Friday, 2 September 2011

China - a bit of a hard landing but well worth the bumps!

Our trip started with an excellent flight from Vancouver to Beijing.  As soon as it became apparent that the plane would have lots of empty seats we each nabbed an entire row so we had lots of space to spread out, nap, read and watch movies.  A good start!  After about 13 hours in the air we arrived in Beijing and had an easy trip to the hotel.  The taxi driver wanted to overcharge us but the concierge straightened him out and we ended up paying a fair price.  The kids quickly learned that when travelling, it pays to do a little research  before hand regarding what things should cost and to speak up if things don’t seem right.  The hotel in Beijing was a very pleasant surprise.  It had all the luxuries of five star accommodations and many of the staff spoke at least a little English, something we would quickly learn was not to be taken for granted in China.  Five star accommodations will also not be taken for granted or become the norm in the next year.

We arrived in the evening which lessened the impact of jetlag as we were able to just unwind, go to bed and get a decent night sleep.  The next morning, after Rob and I had a solid workout in the fitness area and we all enjoyed an excellent buffet breakfast, we set out to explore the city.  With only a relatively short time to be spent in China we didn’t want to waste any of it.  We took a taxi to Tiananman Square, the largest public square in the world and the site of many significant events in Chinese history, perhaps the most famous being the protests that occurred there in 1989 and the resulting massacres.  We walked around with the hordes of other tourists and although it was pretty cool to be there and to consider the relevance of it all, the square itself was nothing to really look at.  The boys were perhaps most impressed with the many cameras set up to ensure that big red could see every move made in every corner of the square. 

We made our way across the square and through the string of hustlers wanting to be our special guide or to sell us memorabilia and into the Forbidden City, the massive palace complex built between 1406 and 1420, home to Chinese emperors for nearly 500 years! It was impressive and although we were starting to get hot in the strong sun, we enjoyed strolling around and taking in the ambiance.  We certainly were not alone as again, the place was packed with what were mostly Chinese tourists.

Exiting the Forbidden City we wandered into and through an area of hutongs, a network of tiny alleyways, remains of an ancient Chinese village but still teaming with life.  This part of the day was my favorite as I felt that it gave us at least a glimpse of what life in China might be like in this tiny piece of it. The alleys were filled with doorways leading to more alleyways, shops, homes, rows of old bicycles, strings full of laundry, vines dripping with strange looking fruits and vegetables and chicken pens hanging overhead.  We eventually found our way out and into a riverfront area with lots of shops and restaurants.  We rented two seated bicycles (having to first convince the boys that we could in deed manage them without a crash) and rode around amidst the chaos of the carts, cars, motorbikes and other bicycles.  Our first day was a long one and we were certainly ready to hit the pillow at the end of it.

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