Well, yesterday was a whirlwind day in Beijing! We had breakfast (must admit, it was a step down from the Garden in Ghuangzhou…sniff sniff). Our hotel is more in line with my original expectations. We then met our guide Dion (the one who speaks better English than I do!!) and we were off!
First stop, Tiananmen Square. We had to wait in line to go through security. In the past, members of an anti-government group called Falun Gong snuck gasoline in what look liked soda pop bottles, got into the square, doused themselves and lit themselves on fire. The Chinese don’t want that to happen again.
Just as we were leaving the checkpoint, there was a commotion. Tiananmen Square is the seat of the Chinese Government. Right now they are having a big meeting for the leadership, kind of like a two week joint session of congress. So security is crazy tight. Two ladies were wailing on their knees. Dion told me that often times people will come to Beijing to approach the government, since their concerns or issues are not addressed at the local level. I thought about taking a picture, but thought I would rather enjoy the day with my guide, and not with 15 chinese soldiers on my back smashing my face into the ground.
We walked on to the square. It seemed cool in terms of grandeur, but I couldn’t help but think of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. If you recall, in 1989 there was a college student uprising. Hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of people were cut down by the chinese military. As I walked the square, that was foremost in my mind.
Interesting story told by Dion. Do you remember the picture of the one guy against the tank? About three blocks away is a tall office building, with an office for Associated Press. The photographer’s office looked down on the square. He happened to look out the window, and saw something was going on. He came down and starting taking pictures, including the tank guy. Things were getting hairy, so he went back to his building. But the military had secured the building, and were shooting people nearby. The guy knew they would search him and take the film. Thinking quickly, he saw an american college student, complete in tank top, flip flops and bushy hair. He called out to them, like they were old friends. The college kid was confused, but as the photographer got closer, he asked the kid to get the film out. The kid did, and we now have that famous photograph!
About Dion, he’s a Christian, and worships at a house church. Very faithful, and just an inspiration on so many levels. But I asked him if his parents chose Dion. He laughed and told me how he got his name. Many chinese students who study english want an american name so it is easy to communicate with americans. Some choose Joe, Roger, and so forth. Well, as Dion was choosing his name, Titanic was really really big….and so was Celine Dion’s song from the movie. He knew Celine was a girl’s name, but the last name sounded good. So that is how he came to be known as Dion!
So, from Tiananmen Square, we continued to the forbidden city. It’s called Forbidden City because it was the place the emperors hung out, and the local folks were not allowed in. This place is hundreds of years old, and breath taking. It has been renovated and spruced up regularly, the last time for the Beijing Olympics. Friends, this thing is big! It was cool, but frankly I was still stuck on the events of Tiananmen Square. (And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. – Gen 4:10) There were a good number of people there, but it was very manageable. Lot of walking…and Dion recommends that if we return, we do it anytime EXCEPT between May and August. There are literally throngs of people that fill the place, and you feel like a sardine, while sweating up a storm. Yesterday was nice in comparison. Jing did well. I was worried about him getting tired.
By the way, we are currently with another family from Ohio. They have come to Beijing first, and will pick up their daughter on Sunday! They have two boys with them, aged 4 and 7. These kids are a handful…whirling dervishes!! They provide us with no end of entertainment….the kids were on full throttle the entire time we were in the square and at the forbidden city.
So, we finished that part (about 2.5 hours) and went to have lunch at a chinese restaurant. Now I’ve got to be really really honest with you. The first full day I was here, I went to a “real” chinese restaurant, and was lost. I ordered something (still don’t know what it was!) but it was nasty! So, I was dreading the chinese meal. Dion saved the day! “Hey, we’re running a little late, do you mind if I order for you?” “You go boy!” So, he ordered….and…it was good! My favorite for those keeping score was…green beans! They are cut up into small pieces and fried! I tried to get the recipe for Lisa, but it’s in chinese….
From the restaurant we go to what is called “old beijing”. We go to a small home and have a class on calligraphy or mask painting. We go through alleys that are fifteen feet wide. And…we are on a rickshaws, or as our driver tells us, Chinese BMWs. Interesting that these houses seem very old, (they are! many have been in a family for four generations or more!! 200 years plus) and you would think they are in poor condition. Well, they aren’t great, but they are nice. These homes which look like a level just above tenements are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The folks are “house poor”, meaning they don’t have a lot of money. If they sold their homes, they could probably get a cool 2 million plus…because land is that valuable, and the “old beijing” is very very desirable.
So, we leave old beijing and head to a tea ceremony. Now, as many of you know, I’m a cultural snob. I like the high fallootin’ stuff. Not. So, I’m not sure if I’m gonna like this Tea thing. We get there, and…it was kind of cool. It wasn’t a ceremony really. This lady just showed us different types of teas, and we tried several. During the time there, the kids were still on full throttle, and provided extra entertainment at no cost. I discovered I actually liked some of the teas. Weird.
After the tea shop, it was time for the acrobat show. By the way, Beijing traffic is a bit different than traffic in Norfolk. The biggest traffic jam in Norfolk is after Big Bang Boom near skyview. To get an idea of the traffic in Beijing, park your car in the middle of the Norfolk High School Parking lot, and pack every square inch with other cars. Then sit there for 7 hours…and you begin to get an idea…
And – when we first got into Beijing, the smog was horrible. Coughing, nasty smelling air. I always saw Asian folks with those face masks…now I understand…
So, we get into the acrobat show a little late due to the traffic. We have assigned seats, (theater is only a quarter full, but chinese like order, so we will sit in our assigned seats. But some ladies are in our seats!! So, attendant lady goes over there and tells them to move. The ladies are not interested in moving. So attendant lady starts flashing her flashlight at them. She yells. They yell back, and aren’t moving. Finally four of them move down. We get in…but there are six of us. Two more need to move down. They ain’t doing it, and other folks can’t see the show. Attendant lady gives up, and the other two of our party sit in the center VIP section. The show was pretty good…
I was told I could take pictures, so I got a few pictures on my iPhone. Suddenly there is a green laser on my phone!!!! This green laser light is flashing on my phone. It’s their way of saying “no pictures!!”. So I turn mine off. Then I look around and other folks are using their phones, and getting lasered. Actually, it’s a good way to stop folks from doing that!!
So, the show is over, and it’s about 6:30 p.m. We are dragging. So we get in the van and head to dinner. Chinese? Nope. We’re are doing italian food in the heart of Beijing!! We get to the place, and it was pretty good!! The two small kids are done. They are asleep at the table. We try to wake up one for supper, no dice. The other kid wakes up, sees the pizza, and eats with his eyes closed. It was hilarious! And what did I choose? Six thousand miles from home, confronted with this exquisite meal selection? Fettuccine Alfredo. You can take the boy out of Nebraska, but you can’t take Nebraska out of the boy…
And that friends, was our first full day in Beijing! Tomorrow we are headed to the great wall!! Thank you again for all of your prayers! Keep them coming! And – we get home on Sunday!!!! Woohoo!!