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Published: April 29th 2012
Us at Tianenman Square
Chairman Mao in background
There is too much to see in Beijing in three days. To me it is a great city being the political and cultural capital of one of the World's great nations. There are other places that are bigger, even in China. Shanghai has 13 million people and Beijing only has 12 million, and I get the impression that Shanghai would feel quite smug about beating Beijing at anything (think Wanaka v Queenstown on a rather larger scale). In terms of sheer numbers there are dozens of places in China that I have never heard of with populations of more than 6 million people. Chongqing (heard of that?) has 34 million people living there!
According the our guide Candy, Shanghai is brashness whereas Beijing is culture. Tianenman Square and the Forbidden City. Beijing Opera. The Great Wall of China. Peking Duck.
So we set about ticking a few of them off. Heathen that I am, I've been to Beijing before three times and never been to the Great Wall.
First stop was Tianenman Square and the Forbidden City, where I did go last time but had obviously forgotten about the crowds. Tianenman Square is enormous but there were people
Forbidden City Kissing Tree
everywhere. Big groups of Chinese tourists from outlying areas, come to town with their matching caps. The que to walk past Mao Tse tung's crystal tomb was probably 2000 metres long, all local (older) Chinese paying their respects. The younger Chinese, such as Candy, would not do that. They are a different breed. Like younger people everywhere else, they worship ipods and iphones.
It was an interesting experience for the boys and Susan. Given her time again, I suspect that Susan would select a different ensemble rather than a white top and white pants to go with her blond hair in Forbidden City. I'm sure this was something that many of the Chinese tourists from far flung parts had never ever seen before. The boys, and particularly Seth being the smallest, also came in for a huge amount of attention and fascination. Some just stared whereas many more wanted photos. Some asked and some just took.
Forbidden City was where the Emperors of the Ming and Qin dynasties lived with their entourages. Beihei Park, where we went next, is one of the peaceful parks that abound in the city, complete with boating lake, temple etc. It dates back
to the 12th century. I can see that some inspiration for Dunedin's Chinese Garden may have come from here. Like all the public parks and green areas, there were crowds of people enjoying the balmy weather. We saw this theme again at the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, also both significant historical sites. In fact, the grounds and paths around the Temple of Heaven were full of groups of older locals doing tai chi, practising ballroom dancing with music blearing, playing badminton and hack sack. The boys joined in with a group of oldies playing hackysack and had a great time trying to match the skills of some of these old people who were clearly enjoying themselves.
The Great Wall of China has to be one of the great wonders of the world. There were two things that really stuck out for me about the Wall. One, the sheer steepness of it. And two, the crowds, again. We decided to climb right to the top for a couple of reasons, firstly for a bit of fitness work, and trust me it was a good workout. The second reason was that we figured the higher you go the
less people there would be. That proved to be correct even though it was still crowded at the top by kiwi standards. The view itself from the top was sort of ruined in part due to the smog, but to stand on the Great Wall in person is a day to remember because it is mind boggling to see for yourself the sheer scale of it. This was a highlight for me.
We also visited the Ming Tombs which are out of the city as well. They are significant because 13 Emperors dating between about 1300 and 1700AD are entombed there including Zhu De. He was emperor from 1402 to 1424 and was responsible for many things, including building the Forbidden City and making Beijing the capital, ramping up relatins with other countries via trade, silk route etc.
We didn't go to the Beijing Opera but we did go the the opera in Beijing. Twice. Thanks to good advice from Candy. the first was to The Legend of Kung Fu at the Red Theatre. This was outstanding with a beautiful story and some fantastic athleticism. The next time was to the Acrobatic Opera which was incredible.
to the food we ate in Beijing I've now developed a few more ideas for my own cooking nights at home here on Sunday nights. We did Peking Duck one night. One day we had Hot Pot where you have a boiling pot in front of you and you pile in the noodles, sauces, veges and meat to your liking. That was when I also tried something new - cubes of dried duck's blood. Didn't kill me but I must admit, I was trying to focus my mind on other things as it was slithering down my throat. For a light reprieve on the Thursday night, I'm ashamed to admit, we also had that most authentic of Chinese culinary delights, McDonalds. And, would you believe it, the Big Mac was the same as the last one I had in Queenstown about a year ago.
Of course we did a bit more market shopping. One stall owner tried hard to sell me yet another fake watch. I did not secumb, but I strung her along for long enought that she actually managed to get my recently purchased fake rolex to go properly. So not only was this Mawhinneys 1 Beijing
traders nil, but also now Russell 1 Susan 1. A great result.
We couldn't come to Beijing and not see the Olympic Park where the Birdsnest and the Water Cube are located. Michael Phelps picked up 8 gold medals at the swimming in the Water Cube. In our swimming-mad family it was always going to be worth a look, and it is a huge complex.
Another thing we did was a rickshaw ride through one of the city's hutongs. A hutong is like a traditional low rise suburb, complete with lanes and alleyways, and lots of tiny local sidewalk shops. There are some moves afoot to hoover the hutongs and replace them with high rise apartment blocks. If they do that they will kill the soul of the city. No doubt though it will happen in time, sadly but inevitably.
Susan hasn't been overley fussed about Beijing. Maybe its the crowds and the smog. The fact that people here don't recognise anything like the personal space that we are used to. But with the ornate buildings and the history and culture, and the friendliness of the people won me over.
Now we have an overnight train
Going up the Great Wall
trip to Xian. Our version of the Orient Express. This should be interesting.
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