Beijing was a whirl wind of sightseeing. Every day was packed full of history, shopping, food, and of course people. More on shopping and food later. I'll tell you about the places we visited in Beijing first.
Tiananmen Square. This is the first place we visited and it was the first time I experienced being bum rushed for photos. So weird. This place was packed (as was every single other place we went to in China) and I felt like I was getting stared at as much as the Tower, Monuments and Great Hall. Brad and I took a picture with Chairman Mao, his photo is on the Great Hall.
Forbidden City. This place is right next door to Tiananmen Square, so we went here right after the Square. This former imperial palace is really a city, it's huge! There are 9,999 rooms, a moat, a huge wall, huge gates, and beautiful buildings. It is the worlds largest palace complex. There are different halls named such wonderful things as: Hall of Supreme Harmony, Palace of Heavenly Purity and Palace of Earthly Tranquility.
We went on a rickshaw tour through Beijing's hutongs and got to see how Chinese people live and get a taste of the local flavor by being invited into a hutong to make dumplings. Ummm the hutongs were not in great shape, and not to sound snobby, but they reminded me of the slums or the projects and I wanted to get out of there. Not that it was unsafe, it is just always hard for me to see people so poor. There were children playing in rubble and garbage in the alley. And plus, I felt really really bad for this poor man who had to take Brad and I around on his rickshaw. The poor old man was huffing and puffing and even had to get off the bike and walk us up a hill. Yikes!
The Summer Palace is another massive palace complex, but this one is on the water and we got to take a dragon boat cross the Kunming Lake. This royal park has beautiful Chinese gardens and traditional style Chinese buildings such as towers, pavilions, bridges and corridors. Here you can find places with names like: Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, Hall of Benevolence and Longevity and Garden of Harmonious Interest.
I was really excited to go see the Temple of Heaven because, as I mentioned before, I had read a travelogue book on China with that temple in the title. The Temple of Heaven is not only beautiful, it's surrounded by park land. We went here in the early morning before catching our flight to Xian and the park was full of people doing dance classes, Tai Chi, and other workouts. We even saw one man practicing his swordsmanship! The locals also make these feather things with a weighted end that they kick around in a group like hacky sac. They were really good, it was so fun to watch them. People gathered to play card games and dominoes. People brought out their pet birds, grasshoppers and crickets. All the trees were blooming and the park was just so picturesque and peaceful.
Beijing was a dichotomy of beautiful flowering trees under a smog filled sky, streets full of buses and cars and also rickshaws and bicycles, and mountains of modern buildings and commerce interspersed with ancient hutongs and historical sites. China is truly where there is an in-with-the-new mentality, but not out-with-the-old. They seem to have a mix of old and new mentalities that somehow mesh and work for their culture. Fascinating.
Above you can see the packed-to-the-rafters bus. All of them were like that! Everywhere in China was like that. And you can see a mom with her young sons in front and behind her on the scooter. Yeah, that seems safe with the insane amount of traffic and drivers on the road! In Beijing our tour guide was explaining that there is something like 700 new cars on the road every day. People have to go through a crazy application process to get a license and a car. And even when you have a car the government tells you what days you can drive to try and limit the huge amount of cars on the road. Chinese government wanted to support the automobile industry, so they told the people they would pay for part of the car if they bought one, so everyone went out and bought cars. The traffic in China is insane! It is like a giant free for all, traffic rules and lanes are kind of just guidelines and no one really pays attention to lights. It was really something!
And ok, one more important thing about Chinese culture... the babies, the kids, wear split pants. Split pants as in from crotch to crack it's open, they just let their junk hang out. This is so when the kid has to go all they have to do is squat wherever they happen to be and go. Aren't the moms worried the kid is going to poop down their arm when they carry them? Aren't the dads afraid the kid is going to piss down his back when he gives them a piggy back ride? I have no idea how this works, but I saw a lot of little kids squatting and going right out in the busy street, market, park, anywhere. On the plane ride from Beijing to Xian a child in split pants actually shit all over the seat and no one (Chinese) seemed to blink an eye. Talk about a cultural difference!