I eagerly arrived at the Beijing airport, not knowing one word of Chinese. Yes, I knew about the Great Wall, Chinese food, and yellow dust – the pollution, but my knowledge of Chinese history was minimal. After collecting my bags and making my way through customs, I knew a driver should be, hopefully would be waiting. He was. His name was Eric; his American name he told me… one he had picked from watching an American tv show, his favorite tv show being CSI. Eric had a genuine smile, spoke very good English and the best part, a sense of humor. I knew we were off to a great start on this adventure.
After checking into the Novotel hotel, it was time for a short walk. First stop,
Tiananmen Square – Stern-faced guards at the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong at the country’s political epicenter.
Over the next few days, my tour continues. Here are some of the amazing places I was able to visit:
Temple of Heaven – Temple halls are round, bases are square – respectively symbolizing heaven and earth. The Round Altar was built in 1530 and rebuilt in 1740. Three tiers of white marble – its geometry revolves around the imperial number nine, with nine being the largest single-digit odd number and odd numbers possess heavenly significance. There are nine rings in the top tier, each composed with multiples of nine stones, so the ninth ring equals 81 stones. The stairs are also in multiples of nine. Do you see where I’m going with this?
The Forbidden City – Off limits for over 500 years, here you will discover the largest and most well-preserved ancient buildings in China. Home to two dynasties of emperors, the Ming and the Qing didn’t stray far from this pleasure dome. The Chinese Emperors kept their concubines with them inside the Forbidden City. During the Qing dynasty there were around 20,000. The concubines served a dual purpose – to ensure the Emperor a very good chance of producing an heir and, of course, limitless opportunities to indulge in his pleasure.
The Great Wall – “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man.” ~ Mao Zedong
China’s mandatory must-see sight, one of the seven wonders of the world – the Great Wall. The “original” wall was built over 2,000 years ago during the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC), when China was unified under Emperior Qin Shi Huang.
The most touristy and photographed area of the Great Wall is Badaling, about 70km northwest of Beijing. My guide arranged to take me to another location along the Juyongguan Pass; a steep Pass where I was able to enjoy a spectacular 4.4 kilometer hike and takes lots of photos. Along this Pass you can see tops of mountains for miles and miles in either direction. One of the most incredible and surreal views ever! I was told in order to call yourself a “hero” here you must climb the Wall.
…and that my dear friends is the Great Wall of China. You may have seen it hundreds of times on National Geographic, postcards or movies but nothing beats being there in person because no picture, no movie and no video will capture the essence of her vast greatness and her extraordinary beauty.
After the spectacular hike, it was time to head back for a much needed freshening up at the Novotel hotel, then off to enjoy a traditional Peking duck dinner followed by a lively Kung Fu martial arts performance. What a fantastic way to end the day.
Of course, with my love for animals, a trip to Beijing just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Beijing Zoo to see the Giant Pandas. One of the advantages of having a private tour guide is the flexibility in the schedule and of course someone else who does all the driving. Eric happily obliged my request and we detoured off our original agenda for an hour long zoo visit. This big guy was enjoying noshing on a lunch of bamboo and carrots. Totally worth the side trip!
By the end of my 4-day tour of Beijing, I was truly humbled by the generosity of the locals. Everyone I came in contact with was kind and helpful. There is a sense of pride here. I was able to learn and speak a few words in Mandarin Chinese, but most importantly I learned an incredible amount of Chinese history, saw the beauty and diversity of this country and its people, and am truly thankful for the opportunities in my life. I can’t wait to return. But next, I’m off to Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. Watch soon for an upcoming post about the Terracotta Warriors.
Have you been to Beijing? Climbed the Great Wall to become a hero? What was your most memorable experience in China?