After repeatedly complaining about how hot it was in Sydney, I feel silly – the weather in Beijing is much colder ranging from 40 degrees in the mornings to a daily high of 52.
The last few days in Beijing have been stuffed full of sightseeing. For someone who didn’t want to be on a schedule, I have clearly been on a mission to see as much as I can of this city: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall of China, the Olympic Park and the Lama Temple. And I am not done yet!
After my arrival Tuesday morning, I went directly out on the streets to see Beijing. I ended up in the Chongwenmenwai Dajie, where I found the streets crowded with people from side to side. Shops and restaurants were among what I saw; but, what was most striking to me was the amount of military and police along the streets. In fact, I think every block or so there was a small police station (I read about this on the State Department’s website about China, where those visiting must register with the police upon arrival – not to worry, hotel’s take care of this for you).
I ended up checking out the major sights near the hotel, including the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. I walked along Chang an Jie, a major thoroughfare in central Beijing that divides these two landmarks. While I didn’t get across the street to be inside Tiananmen Square (I will tomorrow!!), I did go inside the Forbidden City, which was a beautiful mix of parks, statues and buildings. On your way, you pass by the National Museum and the Great Hall of the People.
While outside the Forbidden City, I noticed a large military and police presence. I asked one of the officers what was going on as they halted foot traffic outside the Forbidden City. I was stuck and couldn’t get back to my hotel. Agh. Patience. Just wait. There was also some official activity across the street in Tiananmen Square. The officer informed me that they were preparing to take down the National Flag in the Square – apparently, they have a ceremony raising the flag and taking it down around sundown. Soliders march across the street — in true military style — to and from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square to pick up the flag and return it to its home, the City. I was also told the increased police presence was due to the National People’s Congress being in session (I also noticed they were in session from the local news).
However, the highlight of the trip so far has been my visit to the Great Wall of China. People talk about it, and we see pictures. But, you really don’t feel its awesomeness until you climb it and walk it. Traveling about 1.5 hours outside Beijing, I went to the Mutianya portion of the Wall (there are actually three sections of the Great Wall toursits can visit, each offering something different). President Clinton has even visited this section of the Wall. According to the guide you get at the gate:
…it was built on the remains of the Great Wall from Northern Qi under the superintendence of Xu Da (a general) in the beginning of the Ming Dynasty…it is surrounded by mountains and possess beautiful scenes.
I couldn’t agree more – the view from all sides is breathtaking. It is probably the most amazing sight I have ever seen. I walked in one direction for an hour climbing as high as I possibly could (I was panting out of breath) and then another hour in the other direction. People were climbing (climbing) as far as I could see. They looked like ants in the distance! At the highest point I climbed, I just stood there and marveled at the view. However, to get to the top to tour the Wall, you have to take a small cable car up – and for someone who is scared of heights like myself, I had to close my eyes on the way up. Not to worry, after all the steep climbing, keeping them open on the way down was no problem!
The Great Wall was followed by quick trips to the Olympic Park and the Lama Temple. While I was obviously familiar with the sight of the 2008 Olympics, I was not as familiar with the Lama Temple. My guide for the day said everyone who comes to Beijing must visit the Temple – and I did. It was a massive complex of temples filled with Buddha’s where burning incense and praying was a must.
While I rented an apartment in Sydney, I am staying at the Grand Hyatt in central Beijing. The hotel has been fantastic so far – the staff have not only very friendly and helpful, but were very accommodating in my early check-in request. Not only is it centrally located just a few blocks from some of the above main sights, but its near great shopping and places to eat. They have helped me arrange tours, tour guides, and a driver out to the Wall. They even gave me a recommendation on a great dumpling restaurant a few blocks away (yay for dumpling; not yay for the 15 per order I could not possibly eat — opps!). If you are planning a visit to Beijing, I highly recommend this hotel (h/t to Ryan and Les for his this suggestion on the hotel). After staying in an apartment looking after myself, its nice to have someone taking care of me!