We arrived in Beijing at about 0530 hours this morning after a 12 1/2 hour long flight into the most beautiful and modern airport I have ever seen. Because of the 2008 Olympics, there are some incredible buildings that were built.
Before you can go through immigration you must pass through a thermal body scanner that takes your temperature, and warns you will be put in quaratine if you are sick. This in conjunction with many people wearing respiratory masks gave us the willies.
To save money and not miss a chance for a cultural experience, I decided that we would take the subway to our hotel, instead of taking the "easy" way by taxi. What a beautiful public transit system this country has. The subway did not smell of urine, and there were no homeless beggars lurking about.
Our hotel was in the hutongs, which were built after Genghis Khan's army reduced Beijing to rubble. It is a historic part of the city consisiting of narrow alleyways filled with courtyard homes. These homes traditionally have a red door on the street, which once you pass through opens into a beautiful courtyard area, surrounded by doors to rooms.
Our courtyard has a koi pond, bridge, bar and couches to lounge on. The family that owns this place still lives on premises with their children, so it feels more like a "homestay."
Upon arrival this morning I found out that our Tibet permits are here, and in hand!
We walked to the bus station and took a local bus to the nearest section of the Great Wall in Badaling which is about 50 miles away. During the walk through the local narrow alleyways and streets, it was incredible to think we were walking through one of the most populated cities on earth because it was so clean, serene and quiet. The streets were filled with bicycles and rickshaws, all swirling in a chaotic swarm of traffic. There are dedicated bike lanes on the city roads that are as wide as two lanes of traffic.
The Great Wall itself was an incredible sight, seeing it meander over the rugged mountainous terrain. It is even more impressive in person when you see just how steep it is, and know that it was constructed 2000 years ago. Apparently the wall failed at its purpose to serve as a fortification,
but then it later became a sort of highway system in which the local population traveled on to avoid the treacherous mountains.
The bus ride back from the wall we found was not the same as the outbound, and turned out to make every local stop along the way. It was standing room only, and when I mean standing room, the Chinese have no concept of any personal space, how can you in such a populus place? However, me not being Chinese, was on the verge of panic attack for our 2 1/2 hour ride, most of which was standing as If I was at a concert with bodies pressed against mine, but the band never came on stage.
Later in the day we blitzed through Tiananmen square and then on to the Forbidden City. The only images of Chairman Mao I had seen all day were when we were at Tiananmen square. For a communist country I was surprised, and somewhat disappointed not to see at every corner overt displays of communist propaghanda.
As I had suspected, Chinese food is nothing like the American version. I spent most of ther day sampling snacks at every cart
exuding some sort of incredible smell. Perhaps the most delicious was a huge sweet potato that you peel and eat like a banana as you walk down the street.
We finished up an exhausting day by taking a hair raising rickshaw back to the hotel.
Tomorrow off to Tibet...I hope!
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