A week plus in Beijing

We have had a great week with Jim in Beijing. He had a great itinerary worked out for us in half day blocks. We have managed to see The Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, The Llama Temple, the Confucious Temple, a variety of shopping from expansive inexpensive markets, to reasonable and super deluxe (not so reasonable) shopping malls, and an exquisite menagerie of fantastic restaurants. Jim’s wife, Letty, only got home from Mexico on Saturday and spent Sunday catching up on work and sleep before they both had to return to work this morning, (Monday January 8).

The Forbidden City was a large walled and moated administrative center for the Chinese government starting around the mid 1400’s. It was pretty vast, but cool to see the incredibly old buildings and huge piazza’s. The cobblestone here is about the same age as Machu Picchu but was in much worse shape. They have redone sections of about 3m wide pathways for tourists, but left most of the other areas. The buildings were in pretty good shape and Jim emphasized how packed it would be in the Summer, Spring and Fall seasons. We didn’t take much time to wander through most of the buildings, only stopping in a few at the core to check out the artifacts. At the entrance was a gate tower, (really a taller gymnasium sized building) over top of the moat that provided a fantastic view of Tienanmen Square.

Tienanmen Square

After touring the Forbidden City we ventured to the edge of the road to take in where all the tank action had happened. The road here is huge (eight lanes) and completely uncrossable, so we used the subway access to get to the other side. The square was incredibly vast and just emanated “history” as we strolled along in no particular direction. “If only these bricks could talk” was a lament that frequently buzzed through our minds. I later read that Tiananmen is the largest civic plaza in the world, and at 500m by 800+ that’s easy to believe. It was pretty impressive with only one obstruction, and tall monument, near one end. Beside the square is Mau’s mausoleum which wasn’t open at that time of day (the afternoon). Across the street on one side was the monstrous Beijing Museum of Natural History. We had heard from many people how impressive and enjoyable a tour through it was and trekked off in that direction. Unfortunately it had just closed down a few months previously for a massive three year renovation.

Around Town

While Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world (population wise) it is laid out quite well with pretty decent transportation infastructure. There are four major ring roads allowing for fairly straightforward travel. the difficulty lies in the large density of cars now travelling these roads. While there are some cyclists who just won’t ride in the colder winter months, most of the cyclists have upgraded to cars in the last several years. I recall seeing many media pictures that always showed four or five lanes of road full of bicycles for a couple of city blocks of length. That is no more due to the robust economy and mass production of very inexpensive cars. At one dirt market we went to there were a few hundred three wheeled cycles all propped up (to save space) outside that all of the vendors had arrived on. I took a few pics of the line of them all piled up just because it was so amazing to see so many all stacked up in one place.

The Confucius Temple was nice and immediately brought about a calmness to us. Jim’s school had somehow arranged to have their (first ever) 2007 Graduation take place in the main Confucius Courtyard which I thought was extraordinarily cool. across the street and down a block was the Llama temple. This was very similar architecture and artistic painting styles to most other “old” buildings in Beijing, such as The Forbidden City. The temple though consisted of room after room (in between courtyards) of various Buhda statutes. At the very back of the temple complex was a huge Buddha, certified by Guinness, carved from a single tree. It was absolutely huge at about 3m across and maybe 8m high. The whole temple complex was considerably larger than any of those we had toured in Thailand or Laos, but I’m not sure if that’s simply due to age, or the fact that there’s far more people to “service” in China.

We also went to a little lake park in the city called “Ho Hi”(not that spelling, just the pronunciation). It was frozen over and there was skate and sled rentals with a bunch of people out enjoying themselves. There were also a dozen or so guys playing hockey (mostly Caucasian expats by the looks of it) in a section away from the leisure skaters, and lastly, one guy with speed skates who was taking himself way too seriously. Just around the corner was a restaurant supply services store where we finally found a charcoal burning hot pot. The prices were pretty good and we bought a medium sized one. Jim asked only once for us if they could discount the price at all and got a look that was deadly at best (and killed & chopped him up into little pieces before feeding those to some pigs at worst). Apparently negotiations are only expected in every other aspect of Chinese retail, but not in the services reseller supply market.

Down a little further was the Drum Tower. Jim said he had walked there with other guests and friends several times previously, but had never gone in before. It was a great little exhibit of drums in a higher tower used to convey the time to people. All the doors on the top would open to allow the sounds to penetrate the suburbs of the city. The staircase climbing up was incredibly steep, and took a bit of wind out of all five of us. At the top was a water clock as well. This series of bins and narrow diameter pipes was very cool, and ended with a 1m statute clanging his similarly scaled cymbals every quarter hour. Every half hour several drummers put on a few minute show banging out a beat on a bunch of the massive drums in the tower. Also housed off to the side were some of the original (now rotted) drums from the 1400’s, with different sizes and sounds depicting different times. Behind those in the corner is the world’s largest drum (or so the sign says) at 2.61m face diameter, 2.89 width diameter, and 1.2m in height. Across a small park was a similar tower called the “Bell Tower” with a huge bronze behemoth that we could even see quite vividly from about 200m away. We were running out of time to go check it out unfortunately.

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