We visited Beijing, the capital of China, this past weekend. My class is scheduled from Monday through Thursday so we have great opportunity to play tourist on the weekends.
Beijing is a completely gorgeous city! It’s clean, organized, friendly, so very interesting with its history and tradition along with the very modern and contemporary. If there is squalor and poverty we didn’t see it.
We traveled from Tianjin to Beijing on the high-speed train, which -- at 200 mph, took only half an hour to go the 130 kilometers. It was fast, smooth and cheap – only about $10.
We were shown through Beijing by a recommended guide named Wu Hao, aka Glenn, who turned out to be very nice. It is customary, we learned, for the Chinese to take an Americanized nick name when they are in contact with English speaking folks. We have students in my wine class class with such names as Coke, Misty, Shirley, Julia, and today we met Ringo. This is typical of the courtesy they offer in making visitors feel at home.
Glenn’s Chinese given name is pronounced “How” (“just don’t call me How Much”). He took us by cab to our hotel, then on to a museum of cultural and social development. There we looked at fascinating displays of the historical and modern configuration of Beijing. Hao is a passionate student of Chinese culture and history and enriched us beyond words with his knowledge and embrace of all things Chinese.
Our next stop was Tiananmen Square. It’s the largest city square in the world and contains the mausoleum of Mao, the capitol building (huge!), the National Museum of treasures and the first gate to the Forbidden City.
We also visited some local shopping areas where we learned that retail is an aggressive contact sport in China with sales tactics that make one cower into the street. We became good “bargainers” and at Hao’s insistence learned to counter a 100 yuen price with an offer of 20. This is great sport but not for the faint of heart. A Yuen or is exchanged at about 6.7 per U.S. dollar or around 16 cents per Yuen. Great bargains exist if you’re sure of what you are getting.
On Saturday morning we had a Buick minivan and a driver to take us and Hao to the Ming Tombs and to The Great Wall. The Ming Tombs are the final resting place of many of the Ming Dynasty Emperors located in the country at the base of a horseshoe shaped mountain foot hill area. There are 13 tombs located in a few square miles, the oldest being the largest and subsequent tombs are all smaller than the previous ones. The Chinese revere their ancestors and to build a tomb grander than one’s father’s would be an insult.
The countryside was just beautiful with field crops, cherry and peach and apple blossoms. It is quite a thrill to actually stand on the Great Wall and see it gallop over the mountains. It is 6,530 kilometers long and is mostly original construction material hewn from the mountains it stands on. There were lots of people there – mostly Chinese -- and all of them were in awe of the Wall. We returned to Beijing for a wonderful dinner of Beijing Duck, a fantastic dish.
On Sunday we visited the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing. This was the main residence of the emperors since the 1400s. It is a fabulous and extensive enclave with a moat around it. There are three main gates to enter, all with a central arch that only the emperor may pass through. This is a very rich and historic monument to the royalty and is continually being restored by the Chinese government, a long and expensive process.
There were at least 10,000 people there the day we went. The only way to see some of the buildings was to literally shove your way in and be shoved back. The on-site Museum of Treasures contained a huge amount of gold in jewelry, statues and gilded figures.
From there we went to the Lama Temple and learned about Buddhism and saw a 26-meter statue of Buddha. The Temple was very impressive, as were the number of visitors praying, burning incense, and the number of monks.
The last stop on Sunday was the Summer Palace, several miles from the Forbidden City. This palace is in contrast with to Forbidden City because it has not been restored and looks very worn out and fragile. This was the residence of the Emperors and Empresses in favorable weather and has a rich history complete with photographs of such notables as Cixi, the Empress Dowager.
Cixi was meaner than the Wicked Witch of the West and is credited with locking her nephew, the current Emperor, into his quarters by building a brick wall around him and murdering his favorite concubine by shoving her in a well. The property boasts the longest corridor in the world, more than ½ mile in length and is located on the property between the main compound and the hill housing the Buddhist Temples.
On Monday we took a short trip to the Temple of Heaven. The wonderful, large garden and grounds, and long corridor also are used by senior citizens, as a social and exercise venue. There were all sorts of games, dances and just hangin’ out going on and a lot of happy old faces.
From there we were taken to the train station for the fast ride back to Tianjin and our evening wine class we teach at the university. (Photo at top is Tiananmen Square with young lady in traditional costume -- In front of Mao's mausoleum. At bottom is Prof. Barry Gump at the Temple of Heaven, trying to keep a yoyo-like toy on its strings.)