British in Beijing

A “lie-in” this morning as our wake-up call wasn’t until 7.00am!  We went down for breakfast in the already-crowded dining room and grabbed some food and some coffee before assembling in the hotel lobby for our bus at 8.30am.

Off we went into the busy streets of China’s capital, once again marvelling at the apparent total disregard for any traffic rules.  Often we would wince when we saw pedestrians and cyclists weaving in and out of the stream of cars, vans, buses and lorries.

We didn’t have long to travel to reach our first destination; the famous Tienanmen Square, one of the largest public squares in the world at 440,000 square metres, and the scene of the 1989 protests and massacre.

As ever, the square was crowded with tourists as well as people trying to sell postcards, hats, flags and other tat.  It also promised to be another hot and humid day.  We saw the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which was constructed between 1952 and 1958 as a national monument to the martyrs of revolutionary struggle during the 19th and 20th centuries.  We also saw the great mausoleum to Mao Tse Tung (Chairman Mao) which occupies the centre of the square and which still receives hundreds of visitors every day, with some people leaving flowers, even 36 years after Chairman Mao’s death.

Of course, one of the most famous sights in Tienanmen Square is that of Chairman Mao’s portrait which hangs above the archway at Tienanmen Gate, leading to the Forbidden City.  The gate was built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty.

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.  It was built between 1406 and 1420 and contains over 980 buildings with a total of over 8,000 rooms.  It is approximately a mile long by half a mile wide – incredible.   For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.  A visitor could probably spend all day in there and still not see all of it.   🙂

We spent a couple of hours looking around before it was time to go for some lunch.  We went to a restaurant for the inevitable Chinese feast, where we sampled many of the local dishes washed down with Tsing Tao beer and green tea.

After lunch, we were back on the bus and off to visit the Temple of Heaven, where the emperor would pray for a good harvest.  We could see many opulently furnished rooms with jade statues and carvings; we could look into the rooms but not actually go inside.  The heat was pretty oppressive and a lot of people in our party (including me!) just found somewhere to sit in the shade.

Back on the bus again, there was an optional trip to a traditional Beijing “Hutong”, or courtyard, consisting of makeshift sort of buildings that acted as people’s homes, probably similar to the kampongs in Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960’s.  Robert came round to get the names of the people who wanted to go, but Trevor and I weren’t really all that bothered, and we really fancied some free time amid all the frenetic activity we’d taken part in since arriving in China.

Therefore, we got off the bus and Robert hailed a taxi for us, which took us back to the hotel for about 3.00pm; the rest of the party weren’t due back until about 5.30pm and dinner was at 6.30pm, so it would give us a good few hours to rest and get ready.

Back at the Dong Fang hotel we went into the off-licence and got some more beer and wine, which we enjoyed in our room while writing out my postcards, the absolute first opportunity we’d had to do so since we arrived.  We also enjoyed an afternoon power nap before getting showered and ready in good time to go for dinner.

Dinner tonight was in the hotel and was… you’ve guessed it, Chinese dishes with beer.  Just as well we like Chinese food; I felt sorry for the people who didn’t like it as there wasn’t any Western food on offer, except perhaps for a plate of chips they might bring out.  In some of the dishes it was quite hard to identify what you were eating, and we thought it best not to ask!   🙂

Once we’d finished dinner we assembled once again in the foyer to get the bus to the Beijing Red Theatre to see the play/musical called The Legend of Kung Fu.  It told the story of Chun Yi, a young boy who was taken to a monastery to live by his mother, who could no longer look after him.  The young boy dreams of becoming a Kung Fu master, and has to overcome many difficulties and temptations before he conquers and finally gets his sacred goal of enlightenment.

The play was narrated in both Chinese and English, and had English surtitles.  The music, dancing and acrobatics were absolutely terrific, really mesmerising with so much colour and use of clever lighting effects.  The average age of the actors/dancers is only 17.  They were so fit and strong.  We really enjoyed the performance; it was certainly something different!   After the show the performers were available in the foyer of the theatre if you wanted to take pictures of them.

Then it was back to our hotel for our second night in the capital.  We had a nightcap, watched the telly for a bit, then once again slept soundly.

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