Beijing and the Great Wall
The cities of Beijing and Shanghai are interesting to compare. While Shanghai is a relatively new city (only a couple of hundred years), many of its skyscrapers have sprung up on and around the old street plans. In Central Beijing, on the other hand, is over 3000 years old but many street blocks have been almost completely redone in the last 10 years. The avenues around Tiananmin Square and the Forbidden City are wide and grand. In the background is the Novotel where we stayed. (We also saw a clear blue sky for the first time since we left Australia!)
Alex and James at Tiananmin Square which was filled with tourists, vendors and other decidedly non-political types when we were there.
As has often been the case, our family of four western children attracted lots of curious chinese photographers. Alex had his own photo shoot.
We took advantage of a stiff breeze and plentifully available kites to launch a paper eagle skyward.
Everyone had a hand in trying to keep the kite from doing a nose dive. Here Valerie takes her turn. There were a number of other kite flyers including this rather ominous shark kite that is seen creeping up on our eagle.
Alex accompanied Ed and Catherine to a Confucian (left) and a Bhuddist (right) temple under protest. He did, however, get a very nice little bell souvenir. As in Japan, bells are often wrung before you begin a prayer to insure that the god(s) are awake and listening. We think Alex intends to wake his sisters with it instead...which is not too far off if you consider that Sophie is much like Kali, the goddess of death and destruction, if you wake her too early.
The Beijing "Opera" a traditional tourist event and the occasional of much high-pitched singing, sword twirling and baton juggling.
For our tour of the Forbidden City, Alex took along a sketch pad and pen (all on his own). He did a number of very nice sketches of the walls and rooflines of the old Imperial halls and palaces. The object of this drawing was the central gate leading to the largest square in the palace.
In the Forbidden City there are so many things to see that the only certainty for our group was that we would have to rest often and that even while sitting down there would be things to see (note the ornate ceiling).
Here is the whole group at the Central Gate. Joining us on this leg of our trip were Ed's father, Chris, brother Don and sister-in-law Suzanne, his sister Susan and a distant cousin, Betty, with whom we've travelled before.
The ornate throne rooms in the Forbidden City were used for various formal receptions.The main throne room on the left was quite familiar since it appears much as it did in the film "The Last Emperor" about the last emperor of the Qing dynasty. Pu Yi was deposed in 1911 at age 7, when China became a somewhat short-lived republic. The room at the right had a decidely lighter feel.
The main plaza of the palace with the grand hall in the background. The sea of yellow umbrellas behind Valerie and Alex is a particularly well prepared Japanese tour group. The day was quite hot with the temperature in the 80s (F).
We had the services of a guide during our day in Beijing. Chen Ha uses an Anglicized name - (Grant) as is the habit of many Chinese (and also Mongolian) guides. He was very helpful, resourceful (see below) and full of information about Beijing and surroundings. He good-naturedly ribbed us about what we possibly could have found to do in Shanghai for two and a half weeks that we had only one day to spend in Beijing. He also put up with all the whining about the long walks.
The tour of the Forbidden City, at 2 hours and many stairs, was a bit too strenuous for Chris so he opted for a cart ride to our final meeting point and seat in the shade (arranged via cell phone by Grant).
At the Great Wall, to the Northwest of Beijing, Grant also arranged for Chris' alternate transportation for the climb up the hill to a cable car using a wooden chair four poles and some spur-of-the-moment entrepreneurs.
The Great Wall is the sum of about 7000 kilometers of fortifications that run between China and Mongolia. It served not only as a barrier but also as an early warning system that could pass messages of approaching invasion by means of smoke and fire. Predominantly Han, China has been successfully invaded only thrice: by the Mongols, the Manchurians and the Japanese. Of course the Mongol Yuan dynasty lasted about 150 years and the Manchu Qing dynasty lasted 200 years. The Japanese were there just long enough to make quite a few enemies..
This scenic section of the wall was practically empty of tourists when we were there.
The Lambert dynasty at the Great Wall.
About a kilometer and a flight of 474 steps later we were at the upper limit of the tourist area and had a beautiful view for our efforts. Susan, Alex and Valerie made it all the way up, while James and Sophie stayed behind to entertain the vendors and the rest of our group.
Alex celebrates his hike with a cola and a friend. This woman accompanied us to the top and sold us drinks. After it was clear we weren't going buy any more, she still stayed and took our picture, cleaned up the trash left by other tourists and then politely left after counseling us to take care on the steep stairs.
As usual, Valerie had to be first both up and down the wall during our hike. Here she leaves us in the dust on the way home.