Day 3: China Adventure – Beijing & The Forbidden City
Our third day in Beijing started off with breakfast. Then, we headed out for another full day of sightseeing!
Our first stop was Tiananmen Square. On our way to the square, our tour guide mentioned that she does not know the full story of what happened in 1989 (Tiananmen Square Massacre) because it is still censored by the Chinese government. She also said not to ask her any questions about it once we were in the square as there are cameras and microphones everywhere.
With that piece of advice, we left our bus and walked to the largest square in the world. It has a capacity of 500,000 people – an absolutely staggering number! At one end of the square was Chairman Mao’s mausoleum with a line of Chinese people that wait over 2 hours to see him. It reminded me of the line to see the Pope in at the Vatican. Chairman Mao is credited with founding what our tour guide called “Modern China” or the Peoples Republic of China. People save up their entire lives to make the pilgrimage to Beijing and one of the reasons is to see Chairman Mao’s body. Our Contiki Manager told us a story about her last tour where she saw two old men running together towards the mausoleum. They held each other’s hands so they wouldn’t lose each other. Regardless of my opinion of what happened in that square 26 years ago, that story is pretty telling about the Chinese people’s respect for Mao Zedong.
The square was also flanked by the National Museum of China and a political building. The fourth side of the square was the Forbidden City which was our next stop, but not before a group photo and other photo ops!
One of the old towers near the square
The main gate of the Forbidden City is in the background.
Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum
A statue in front of the mausoleum
Main gate of the Forbidden City
Me in front of the main gate of the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was absolutely gorgeous and was the home to the Emperor until the early 20th century. Now there is a new home for the Chairman and the Forbidden City is open to tourists.
In an effort to protect the inhabitants, you had to pass through three gates in order to get in.
The Inner Golden Water River
The art was so intricate
We learned that the importance of a building was identified by the number of animals at each corner
The Imperial Gardens
The Imperial Gardens
After the Forbidden City, we went to the 798 Art Zone which reminded me of East Berlin. It is comprised of old factories that were turned into art galleries, restaurants and other strange shops. For example, there was a “skull” store, a robot store and a panda store!
One of the pieces of art involved a very fat Mickey Mouse
This graffiti was on the side of a shipping container
After having lunch at the art district, we headed to the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics! Our tour guide explained that China wanted to use the 2008 Olympics as their coming out party to the rest of the world. Other than investing billions of dollars, the Chinese government tried to “Westernize” the people of Beijing. For example, Chinese people do not queue in line, it is more of a shoving match to get where you want to go. Every Tuesday night leading up to the Olympics, the government had the police host mandatory “queuing lessons” where they made people leave their houses and go into the street to practice standing in line! Another example is the Chinese spit a lot, so they had public relations campaigns to try and curb the spitting in the street. As far as the weather goes, China used “anti-cloud” fireworks to try to improve the weather during the Olympic Games. The government also installed radiators in many coal burning houses to minimize the smog in the atmosphere.
Me in front of the Bird’s Nest
Me in front of the Water Cube
After the Olympic Stadiums, we retired to the hotel for a quick break before dinner. For dinner, we went to our Contiki Tour Manager’s favorite pizza place in all of China. In order to get there, we had to take the public bus 3 stops and it was worth it. The restaurant was in a hutong or one of the old traditional residential areas of Beijing. This area was hit particularly hard in 2003 with the Bird Flu, so it was gentrified into a bar area. It was essentially 100+ bars and restaurants next to Houhai Lake – similar to Epcot’s World Showcase. After pizza, we went to a rooftop bar to take in the amazing atmosphere.