Last week I spoke of our plane sitting on the tarmac at Wuhan Airport waiting to fly to Beijing. After a small delay we were on our way again, receiving wonderful Asian hospitality. This consisted of a snack and later, a delicious lunch, Asian or Western, your choice. Eventually, we landed in the fabled city, enduring again the customs ritual.
We took a cab to the Jianguo Garden Hotel and collapsed into bed. The next few days were full of experiences I don’t believe I will ever forget. Sharon had arranged for a van and driver, Mr. Wu and for a guide named Amelia. After a visit to a jade workshop and a cloisonné store, we were taken to The Badalong Gate of The Great Wall. We rode the cable car part way and then walked up to one of the watchtowers, stopping several times on the way to catch our breath. There, we were able to look out to the North over what would have been part of Mongolia, centuries ago. We could see the magnificent wall snaking away along the ridges of the barren mountains.
As I imagined the Mongolian hordes galloping toward the wall on their wild little ponies, I was snapped out of my reverie by a young Chinese woman who put her arm around me and her head next to mine. Her husband was grinning at us from a few steps below, camera at the ready. Sharon explained that it was a novelty for this young woman to have her photo taken with a little old white lady from away! This happened more than a few times and we found it fun to be considered an oddity. The day ended with a dinner of Peking Duck. Oh my! I can still taste it! Just as you must not miss at least touching The Wall, you must have Peking Duck in Peking, or Beijing whichever you call it.
The next morning, after a refreshing sleep, we continued our adventure with Mr. Wu and Amelia.
On the agenda was a visit to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. There are simply no words to describe how it felt to stand in the enormous square and be surrounded by the vast numbers of Chinese citizens visiting their famous capital city for the first time.
By 2010, many Chinese were now able to afford the pilgrimage to this place. I thought of the young man who stood fast before the tanks in that famous photo taken in 1989 and wondered what happened to him. I watched in fascination at the endless line of people waiting to enter the mausoleum to see the embalmed body of Mao Tse Tung lying in a glass lidded casket.
The air crackled with history. The Forbidden City was next. Having a lifelong interest in architecture, I found myself enthralled by the curving forms of the roofs, the gargoyles at the upturned corners and the architecturally designed gardens. There was a permanence to the buildings, walls and decorative features not seen in most North American architecture. There were many gates and doorways with high sills that must be stepped over. These sills were created to foil the evil spirits in ancient times. There are nearly one thousand buildings spread over 720,000 square meters, so you can understand that we only saw a small part of the complex.
Next week, I will tell you about the amazing historic hutong and the Empress’s Summer Palace with its Stone Boat.