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Friday, May 18, 2007

China Experience - Beijing

On 4/1/07:

Farmor asked about wildlife on the streets in Beijing --HAHAHA! No there is not much, because they EAT it ALL! I'm not being politically incorrect - Beijingers say it, too.
**side note added later: By the way, the Chinese pronounce Beijing with a hard “j” – Bei-Jing not Bei-jhing, like we do. So, if you hear me pronouncing it that way, you’ll know why!

Seriously, there is very little wildlife in Beijing. Even birds are pretty scarce. That is probably partially because, yes, they will be eaten, but also because of the lack of natural areas in the city and the pollution. There are trees and such in small parks and strips along roads, but no large tracts of green space. When you have 14 million need every square inch just to house them. :) ** Also, it is still very late winter here, so many animals had not come out of hibernation, I suppose.

We are trying to keep these emails short as we have a very early morning tomorrow. We have to have our luggage out by our doors by 7:30 and then the bus leaves for the airport at 8:30. We fly to Changsha and will meet Phoebe Lin shortly after we arrive at the hotel. It will be a CRAZY day tomorrow, so please understand if I am unable to call or email. But, I will TRY!!!

Today we had a VERY long and full day of sightseeing. We started the day at Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. They are all in the same complex. Tianamen Square was huge - and imposing. The Forbidden City was wonderful! I really can't do it any justice - but do have lots of photos, good postcards, and an (inexpensive, but good) souvenir book. We even came home with a small piece of one of the original (600 yrs old!) cobblestones. They are going to tear the old ones out and replace before Beijing Olympics. (That just makes me CRINGE that they would just replace the old - but it is a very Chinese thing to do. Why keep old when new is better? ARGH!) So, we found a couple of good-sized chunks to bring home.

(Also - more photos taken with the "big Americans" in Tianamen Square. :) That's just funny!)

(** side note – I’m not sure why I didn’t mention this in the email, maybe because it would be hard to explain to the kids…but Tianamen Square was a bit overwhelming. Hard not to try to imagine where that infamous tank and student might have been.)

Then we visited a jade factory and had lunch at a cloisonne factory. Hmm...I think we are starting to learn that "factory" in Beijing really means tourist trap. But - the jade was gorgeous and the REAL thing. And, because it is government-sponsored, it is better than taking your chances with fake or bad quality by buying on the street.

After the "factory" -we drove to the GREAT WALL! It actually started to snow while we were getting off the bus. None of us had warm enough clothes - but we wrapped up the best we could. The wind was really whipping!

Most of our group went one way and the Kim and I went another. It is very steep in parts and the views are fantastic. But, it is hard to really appreciate the Great Wall from a limited section...I think you really have to walk huge lengths of it to get a feel for how dramatically long it is.

Many funny things - a marching band from Naples FLORIDA was performing on the Wall. We heard "Hang on Sloopy". Very odd - not at all Chinese. But somehow it actually made sense - the Wall is very touristy. Still worth it to take the hike and say you've stood on the Great Wall of China, though. Lots of funny signs and other stories I'll have to share later. We hear there is even a bobsled ride (sort of a roller coaster) at some point on the Wall - the side we didn't go to. Also saw a camel! Yes, a REAL one with 2 humps!

I've come to the conclusion that Beijing is a "rubbly" place. Lots of rubble around. Just piles of it here and there - in the city and even more so outside the city.

Also, the painted lane lines on the streets are really just suggestions. Drivers are very creative here.

Beijing is a city totally at work - every square inch of it. People are repairing cars, fixing bicycle tires, selling all manner of stuff, carting large loads on bike-drawn trailers, drying laundry, tending shops, etc. Everywhere you look people are doing stuff...not just going somewhere to do stuff. They aren't bustling off somewhere...they are right there working away.

Also - you can always tell a Party building or other official government building -these are always the most well-kept. They also tend to have a very imposing air about them - which is certainly the point. I guess the same would be said in the US, too. But, here it is such a dichotomy with the rest of the city.

I've enjoyed Beijing...all the Chinese we've interacted with are warm and good-natured. Tomorrow (Monday) a new city!

Ok - that is all for tonight! Zaijian! By the way - you'd be so proud of me, I'm really trying to use my little bit of Chinese whenever I can! Kim and I even learned to say "Good Evening" - "Wan An". :) Our friendly Business Center lady taught us that.