Our final trip to an Asian country was amazing!
I honestly had pretty low expectations for China. Our main reason for this trip was to see the Great Wall, so I was surprised at how much we liked Beijing. Our major complaint was the bitter, bitter cold. I had on at least four layers each time we ventured out, and I brought a supply of Hot Hands with me wherever we went. Our first day in the city was probably their last day of blue skies for the year. We had expected polluted skies, and we were surprised at how clear it was. I suspect it has to do with the strong wind that made it feel like 9º outside.
Our first stop was the Forbidden City, which was just block from our hotel. They only allow 80,000 people in each day, but even though we didn’t preregister for tickets, we were easily able to get tickets. This was the first place we encountered Chinese security measures. There are metal detectors all over the city- every major tourist attraction and even every subway stop! There were several people trying to get us to pay them as a tour guide, but we just rented audio guides and wandered to what looked interesting. Some of the architecture was very similar to what we are accustomed to seeing Korea, as their cultures are so linked. I found the sprawling size of the palace the most impressive aspect. You couldn’t go into any of the buildings, and since it was so cold we didn’t pause too long at many places. I had to take my mittens off to take a picture, so I became very selective on what I felt was worth a photograph. There are guards throughout the palace, but you are not allowed to take a picture of them straight on (I tried). We didn’t tour the entire grounds, but my favorite spot was in the gardens toward the back. While the main buildings are surrounded by stone, here ancient trees twist around rock formations and pavilions. Everything was covered in snow, and it was very tranquil. Much like Changdeokgung, my favorite palace in Seoul, I preferred this quiet, peaceful area to the large impressive throne rooms.
As we exited the Forbidden City we saw a building directly in front of us and on top of a hill. “I bet that has a nice view!” I still don’t know what the name of this place was, but it turned out to be a Buddhist temple with a huge Buddha looking out over the Forbidden City and the rest of Beijing. We could see the city in all directions and spotted famous places such as the Olympic Water Cube and Bird Nest and the site of Kublai Khan’s palace.
We decided to see Tiananmen Square next. Though we were chilled and it was a very, very long walk, we knew we should try to see it while we were out and the weather was clear. We ended up walking over 27,000 steps that day! I had always seen pictures of Tiananmen Square as, well, a large square. A huge plaza of open concrete stretching from Mao’s Mausoleum (or Mao-soleum, as I liked to say) to the gate with his picture on in. I don’t know how many pictures I’ve seen of the square this way. I was surprised to see that there was a huge road going right through the middle! We were on the Forbidden City side, not the Mao-soleum side. The barriers that separated us from the road looked like they moved, and there was a large motorcade going through, so maybe it is usually open, but just not the day we were there? I had really wanted to see the large plaza, but it was still interesting.
The other days we spent in Beijing were not so pretty. I could actually taste the chemicals in air; it was like breathing in from an exhaust pipe, and my contacts kept drying up. We went to the Temple of Heaven, but the pictures are a little sad because of the pollution. However, the buildings there were not nearly as interesting as the group of older Chinese people dancing. As we entered the gates, we heard music and went to investigate. Around 30 people were in traditional dress (it looked a little Mongolian, perhaps?) and were dancing to traditional music. They were such a happy group. They twirled and clapped, flirted and laughed. I smiled just watching them smile! We noticed that as we were taking pictures of the dancers, our pictures were being taken by Chinese tourists. We’ve never been as noticed anywhere we’ve been in Asia like we were in China. We had a girl come up and ask for a picture. At first, I thought she wanted us to take a picture of her and her friend. Nope, she wanted to be in a picture with us! We even had a guy sprint by us on the sidewalk, turn, and as we walked by, he panned his camera to get multiple pictures of us. It was weird, but as I have taken so many pictures of strangers in my travels, I tried to be a good sport about it!
We also spent an evening at a Chinese acrobat theater. Photography wasn’t allowed, so I don’t have any pictures to share. It was a little cheesy, but we had so much fun watching their tricks and antics. My favorite act were two guys on a spinning hamster wheel contraption. Though their tricks were impressive, I liked when they started dancing to pump up the crowd. Jared preferred the motorcycle cage to my dancing hamster boys, and at the end they had eight motorcycles in one circle cage.
Despite the weather, we really enjoyed out time in Beijing. I’m sad that we won’t be visiting any more Asian countries for awhile. Knowing this was our last Asian trip, we talked a lot about our favorite vacations and the places we wish we could have visited. There’s not a single trip that we would have traded though- no regrets!
Next post: The Great Wall!