Posted by: 1of10boyz | February 22, 2012

Family in China – Beijing Part 2a

Today is the first full day that “everyone” is in China, we only wish that it was everyone, it is, in fact, only about half. We are planning on seeing as much of Beijing as we can, I don’t really know how much we will see. It has been a long time since I have had to worry about travel with children and, if my memory serves me right, I wasn’t very good at that when I did it before. I am typically oblivious to how everyone else feels, so LaDawna and Sarah have been told that they just have to speak up and we will adjust the plan accordingly. The goal today is Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and some shopping at the Silk Market.

Now the goal on this vacation is to not stress about time and seeing everything. I am going to let everyone else worry about time and what does and doesn’t get seen, I have at least 3 years left to see what is in Beijing and I suspect that we will at the least have to go there again before July 2013 to get our recommends renewed, so I know I have a least one more trip to Beijing before we leave. The others on this trip may never see China again, if they don’t see it, it won’t be because I wasn’t ready to go.

I am in and out of rem-sleep most of the night, just not sleeping well on the hard bed, my arms go to sleep from laying on them, cutting off the circulation. About 8:00am I hear the patter of little feet in my room, Makaela is in the room to get in bed with grandma. I roll over and give her a kiss and get out of bed to get ready.

With breakfast done, I have time to spend with Makaela. The hotel we have is really a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment that has some enclosed porches, and we are on the 21st floor. We open the sliding doors to these porches and the cold air comes rushing into the room and the moist air rushes to the windows. I decide that Makaela and I will spend some time waiting for everyone else by playing on the windowsills drawing on the foggy windows. She has a great time; she likes that I can breathe on the window drawings and make them go away so we can start over.

We leave the hotel just after 10:00am. We head for the subway. We have Makaela in a folding stroller. Sam and I are the “princess’s” royal chair carriers. We pick up the chair and carry it up and down stairs while she remains strapped in.

I have been to the point of paranoia during most of my trips into the city, whether it is Qingdao, Hong Kong, Macau, or Beijing. I do not want to be a victim of some crime. Today, that paranoia pays off; as we entered the subway station there was a young man standing or waiting at the entrance. When we got down the stairs and start making our way towards the tickets I notice that he is behind us, nothing to be too concerned about except that he doesn’t get any closer and we are walking SLOW. LaDawna pauses and makes some adjustments to Makaela’s stroller and the stuff we have hanging on it, the guy conveniently stops and adjusts his shoelace. I lean over to LaDawna and tell her to stop what she is doing. She decides to cope attitude and get grouchy with me before she finally realizes that I am seriously freaking out. We stop and wait and “circle the wagons” for a minute before the guy finally realizes that we are not going to keep moving and he stands up and leaves. I am then able to explain what just about happened and everyone tries to catch a fleeting glimpse of the guy that almost messed up our vacation.  Sarah had been making fun of LaDawna and all of the other Chinese people she had been seeing that were wearing their backpacks backwards. Basically the backpack has become a front pack; with the pack in front the wearer is able to watch all of the zippers and at least have a remote chance of not losing something inside to a pickpocket. She is no longer quite so willing to laugh at them.

We have lived in China long enough now that I have become almost accustomed to the weird smells and the whole lack of personal space around me. My explanation of what happens is this: We get on the subway and make our way to the Tiananmen Square East subway station.

Sarah’s explanation of what happens follows:

“The [subway] was a whole new world.  My dad kept saying you need to stand right here and you just push through; boy he wasn’t kidding.  As soon as the [subway] doors opened it didn’t matter if people were coming off, everyone was pushing through to get on.  I tend to feel a little claustrophobic and I started to on the train.  It is like we were ants just piling in, and piling in, [piling] on top of each other.  I was glad to have the stroller to have a tiny bit more space.  Chinese people have a certain smell to them and it was more prominent on the [subway].  It made me nauseated!”  

