As a first-time visitor to China, the “big” sites were all on our list to see. We had arranged our trip through Abercrombie & Kent as a private journey (during their pretty awesome holiday sale), so we had our own guide and itinerary for each day in China. Our tour guide in Beijing was probably the best we had–super English, personable, and ready to both give us the history of Beijing (she was a native Beijinger) as well as give us a good perspective of current life in the city.
Of course, being China, there is often the “official” story and then the actual story. Or at least two sides of one story, with the truth probably somewhere in the middle. I guess all governments are like this to some extent or another–the official story, the people’s story, and then the truth. But in China, those stories seem a litttleee bit farther apart.
China’s sites are busy…busy…busy. But not so much with foreigners as with Chinese. It’s, in some ways, sort of heartening to see how many (though there are many) Chinese travel to see their capital and the sites. I’d be really interested to see various stats of how many residents in any given country have been to their capital city…would the United States be low? Somewhere in the middle? I’d be shocked if it was at the upper end.
First up, Tiananmen square. It is large. It is square (rectangular). I do not have anything particularly profound to say about said square, though I’m glad I went to see it. There is a monument in the middle that is the “Monument to the People’s Heroes.” It is the site/epicenter for the famous protests in both 1976 and 1989. I was a bit too young to really understand or remember went down in 1989, though I do remember it being highly televised in the United States.
To the left is Mao’s mausoleum–we skipped that, there was a horrifically long line, and, well, it’s not like we had a large affinity for Mao to start with. There is quite the conspiracy that it isn’t even Mao, but wax or a body double…
Yet another weird thing about China…and their ornate flower displays…they don’t actually plant anything. In dirt. Nope, you heard that right–all of those flowers you see are individually in their tiny little pots you get when you go to the greenhouse and purchase flowers at the start of the year. For planting. In planters/pots/the ground. It is so bizarre to me and seems very wasteful–instead of watering and growing, they just put in new pots (like 2″ to 3″ pots of hundreds of thousands of flowers) when the old ones die. I guess that guarantees demand for flowers/greenhouses, no?
After Tiananmen Square, we walked over to the Forbidden City, which is right across the street. It’s easy to spot with its enormous Mao picture. Mao is everywhere in China. I mean everywhere. I get it, he is the namesake for Maoism, and a tremendous influence on China’s history and politics. But I gotta be honest–it all seemed a bit weird in 2016. Mao heavily influenced (from what I understand) political movements including the Khmer Rouge, Blank Panthers, among others. Lots of social revolution. Lots of….anyhow.
The Forbidden City was the residence of the imperial family for over 500 years, and was just as stunning, expansive, excessive, and impressive as one would expect for a place that was termed forbidden. It is huge, and truly fascinating. Definitely recommend a tour guide here, because there is so much to see and lots of details that are easy to miss.
This was carved out of a single piece of stone, purportedly the largest ever excavated and carved. It was stunning.
While the Forbidden City is very busy–you can generally carve out some space for yourself and avoid huge crowds. There are a few places, when you look inside buildings, that things get very, very chaotic. Watch your bags and stand your ground–you don’t get anywhere in China by being polite. Pushing is not above anyone (I learned that very quickly…even those older ladies aren’t afraid to shove you to the side, no, no they aren’t).
Beijing is definitely a fascinating city with so much old and so much new. We spent probably about 4-5 ish hours, and headed to Tiananmen Square in the morning when it was just a bit cooler. It also was the only day I think we saw blue sky in China–which made it a beautiful day to see these classic sites. Wear comfortable shoes and comfortable clothes.