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December 14th 2005
Published: February 20th 2006
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Fiona in Tianamen SquareFiona in Tianamen SquareFiona in Tianamen Square

The famous view of Tianamen Square with the Peoples' Monument and Mao's Mausoleum in the centre and the 'Hall of the People' (i.e the Congress Hall) to the left
Finally getting around to more recent times in our journey...

As mentioned previously we had the complicated border crossing on 7 December. We were able to enjoy the last full day on the Trans-Siberian on 8 December and arrived in Beijing Central Station at the inconvenient time of 5.00 am on 9 December.

We will never forget the chaos of our arrival. It was dark. It was cold. We were tired. And we did not speak Chinese. The square outside the station was flooded with people demanding that we take their expensive taxis or stay in their expensive hotels. Loudspeakers blasted something in Chinese that we didn't understand. Mini-buses and taxis wizzed around us. We finally found our hostel--across the street!--after almost an hour of helpless wandering around the area.

We had only a few days in Beijing. We had little idea how spread out the city actually is. Our hostel is situated close to the Forbidden City in our map, yet it took 45 minutes to walk there.

Here is a summary of our sights and experiences...

Tiananmen Square and the surrounding area...

The square is vast and the entrance to the Forbidden City,
Tianamen GateTianamen GateTianamen Gate

The entrance to the Forbidden City still watched over by Mao.
with its portrait of "Chariman Mao" is foreboding. Next to the square is the massive People's Congress Building, i.e. "Parliament."

We toured the Forbidden City. It was huge and a cold day--not a good combination. It seems to us that the Chinese palaces are basically huge courtyards with central temples. The tourist thus spends a lot of time outdoors and exposed to the elements. The architecture is colorful and detailed. We saw the curved roofs and dragon symbols one expects to see in China.

Confucias Temple and Imperial College

Yet another temple complex with a big statue of Confucias. We found the Imperial College particularly interesting. Established in the 14th century, the Imperial College was created for civil servants to be well versed in Chinese wisdom and morality. It was a school for promoting the principles of Chinese statesmanship. On display were some of the cheat-sheets and notes from the candidates.

Tea Houses...

Everyone knows that China is renowned for its tea. Yet few Westerners actually get to try the real stuff. The tea in China is simply amazing. The Chinese take their tea very seriously and a proper tea ceremony enables the visitor to
The Great WallThe Great WallThe Great Wall

No, we didn't walk it all, we admit, we took the cable car up the hill!
appreciate the best quality teas and the ancient rituals which bring out the best flavors. We had a small tea house in our hosel and our lovely hostess there, Julie, let us try several kinds. After a cold day wandering Beijing we would look forward to returning to the hostel to chat with Julie and try some Black Pu'er tea from the Western provinces. We also appreciated a more formal tea house and ceremony across the street from the Confucias Temple.

The Great Wall...

Not exactly in Beijing, but the section we saw was an hour drive North. We were out of breath walking and climbing just a small section of this. We had a small picnic next to the wall after climbing down some stairs. Very impressed by this.


Beijing is being reworked in preparation for the Olympics. Construction crews and equipment are everywhere. We are told that the city is being transformed and looks different than just five years ago. Many of the charming side streets (hutongs, as they are called) and the interesting "disorder" of the small shops and restaurants are being replaced by modernity. Let us hope
Julie's Tea House Julie's Tea House Julie's Tea House

Enjoying a tea ceremony at the lovely tea house in our hostel
that the Beijing authorities in the name of "development" do not entirely forget the charm that makes China so attractive in the first place.

Food ...

Yes, we did manage to have Peking Duck in Peking. They bring the whole duck (head and all) to the table and carve it in front of you. A delicious meal for two all for less than seven pounds (ten dollars). Beyond that we are sampling some wonderful Chinese fare such as dumplings, noodles, rice and stir-frys. There is a large variety of it! But we have yet to see a fortune cookie!


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