I guess that I have been here long enough to not even notice. The wonder is still there and the repulsion is gone. I have a post that I am working on related to hygiene and won’t go it to it here but I do agree that there is a certain smell. I never thought it to be a bad or nauseating smell but everyone is different. I know that LaDawna would feel like chunking when she would drive by one of the restaurants in Hawaii just from the smell. Sarah must have her mother’s sense of smell.

We exit the subway and emerge from the stairways to see the Forbidden City walls and the banner with Chairman Mao in front of us. The crowds are not too bad. It is cold and clear with just a little wind. There is a pretty good crowd for late December in my opinion; it is just cold enough to keep the crowds down. We get hustled by a tour guide as we are approaching the city. Now I am all for a good tour. We learned much more on our Qufu tour because we had guide and I am expecting that I want one for this experience also. I don’t have the stomach to tell the guy that there is no way that this tour is only going to take him the 1.5 hours he is quoting me for the $150 RMB tour. I doubt that we can do the Forbidden City in less than 2.5 hours.

The entrance to the Forbidden City is “guarded” in the Chinese sense of the word. There are some soldiers that are standing along the walk way at some semblance of attention and what looks like guard stations. It is a nice display but it isn’t much more than show. I am not quite sure what they might have been looking for but we didn’t see anyone interact with them. They certainly are not the equivalent of Buckingham Palace guards.

This is also Sarah’s first day to see the way the Chinese dress. I have wondered many times what they are thinking but I think her words say it better than I can.

I quickly realized that people [in China] wear anything and I mean anything.  I took a picture of a girl wearing what has to be bright orange pajamas.  Most of the women wore ass rider shorts or skirts and thigh high boots with at least 4 inch heels.  It is cold here; we are talking about 35F at least every day sometimes colder with the wind blowing.

One thing we have become accustomed to in China is that these kinds of sites require tickets, nothing is free. As we move into the compound we begin to see the tell-tale signs of capitalism, there are vendors and shops that have inhabited the buildings near the entrance. As we are making our way toward the City entrance our guide is trying to hurry us along, we pretty much ignore him as we take our time walking through the crowd, he keeps looking back at us motioning us to follow him. We pause just before the entrance; the military contingent assigned to the area is mustering and getting ready to march somewhere. The crowds gather to watch and take pictures; it is interesting but nothing spectacular. I am sure with this duty assignment as with those in Washington DC these are some of the best soldiers the country has.

We are finally at the entrance to the Forbidden City, we are about to embark on World Heritage Site #5 for us. The guide has purchased our ticket; it costs us $200 RMB to enter the city. As we pass through the gates we pause to take pictures, it is an impressive door. I know many travel guides tell you to just bypass the whole guide thing in these locations, I have found that we get a better understanding by spending the extra money to get someone to explain the location to us. We pass through the city through the left gates, our guide indicates that it is a more authentic restoration and in some cases not restored. The center entrance is the entrance that was restored for the Olympics in 2008 and while it looks nicer it is not very authentic. We appreciated the more authentic approach to our visit.

I find that the section that we are travelling still has some of the original cobblestones. It certainly doesn’t look as nice as what we see over by the central entrance but we get a much better feel for the age of this place. The stones are certainly worn and they are showing the effects of experiencing hundreds or even thousands of winter and summer cycles. There are many stones that have broken and cracked, the road is difficult to push the stroller. These stones have seen better days, but we know that they have been here for a long time.

We see just a fraction of the city. We never really wandered from the main thorough fare, but for the “punch my ticket at this location” kind of visit we are on it is just right. We see some of the living arrangements and the guide tells us about how the emperor would have conducted life in the city. He shows and talks with us about the separate chambers that would have been for court and those that are for living. We see the honeymoon chambers and separate sleeping chambers. It is difficult to understand how the marriage arrangements were for the emperor; he rarely would have seen or slept with his spouse. I have always felt that the reason you were married was to be with that person. It wouldn’t seem to be much like marriage to me.

