Beijing 2008

It’s hard to decide where to start on Beijing, whether it be the negatives or the positives but I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Beijing is a shockingly modern city that is immaculately kept and as clean as any city I’ve been to. It is also an immense place that seemingly goes on forever and like all the other Chinese cities I have seen-it’s sprawling with no real end. But the sure thing about Beijing is where the heart of the city lies and that’s the Forbidden City.

With Tiananman Square and the gigantic portrait of Mao flanking it to the south, the Forbidden City is a true jewel and a true delight to visit. It is also humongous. Normally, I hate guides but I decided to hire this young Chinese girl named Lucy, who I called Lucy Liu-although I don’t think she got the reference, because the city was so daunting and I wanted to know what everything was.

I swear to god you have never heard someone spew out more facts faster than she did with the Forbidden City and although I could barely understand her, I did pick up all the essentials and was even more in awe of the place than I was before. It was also nice today because of the stifling heat-many people were sitting down in the shade so it was easier to get up close to the pagodas and the buildings and see inside. It was like being in the movie “The Last Emperor”, which was an awesome movie that won best picture in 1987.

I am also a big fan of Chinese history, especially the Ming Dynasty and getting the background info from Lucy and seeing it in person was really cool. I highly recommend the Forbidden City or Palace Museum as it is the quintessential sight in Beijing.

As I mentioned it was ridiculously hot out today and being in Tiananman Square was a total nightmare because there is nowhere to hide from the sun. And the sun and heat mixed with the ungodly pollution problem made for difficulty breathing and the strong possibility of becoming dehydrated. It is certainly my prediction that not too many world records will be set in the upcoming Olympics here in Beijing with this hot and heavy air.

Speaking of the Olympics, aside from the pollution issue which is as bad as they say and maybe even worse; I have to give the Chinese credit because the city looks great. They have new signs up everywhere and even with English translations which is key-believe me. They have flowers and signs up all over the city and people just walking around handing out Olympic gear, etc. It is really nice to see them trying to embrace this opportunity to showcase their great city to the world-I hope it all goes well. The stadium by the way, looks like a giant birds nest-it’s pretty cool, at least from the outside.

Tiananman Square is nothing like I thought it would be like. I was picturing Red Square in Moscow which is awesome, The Chinese equivalent was very disappointing. Although it is the largest square on Earth-it is truly massive but with nothing really to see or do except if you want to Chairman Mao’s presered body which is creepy to me. Additionally, I kept having flashbacks to 1989 when all the tanks roared into the square to squash the student protest. I remember being in 5th grade watching that like it was yesterday and today I finally got to see that place in person and it just wasn’t what I pictured but still cool nonetheless.

I then went to the Temple of Heaven which is basically what it sounds like, a tranquil, beautiful pagoda complex where they have light Chinese music playing and it was very pleasant…however, the heat and poor air quality made it tough to stay there for too long-well that and the lack of water vendors!

So then I go into one of those Beijing 2008 official stores to buy some tee shirts and I do and they just hand me the shirts. I asked if I could have a bag to carry them and they said no I had to pay for a bag. I was shocked and asked why and how much. It was hardly any money but the principle here was what was important and I was demanding an explanation and finally I got one.

Apparently, for each bag purchase from the Olympics, the Chinese are donating the 1 Yuan to help save the environment. Ironic I thought because the second I walk out the door I can barely breathe; I’ve seen a ton of factories just spewing out noxious gasses into the air; there are 4 million cars burning diesel all over the streets of Beijing; and you’re charging me money for a bag to help save the environment. Needless to say she didn’t really understand what I was saying as nobody here really speaks English as you’d imagine so I stopped my fruitless banter and just left befuddled at the satire.

Back at the hotel now planning my tour to the Great Wall in the morning. I am really looking forward to that although the tours are way overpriced. I guess with the Olympics coming they are ratcheting everything up to stick it to the tourists. Anyway should be fun and hopefully it doesn’t rain.

Comments

  1. Hey Lee, remember me, the Irish guy who had his passport stolen in Peru. Just checking this site-you’re insane! I am still travelling a lot with work and was in Beijing a few weeks ago. You should like it out there as it sounds like you do. For the great wall go to Badaling I think its called. Be in touch and shoot me an email when you get back and if you’re in Beantown give me a shout.

  2. Michael says:

    Not sure if you left yet for the Great Wall, but hopefully they don’t drag you to Bandalung (sp?), the most visited section — I visited in December, and there were very few tourists, but I saw pictures of the same site in the Summer and it was pure hell. On that same trip, I used local transport (and a local guide) to get to a section of the “wild wall” (no tickets, souvenier stands) and it was incredible — you could see the all snaking for miles, and we walked the wall, some parts in a crumbling state, by ourselves for miles. Its a bit tricky to get to the wilder sections, but well worth it.

    Its also interesting to read your description of Beijing in August — in December, the air was cool, crisp and clean, and very few tourists. I had large sections of the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, etc. to myself.

    Try the donkey dumplings — as good as donkey gets.

  3. Michael, I leave in the morning-ur evening for the wall. How did u hire your driver? That area u mentioned is where my tour is supposed to be an LP said it was most visited part. There are other options like Jiayuguan, is that where u went? Email me at website email bc I’m on my blackberry so it makes it easier

  4. Have you seen the wall before?

  5. Hi Lee, nice mtg u last night. Hope you get to Mutianyu which is the best and less touristed area of the wall. I will check for your post later. Good luck and safe travels to Kazakhstan.

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