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Beijing – by David

by on July 30, 2016

We’re finally getting caught up on blogging … (which is a sign that we’re less wrung out emotionally in Kyoto than we were in Beijing)

We had 3 days in Beijing, and squeezed in as many of the top sights as we could, given the huge city and the unbelievable traffic causing it to take forever to get from one sight to the next.  But without our awesome guide “Sunny”, and our very gutsy and aggressive driver “Mr. Moe”, we would have just been stuck in our hotel room.

First day, we started at Tiananmen Square.  I thought it was going to be fun to walk and look around.  NOT.  At 10am it was already over 95 degrees, and there were about a million people in the square. Most of them were waiting in a 4-hour line to go to Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and get 30 seconds’ view of him.  

We passed on this opportunity, not that I wouldn’t have found it interesting.  Maybe in January next time.  But we did get a photo at the Square.   

Like the color of the Beijing sky?  Fortunately it was just visual haze… It didn’t affect our breathing.

And no, I didn’t unfurl a “Freedom” banner at Tiananmen Square.   I’ve suggested doing all sorts of crazy things, and actually done some of them! The kids roll their eyes at me.

Then we went to the Forbidden City temple complex.  I thought it was going to be fun to walk and look around.  NOT. At 11 am it was already over 105 degrees, and everyone from the square was there, and there were zero trees and the stone was very hot.  The complex is HUGE, with nestled layers of temples within courtyards. So we got a rhythm… fight our way through the crowds to get through a gate, find a somewhat-shady spot, drink water, look at the temple, fight the crowds to get the door of the temple to look in, take a photo, then rinse and repeat.  And when passing a water stand, buy some more bottles.  

By the time we got to the garden at the end (the only green spot in the place), we literally didn’t have the energy to look at it… we just needed to get out.  Maybe in January next time.

Cooling down in the afternoon, we had a nice visit to a tea store, where they gave us a nice tasting of different flavors. I liked the “oolong” best, others liked jasmine, hibiscus or fruit.   Wikipedia says “Oolong is especially popular with tea connoisseurs” so I guess that’s me.   And holy oolong, they like their tea water hot!

Then we went to the Temple of Heaven.  They say it’s their most important monument and the most iconic image of China; the Emperor did the exact same ceremony there to bring a good harvest, every year for 600+ years…

We suspect that getting a good harvest was the best thing the emperor could do to stay in power.  We also think the only thing anywhere close to that level of continuity in America is the Thanksgiving feast.

Day 2, we went to the Great Wall.  Quite a day, and a lot of exercise.

(For those in the know, we saw it at the Mutianyu section… there are many places to see it. This is the same section that Michelle Obama and Sasha and Malia saw…. there were pictures of them everywhere.)

We got an early start, so after a pretty long drive we were on the wall by 10am… which is a darn good thing because it’s just you, the wall, and the sun bouncing off the rock into your face.  We walked about a mile on the wall, and got a rhythm…. Walk to a watch tower, find a shady spot, drink water, look around, take a photo, then rinse and repeat.   

But it was truly cool, and seeing the wall stretching across the tops of the mountains as far as you can see (in the haze) in each direction was amazing.


And here we are with Sunny, our guide… who never broke a sweat even though wearing skinny jeans for the hiking

At this section you can ride the few-thousand feet to the top of the mountain in a cable car, and you can come down on an “alpine slide” sled… so we of course did those and saved a lot of wear and tear on our knees. But we let Alex and Anna go first down the slide, since Mom and Dad don’t like to go as fast as they do.

In the evening we saw the famous Peking (NOT “Beijing”) Acrobats.  They did lots of amazing and “impossible” tricks. But we all commented afterward that we were surprised by the low production values…  there were mis-steps and mistakes that no Las Vegas show would ever make. Example:  one guy stacks up a bunch of chairs and balances on the top one, and he stacked so many chairs that he was up above the arch of the stage (yes, I know, it’s the “proscenium”) and you couldn’t see him!  You’d think someone would say “hey, if we use one fewer chair, people might be able to see”.

Next day started at Olympic Park.  We REALLY enjoyed walking around the Bird’s Nest stadium; it’s one of the world’s most amazing structures.  The guys who built it must have been cursing at the architect the entire time. Our driver kept calling our guide and asking “where are you?”, because most people spend 30 minutes and we spent 2 hours.

 We went to a (very big) jade store and Anna bought a small necklace that is very pretty.


We had about the most “authentic” Chinese-food lunch on the planet, at a hole-in-the-wall dive.  It wasn’t bad… not too Sichuan-spicy, and the kids actually enjoyed it.

We spent the afternoon at the Summer Palace, where the (only female) emperor used to go to get away from the heat.  (I don’t know why… it was just as hot as anywhere else). There were only half a million people there, so it was an improvement over the other sights. There is a very long covered walkway with over 8,000 unique paintings (and 80,000 unique walkers), and the marble boat is cool.  

We also enjoyed a boat ride across the lake. The 700-acre lake was dug BY HAND, and the mountain (2 miles away) in the background is man-made… it’s the pile of dirt from the lake!   Like I said a few blogs ago, China is very good at building big things.


On the way to the airport on the last day, we had a very delightful stop at Confucius’ temple, on the site where he ran his school.  I wish we had had more time there… all the other palaces you can only look into the buildings from outside, but this one we were able to go in and see the details.  I enjoyed it greatly.


Oh, one big sight… on the last morning, we actually saw blue sky… the first time in 10 days in China that the haze cleared enough to see blue.

So, that is what we did in Beijing.

Random notes:

I was a bit disappointed that pretty much all these sights are not original.  Just about every sight had a sign “a temple was here in 1300 but it burned down in 1500, was rebuilt, was destroyed by the Japanese in 1850, was rebuilt in 1920, fell into disrepair, was rebuilt in 1980”, etc.  Even the Great Wall, the sections that were not renovated in 2002 are crumbling ruins (which we didn’t see).  We liked a quote we saw:  “This was my grandfather’s sword, but my father replaced the handle and I replaced the blade.. so is it really my grandfather’s sword?”

All our guides asked “why the heck would you visit China in the summer?”  Well, that’s our only option. They were also surprised that we didn’t need to pee too much after ingesting so much water… it was sweating out as fast as we drank it.

MANY kids (and adults!) in China came up to us giggling, wanting to take their picture standing by tall Americans.  It happened to David most, but they liked Alex too

On the Summer Palace boat a big crowd of girls wanted pictures with Anna.

And a lot of kids and adults enjoyed practicing their English with us.





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