Friday, April 10, 2009

Back from China - reflections on Day 1

I know, I should have been writing during the experience but every time I attempted to write anything in my journal I felt overwhelmed and at a loss. Granted, the trip was a completely whirlwind tour and by the time we returned to the hotel, I simply wanted to lay my head on the pillow. Each day started early from 8am or 9:30am and ended with us returning to the hotel by 9pm or 10pm. There was no real time to wander or take the subway to a new area. That was the regrettable thing about the tour pretty much zero free time to see something outside the agenda. However, I did see practically everything that should be on a person's list to see in China.

Day 1 in China is a bit of blur. We landed in the morning at 5:30am, where we were met by the lovely Lisa, our guide in Beijing. She is wonderful and I will have to email her a letter about how fantastic a guide she is. That day we dropped off our luggage, freshed-up and then set about touring Tiananmen(Tianamen Square), the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Here are some of my pictures from that day. My camera batteries ran out during the tour and it was some time before I could buy some batteries so I stopped photographing in the Forbidden City. That was a blessing because I could actually walk around (in my jetlag daze) enjoying and taking in the sites, sounds and smells of the areas.

Walking in Tianamen Square was very surreal. First, I could not believe I was standing there, it was like a book or a photograph come to life. Second, the number of people visiting the square was incredible. I suppose, it is comparable to the Mall in Washington D.C. The line outside the Mausoleum to Mao Zedong was long and efficient. It wrapped around and around the Mausoleum and did not stop. Also, during one of our 3 day sessions before the trip, one of the professors mentioned how every square block that makes up the square is watched by the military. All I know about Tiananmen Square is the riots and/or protests that took place that there in 1989. That knowledge and the thought that someone was watching (plains clothes and in uniform and with surveillance cameras) made me a bit nervous. However, that was definitely lightened up when George G. started dancing with the first gate to the Forbidden City in the background.

The Forbidden City is breathtakingly gigantic. I cannot believe that amount of space has been left untouched but it has. There is an unimaginable series of construction projects going on in all three cities we visited. It was a lot to absorb how the Emperors and Empresses lived during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Words really cannot describe it.

We also went to the Temple of Heaven. After the crowds of the Forbidden City, it was nice to walk through the Temple of Heaven. It is also a huge expanse of space and like the wikipedia article states there were a lot of people exercising there. Most of them used this weird hacky sack-like toy. It looks a bit like a badminton birdie and I really wished I had time to take a picture of one but it has feathers and a couple of misshaped disks at one end and you toss it to the next person like a hacky sack. People were also picnicking, singing and making music in the park. It was lively and looked like a great place to just spend the day people watching. I do not really go to the parks in LA but I know we don't really have people hanging out making good music and not expecting money. There was a 5 or 6 piece band playing along the long corridor at one point and they were great! I know someone has video of it.

It is also interesting how everything is built on an axis. All the major significant buildings are built on this main axis that I suppose it blessed in a way. The Forbidden City, the Mausoleum to Mao Zedong, the Temple of Heaven, the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube all align perfectly.

During the evening, we enjoyed a Chinese banquet dinner at the world famous Peking duck restaurant. It was pretty incredible even though I was half asleep. If you have not had Peking duck, you should definitely try it.

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