking Duck. The duck is prepared by roasting. The crispy skin removed and served separately as an appetizer. The skinless duck is filleted by a chef so that only the edible parts are presented to the dinners along with Hosin sauce, a salty, sweet brown mixture than enhances the flavor of the meat. Of course there were other side dishes too numerous to remember. Again we wished we had starved a couple days for this meal. A few hours later we lifted off from Beijing airport on our flight to Istanbul.
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