I enjoy wandering around the city and getting the additional insight that the guide provides. We are nearing the end of the tour. It has been just about 100 years since the Forbidden City was freed. The last emperor was relieved of responsibilities in 1911. The emperor was sent to have indoctrination in the country. I am not sure if his wife was sent with him at that time, but by the time of the Communist control of the country she has denounced him and is given a divorce. He never has children and the direct Imperial line is lost. He did have nieces and nephews. We are told that one of his nephews is still working in the City as a calligrapher. The guide takes us to where he is working. We watch as he finishes a wall hanging for another group.

I tell our guide that I would like to have a wall hanging made. We ask for one that is about 4 feet long and about 1 foot wide. These are the typical silk scrolls that we have seen and purchased in other locations, but I am willing to fall for this tourist trap expenditure. We have been decorating our apartment in China and we have wanted to get something that is uniquely us related to family. We ask the guide to provide us with the phrase “Families are Forever” in Chinese to be painted on our scroll. Our guide is surprised by the request for a specific phrase like this, as most tourists and people that get these scrolls done do not have specific requests and end up with words related to wealth or happiness or something like that. We are very excited about putting this scroll up in our apartment. We spend $2000 RMB (about $315 USD) for this scroll, it is a piece of art that is now part of our collection.

We have finished the tour but there is more of the compound to see. The tour has taken 2 hours and 20 minutes. I give the guide $400 RMB, $200 for the ticket and $200 for the tour. I consider the extra $50 RMB a tip. We are now in what I would consider to be the garden of the Forbidden City. It is similar to the gardens that we saw in Qufu. It is quite bare but it is December. We see many cypress trees. As in the other locations we have been the cypress is old and in some cases ancient. The gardens were most likely better cared for during the dynasties but they still are nice considering that there are probably millions of people that walk past and around them each year.

We find a couple of trees that Sarah finds some comfort and I find humorous. My favorite is the “Divorce Tree”, it had another name during the dynasties but the tree has started to separate. I am guessing that the change to the tree happened about the same time as the last emperor’s divorce and so it became the divorce tree. Further into the garden we find the “Eternal Tree”. There are so many little statues and stands that are works of art by themselves that it is easy to reach sensory overload and not appreciate each piece for the unique artistic work that it is.

Sarah and Sam are surprised by the number of “wishing wells” or religious memorials where money is thrown. I am not sure that I understand why the Chinese throw the money into these locations. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. I will have to remember to ask some of my Chinese friends what this all really means. We have finally seen the Forbidden City. As we exit the gates the commercialism and capitalism are immediately apparent. The vendors and book sellers are quick to converge on us again. I can only imagine what it is like in the summer when the crowds are here. We do a pretty good job of avoiding the vendors and we make our way around the block. I am hoping to find someplace to eat as we walk back to the front of the complex. I am surprised that we do not find a thriving business of food shops, we are starving and there is no place to eat.

We arrive at the ticket office again after having walked around the moat for the Forbidden City. We make our way out and onto the sidewalk, it is restroom time and we still haven’t found something to eat.



  1. Hello Jerry How are you? I see that you are in China, Are you working there? I was there about three years ago and Had a wonderful time. If you get a chance see if you can get to the Terra Cotta Soldiders it is spectacular.
    I got married this past January after 32 years of being single and I know that I found the women. I would love to hear about your trips and adventures and keep me posted.
    Give my best to the family.
    Mike Wilchek
    cell phone in the states- 610-334-3779

    • Mike it is good to hear from you. I am working in China. I am working with Westinghouse building nuclear power plants. The Terra Cotta Soldiers are on our list. Congratulations on the marriage. I have found that it is nice to have a wife to keep me company on these adventures and to help keep me focused on what is really important. You should subscribe via email so that when I post the site will automatically notify you that something new is posted. What were you doing in China?

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