The China Visit: Part 2—Beijing
We had only three days in Beijing, but like Chengdu, it was a living kaleidoscope of sights, scents, and sounds. On every corner it seemed there was something out of the ordinary — dozens of red lanterns, exotic street food (scorpions on a stick!), strangers dancing in a park. Here are a few photos from around Beijing. As in the previous post, I’m not providing a complete sightseeing guide — just a few snapshots of scenes that caught my eye. I’ve linked the locations to more information if you are interested.
Our first day in Beijing was spent exploring a section of the Great Wall of China. Thanks to the hospitality of Melissa, one of the homeschooling moms there, we were able to borrow her driver to go the less crowded Mutianyu segment. We took a ski lift up to the Wall, then walked along it far enough to visit two of the guard towers. It was a hot day, but stepping inside the thick stone walled towers was like stepping into an air-conditioned room. The wall climbs up and down through mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see. It’s a massive, astonishing feat of construction.
After the Wall, we settled into Hotel Kapok, which was conveniently situated just down the street from the Forbidden City and within walking distance of decent dining and shopping options. It was still light when we were settled, so we walked over to Tiananmen Square to watch the flag lowering ceremony. A squad of soldiers marched to the flag, and precisely at the moment of sunset, lowered it ceremoniously, then marched away. A lot of people were there to watch, but there were a lot of police and soldiers too. They cleared the square and shooed everyone away within minutes of the ceremony’s completion. For me, it was a not-so-subtle reminder of the sad history of the square.
On the second day of of our Beijing visit, we went to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple is positioned in a large park filled with people dancing, playing music or games, and socializing. It was a lively, cheerful scene.
People sat all along the covered pathways doing simple things such as crocheting, playing cards, folding paper giraffes, and more.
Hudson adds a bit of challenge for one of the gentlemen who was enjoying the exercise equipment in the park. It was a full-blown playground with adult-size equipment, and quite a few people were actively using it.
We finally reached the Temple of Heaven. It was tall and blue and beautiful, and its setting in the busy park kept it from seeming like a long-dead artifact, though it is no longer used as a place of worship. Every visible inch of the building was detailed and ornamented, and despite the crowds, it was immaculate.
At night, the streets remained busy and well lighted, at least in the tourist areas, so it feels quite safe. One odd thing is that everywhere we went people were constantly snapping photos of us. Some tried to be discreet, while others came up next to us, and asked if they could take a selfie or have a friend take a photo with one or both of us. It made me thankful to be mostly anonymous in my real life!
I went to the Forbidden City on the third day, and it was so crowded that I wasn’t able to get many photos other than roof shots. Fortunately, one of the most interesting features of the buildings within the Forbidden City compound was the roof ornaments. I’m sure they have very specific meanings, but I wasn’t able to get close enough to read any signs.
I went shopping on the last couple of afternoons, making it to Liulichang Street, the Panjiayuan flea market and the Hongqiao Pearl Market. There is a lot of duplication of items in the stalls/shops in the last two places, but the vendors are eager to bargain. Many at the flea market don’t speak English, but will type a number on a calculator and show it to you if you want to know a price. From that point, it’s up to you to counter with something much less, then haggle until you reach an acceptable compromise. Most vendors at the pearl market spoke at least a bit of English.
Liulichang seemed to specialize in calligraphy and related items, Panjiayuan had tons of jade and amber, and the pearl market had everything from silks to electronics, and even pearls. I went to all these places alone, as Terri and Hudson had other things to do, and I felt safe and comfortable the whole time, and had no difficulty in catching transportation in a san lun che to get between the places.
I saw this kitty in several places, and I’m guessing it has something to do with good fortune. Most of these figures have one arm waving up and down, which seems a bit distracting.
We passed many street food offerings, and I tried hawthorn on a stick and yogurt with a straw and a mini-watermelon with a spoon, but I drew the line at scorpions on a stick. No thank you. And the sea creatures were just sad.
These two posts barely scratch the surface of the trip. I hope you’ve enjoyed the virtual journey.
A few last thoughts
It was fun to have a friend to explore with (thank you, Terri!), especially one who speaks Chinese. Even if you don’t have a Chinese-speaking friend, both Chengdu and Beijing were pretty navigable. Many signs are in English, and with the small shops and restaurants opening right onto the sidewalk, it was fairly easy to figure out where to find just about anything.
Since our hotel was in the middle of a lively area, we were able to see a lot just by walking a few blocks in either direction, and we saved a lot on taxis and other transport. I almost always prefer to stay in the heart of town and walk. It’s easier to get a sense of place and quickly become oriented. Even when a hotel in suburbs seems cheaper, you tend to spend the difference on transportation, and you can’t just pop out and walk down the street for a night snack or a bit of nocturnal sightseeing.
China was interesting. The almost complete absence of churches and faith symbols was something I wouldn’t want to live with. Would I go again? Probably. Just not anytime soon. I’m ready to spend some quality time at home.