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Beijing, China

Written on: Sunday November 4th, 2007

A journal entry from: China

In October 2007, my brother told me that he and his wife are travelling to Japan for 10 days and that he would like me to come with them.  I'm thinking to myself, 10 days!  I don't go on vacation for 10 days.  After much consideration, I decided to take a month off and spend 3 weeks in China and then meeting up with my brother in Japan for the remaining 10 days of my vacation.  Why not Japan for a month?  My conclusion: expensive!  China is more affordable and plus the opportunity to see one of the wonders of the world: The Great Wall.

I arrived in Beijing around 10pm at night and was grateful and relieved to see the guy from the hostel pick me up at the airport.  I tried to make conversation, however my new friend spoke absolutely zero english.  I got to the hostel, checked in, and after a few bottles of beer with a Dutch traveller, retired for the night.

Beijing is f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g.  My first day was spent walking around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace.  I was amazed how close my hostel was to Tiananmen square, it literally was just a block away.  The first thing that struck me with China was the mass of humanity, no system of queing for anything, and the modernity of the shopping malls and infrastructure.  My hostel was at an atmospheric "hutong", a traditional chinese neighborhood methodically being torn down block by block to make way for the modern high rises.  It certainly gave me a good contrasts of the city. 

The Dutch traveller I had a few beers with last night told me that when he visited Beijing 3 years ago, the main streets running through Tiananmen square had 4 lane bike lanes.  Now, its purely for motor vehicles. China is indeed moving forward economically at a breakneck speed.  I might add it is definitely a challenge travelling as an Asian-American in China.  I was stopped in Tiananmen square twice today and searched.  I noticed that tourists with western features or in tour groups were left alone.  Of course everything was ok after I produced my passport and told them I was American.  I just observed that local people did not carry any bags with them in Tiananmen square.  And of course lucky me I had one.

Tiananmen square was huge.  It is the  biggest public space in the world.  And the buzz of human activity was spectacular.  I spent countless hours sitting around observing people.  It seems not only a tourist destination,but a destination for families as well.  Chairman Mao's tomb was on the south side of the square.  Looking at the lines and the early closing times, I was saving viewing the Chairman's preserved body for another day.  I checked out the "Great Hall of the People", basically the people's congress hall.  I was amazed by the black audi's, bmw, and mercedes parked outside.  There goes communism for you.

The Forbidden city was another site that enthralled me.  For hundreds of years this walled city was off limits to anyone other than Chinese royalty.  It was huge, like a never ending maze.  The opulence and the grandeur was beyond words.  I read in literatures that Chinese emperors treated themselves to such lavishness eventhough people were starving to death.  Nothing better defines this as the Forbidden City.  No wonder the people were ready when Chairman Mao came to lead the revolution.  They were tired of being oppressed.