A note about some of the pictures above. The May 2008 edition of National Geographic magazine was a special issue devoted entirely to China. There is a photo in the magazine showing the new CCTV building and the China World Trade tower. In the photo you can see the Traders Hotel where we stayed in Beijing.
The breakfast buffet at the Trader's Hotel is pretty amazing. Anything you want from traditional American to Asian. After a quick breakfast we met Lifeng in the lobby to begin our first day of siteseeing.
Lifeng drove us through Beijing to a parking lot near Tiananmen Square. We walked down the street and descended a set of stairs to a pedestrian tunnel that went under the street. When we turned the corner to ascend the stairs to the other side we encountered the first of many beggars we would see in China. A young man not much older then Greg Jr. was sitting in the middle of the floor with his crutches and prosthetic leg lying beside him. He was dressed in rags and begging for money. We had not even been in China barely 12 hours.
We ascended the stairs and found ourselves standing across the street from the huge expanse of Tiananmen Square. Lifeng led us into the square. Lifeng would stop us by saying "you hold here". We were to hear those words many times during the next 3 weeks. Lifeng would then begin to explain what we were seeing and the history behind it. He was very good at it. He knows his country well.
Tiananmen Square is bordered on one side the the Great Hall of the People, another side by the National Museum, another by Chairman Mao's tomb and the last by the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City. We crossed the square quickly. At the time I wondered why Lifeng seemed to be leading us on a forced march through Beijing. I would know why in a few hours.
Upon crossing to the other side of the square we went through another underground tunnel to emerge in front of the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City. We entered throught the Emporers Gate and again Lifeng said "you hold here". While he was purchasing our tickets to the city we were approached by the second beggar of the morning. This man appeared to be 30 or 40 years old. He was dressed in rags and tears were streaming from his face as he begged for money. Mary Louise and I immediately looked at each other and the significance of the moment was amazing. The man was clutching the lower portion of his right arm just at the point where it ended below his elbow. Exactly like Paul William. If we had any doubts about why we had just flown half way around the world they were shattered in that instant.
The Forbidden City is amazing. (I hate that I keep using that word but I have a hard time coming up with another one.) Lifeng told us that if a child were taken to one room in the Forbidden City each day of their life from the day they were born that by the time they had been shown each room they would be over 27 years old. Many of the buildings were covered by scaffolding and being renovated in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. We saw the largest single stone carving in China. The stone was carved 50 miles from the Forbidden City. To move it they built a road and dug wells all along the length of the road. When winter came the took water from the wells and flooded the road. Once frozen they then slid the carving to the Forbidden City on a 50 mile long ice road. By the time we finally reached the other end of the City I understood why Lifeng seemed to be in such a hurry. If he had not kept us moving we might have been there for days. We were so far from where we parked that it took a 15 minute cab right to get back.
Next we visited a silk factory. We were shown how silk is made from cocoon to final product. We even participated a little.
After the silk factory tour we walked a few blocks to one of Lifeng's favorite restaraunts. The restaraunt was called the Beijing Noodle Shop. Mary Louise said that when we walked in and sat down she finally felt she was in China. We were the only people in the restaraunt that were not Chinese. The food was excellent. Everytime someone entered the entire staff would shout something in unison. I finally asked Lifeng what they were shouting and he told us they were simply shouting out 3, 5, 2 or however many people had just walked in the door. Not what we expected!3
After lunch we visited the Temple of Heaven. Here the Emporer came to ask the gods for a good harvest each year. The complex was very large and again required a lot of walking. There were many people visiting the Temple of Heaven complex. The Chinese people really seem to enjoy being outside participating in some activity. There were people playing cards, playing mahjong, dancing and exercising.
After touring the Temple of Heaven Lifeng drove us back to the hotel. We were finished for the day and relaxed in the hotel after dinner.