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We had our game face on the minute we arrived in Beijing airport – Korea and Japan were easy, but China was no joke.
Previously, when we asked around what people, who had traveled in China, thought about it, we usually received one of two responses:
“It’s rude, disgusting – I hate it”
“It’s rude, disgusting – I love it”
As my mom said, “at least people can agree on two out of the three”
Moreover, despite our first two days in a hotel, we refused to give up our couchsurfing ways. Over the next two weeks we had four hosts lined up for our first four cities as well as two overnight trains (one of which would be spent sitting on hard seats surrounded by 50 other passengers for 12 hours straight); a true test of our traveling stamina.
However, before any of this, Vicky and I spent 6 days in China’s capital city – Beijing.
It’s been four years since the Beijing Olympics and Vicky and I were hoping to reap the benefits of billion of dollars spent on improving Beijing’s transportation and infrastructure.
However, there are some things you can’t throw money at. The air in Beijing hits you like a sack of bricks. It’s over 5 times worse than New York City and Paris, none of which comply with acceptable world health organization standards. Moreover, despite tremendous economic growth over the last several decades, the culture appears to be lagging behind in the sprint. The Chinese spit. Everywhere. Crossing the street is a constant game of Frogger as they don’t yield for pedestrians. Every bus ride comes with a minimum of five near accidents, free of charge.
Once while leaving a temple, a man just farted directly in front of us. Really now, what would Confucius think?
When all is said and done though, it is so culturally and historically rich, it may just be worth it. Here are some of our favorite sites from 6 days in Beijing.
No trip to Beijing is complete without a tour of the Forbidden City (aka Imperial Palace). Situated in the heart of Tienanmen Square and decorated with a portrait of Mau, The Imperial Palace is a massive, massive, outdoor museum. Once the seat of the emperor for nearly 400 years, the Imperial Palace now stands as a true testament to China’s might, attracting visitors from all over the world.
One of the largest squares in the world, Tiananmen square, like China, impresses you with its sheer size. 440,000 square meters, this square can hold one million people.
Palace is somewhat misleading here. It’s not as much of a palace as it is a glorified park. Still, the lake which occupies the center is really very beautiful. Careful though, as Vicky and I were trying to leave we ended up on a tour around the perimeter of the lake which delayed us about two hours.
The Temple of Heaven was once the location of an imperial ceremony, whereby the emperor would perform the necessary ritual in order to secure a bountiful harvest for the year. Now it is once of China’s most celebrated temples.
Largely the work of the Ming Dynasty, the great wall is actually a series of great walls, which stretch across part of Northern China. While it wasn’t particularly successful in keeping out invaders (sentries, as they say, can be bribed), it does provide a spectacular view. Read about our Great Wall adventures.
Although Mau wished to be cremated, his body ended up on display. Kind of the opposite of what he intended I suppose. Oh well – the Chinese love it. I’ve never seen such a long line – it had to be over a thousand people (it moves relatively fast though, only about 40 minutes). I find the whole Mau obsession pretty interesting, since he’s such a controversial figure. We’re going to do our best to ask around and see if we can go more in depth in a separate article.
Generally museums that have a lot of old pots and pans don’t excite me, and this one was no different. However, it does have a lot of nice information on the Chinese dynasties, as well as an entire wing dedicated to the rise of communism in China (though, unfortunately, a little lacking in English).
Vicky and I have seen a lot of Buddhas. We saw Buddhas in Japan, Korea, and now China. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more (at least, if Vicky has her way). That said, the large statues of Buddha at this temple was hands down the most impressive one I’ve ever seen. 26 meters high, the statue is the Guinness world record holder for largest statue carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.