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Published: September 25th 2012
This morning we had our first Chinese breakfast, and it was quite spectacular. Besides tea, coffee, cereal, milk, and juices, we had baby bok choi, orange and purple sweet potatoes, congee rice (like po rridge), edamame, kimchi, seaweed salad, something like French toast, spring rolls, watermelon, and grapes. We feel surprisingly energetic given the time shift and managed to make our bodies sleep a few hours between 1 and 6 a.m. (p.m. At home).
Our first tour destination was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I always like the first venture out in a country, when everything looks strange and new. Here we notice the large number of bikes on the road as well as the great variety in their shapes and sizes. Bikes towing carts, bikes with second seats, bikes completely enclosed in glass and metal, like mini cars to keep out the rain. China's one-child policy is also evident, first from the scarcity of small children and also from the fact that when you see one, it is always an "only." Awfully cute and well-dressed, too!
Tiananmen Sq. is dominated by the portrait of Chairman Mao, who looks out over this vast open space. Since the 2008
Olympics, two large video screens, or walls, rather, have been erected in the square, and beautiful scenes from around China are continually projected there. We took the obligatory tourist photos in the square and then entered through the first gate into the Forbidden City, so named for being closed to the public until the 20th century. This, too, was vast, with courtyard after courtyard, all surrounded by Ming dynasty palaces and government buildings used by the emperors from 1420 on. The movie, The Last Emperor, was filmed here, and showed the elaborate lifestyle of the emperor, the empress, and hundreds of concubines and eunuchs who served them, the only other people allowed inside.
We had been warned about huge crowds, but this did not seem to be a major problem. Certainly a day at Disneyland is much worse!
After this three-hour tour, we were bussed over to Wang Fu Ying shopping area, a pedestrian street with an interesting mix of modern dept. stores (Forever 21, Gap, etc.) and food stalls selling squid, crabs, little squabs, ducks, and many things we couldn't name. Not having had the chance to change money yet, we didn't indulge, but some sesame buns
looked very tempting.
As I write, we are stuck in Beijing traffic, which is worse than anything we encountered in LA. We are heading to a restaurant for Peking Duck. Sadly, it has started to rain pretty seriously.
Our trip guide, Michael, and local guide, Mick, have been excellent, and our 14 co-travelers pleasant. I think we are the youngest but not by much. We seem to have a predominance of (retired) professors and teachers from all over the U.S.
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