Follow the Flag!

So you always mock the tourists following the guide with the flag until you are the tourists following the guide with the flag. Sarah gave us ID badges with a yellow lanyard and once properly tagged we began to introduce ourselves. No Brits, but still an interesting group. There is a American Chinese grandmother and her two grandsons, a mother and daughter from New York, a family of four from California, a couple from Australia, though they are actually Argentinian, and a group of five from Delaware with two younger kids, dad and grandmother and grandfather.

We got on our bus, and Sarah briefed us about staying together and not taking any wooden Yuan. (Counterfeit cash is a problem here.) There was an ambitious agenda for the day: Tian’an Men Square, the Forbidden City, lunch, the Temple of Heaven, a visit to an historic neighborhood and a Kung Fu Show in the evening.

Highlights:

In Tian’an Men square Mao’s tomb is near the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in China. Mao’s frozen body is raised everyday for viewing and Sarah says he and the Colonel discuss east and west. There was a long line of people waiting to view Mao.

The Forbidden City was welcoming some sort of VIP, so at one point we were hustled away from the center building without ceremony, but we still got to see plenty. The Emperor used to have audiences at 4AM, chose concubines from a tray of cards, and slept in a different bed every night for fear of assassination. The complex has 9999.5 rooms, since heaven has 10,000 rooms, and you wouldn’t want to one up that. There was a garden at the far end of the complex and some of the trees there are 300 years old.

Lunch was in an embassy area and had the usual large assortment, though I think the selections were little Americanized. I’m glad I had my pre-week of strange dishes with little explanation. The meal was good though, and I enjoyed getting to know people in the group. My being here a week early also paid off because jet lag is hitting the rest of the group, but I was feeling perky, though the morning walk was long!

The Temple of Heaven is a large round tower where the Emperor would make sacrifices for a good harvest. Clearly a popular wedding photo spot, we saw no less than five brides in beautiful red gowns, several embroidered with Phoenixes which was the symbol of the empress. In the surrounding park there were many people playing cards exercising, and even singing or dancing in groups.

My favorite part of the day was when we went to an old neighborhood and had a rickshaw ride through the old alleys (hutong). After the noise and traffic and giant structures of the rest of Beijing, it was like a different world: quiet, small and with lots of people going through their daily life: playing cards, repairing a road, talking with their neighbors. There was a nice breeze as we rode and very little noise. I really loved that ride. When we stopped, we met our guide for this part of the tour, Victor. He said there had been 36 districts like this, but in a push for modernization 35 of them were torn down. We got to go into a small courtyard house and meet a man whose family had been living there for four generations, since the Manchurian court officials were thrown out in 1911 and the Han people moved into power at the end of The empire period. Originally his family had owned the whole courtyard, but in the 70s the government made them give up 3 of the 4 homes in the courtyard to others. The man and his family live there and pay no taxes, but the other families pay rent to the government.

We returned to Sarah and the bus and went to a theater that has the “The Story of Kung Fu” show. It was clearly designed to draw in the tourist trade, but is was very enjoyable, with lots of lights energy, dancing and feats of strength.

A long day, but a very interesting one. Looking forward to re watching “the Last Emperor” when I get home, as I understand a lot more about that period after today!

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