Beijing, a city of over 21 million people, covering an area over 600 square miles, making it the world’s third largest city. It was the Labor Holiday, so things were very laid back with everyone off work. Kids were playing in the streets, using construction equipment as teeter-totters. We had gotten a taste of some of the finer things the city had to offer, and we were very excited to explore more of the city. The subway system here is phenomenal, making it great to get anywhere you needed to go, quickly.
It was time to visit Tiananmen Square. It’s at the front of the Forbidden city, and a spot where many famous events happened in China’s history. It is also its most controversial spot, being the location of the massacre that had unarmed students facing off against tanks in 1989. Nothing like staring down a barrel of a Chinese Type 59 Battle Tank with just a rock, or worse yet, a petition in hand. The students were protesting in hopes of gaining more democracy. These moments are burned into my brain when I was in High School, making China’s government one of the worst ones in my mind back then. Of course back then, I also thought everyone rode bikes around because all those films I saw as a youth. It made china out to be a very poor and backward country; with millions of people in bicycle traffic jams. Similar actually to what we saw with scooters in Vietnam around Christmas, but with bikes. Anyway, it’s nothing like that now. It’s just cars, cars, and more cars.
Tiananmen Square is the largest square in the world, and not the prettiest for sure. It has all the standard giant propaganda posters of China’s leaders, but nothing that exciting. It’s like a massive parking lot, empty. Sure there are people walking across it, but it was just so big. I can only imagine in summer it being an oven.
Across from the square though is the Forbidden City, which was where the imperials palace was during the Ming and Qing dynasty. There have been emperors staying here for the last 500 years. Back in the day, only people of royal descent, servants, and workers could go into Forbidden City. There are 980 buildings inside the city, from throne rooms to theaters.
The gatehouses are massive tiled structures, where you walk over a bridge, though huge doorways. Only the emperor can go through the main doors, but there are lesser gates for everyone else. The last Emperor in China was Puyi, and he was evicted in 1924. Of course it was a defensive structure back in the day, and you could imagine warriors with their long bows drawn and pointed at you. Now there were a few guards with their machines guns hanging by their side. Once you walk through this structure, there is a huge courtyard with a throne room across. Then there are the pleasure grounds. The whole city is now part of a museum.
It was really packed when we got here, so you were always with people. This is a must see for Beijing, a look into the imperial dynasty, before the communist system. This place was a serious world power, fighting the Mongol, Vietnam, and pretty much all its neighbors. They created paper and gunpowder among many other things. The buildings are built in the Chinese Palatial architecture. The details on all the buildings are beyond ornate, with dragons flowing in and out of lotus flowers. There are painted murals displaying the military might of the Chinese empire also. Most of the rest of Asia has copied this style of architecture in one some fashion. Anyway, it’s worth the stop.
With all the craziness of our trip, we thought it would be fun to slow things down and get a pedicure. Why, who the hell knows. After all, for the last 8 months we had been in the cheapest places in the world to get good massages and pedicures. But now, that we were in a majorly expensive city, we thought it would be “romantic”. So we chose a random place, down a random section of Beijing with no recommendations. The staff had no English skills, but this made it more exciting. Through sign language and mimicry, our pedicure began. We were entertained by some young Chinese girls swaying back and forth on the TV belting out some of the greatest hits in Mandarin. Once my feet were grinded down to practically nothing, we tried to get a couples’ massage. Well, as always, translations did not go well. We thought we were being offered a nice drink when he showed us a glass. Well sure, why not try some nice Chinese drink. Next thing you know we are laying on massage tables naked and he pulls out a blow torch. What the hell, I am game.
He starts sticking the glasses to my back, which is a very strange sensation. He takes the blowtorch to the inside of the glass, sucking the air out of the glass, and then places on your back. It automatically begins sucking your skin up through the glass, forming a bond. It burns a little, but not too bad. Over all it’s just really freaken weird. We looked like an old fashion circuit board with the glass knob and tubes. We were loaded up, with at least 20 of these glasses sticking down our backs. They were left on for fifteen minutes, and then he began to yank them off. “ssssshhhhhhhh uuuu POP!!” Our backs were puckered with dark round purple bruises. We literally looked like lady bugs or spotted leopards. Little did we know at the time that those bruises would be bright like that for weeks, and take months to totally disappear.
Cupping dates back to the 3000 BC with the Egyptians, but the Chinese have been using it since 1000 BC. It supposedly treats everything from acne to cancer. It draws the toxins out of the blood, releasing all the evil that it contains. Or something like that.
Later that night we decided to check out a section with a small river/lake running down the center of it called Houhai. This really reminded me of San Antonio’s river walk, filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops. Here you can get food from all over the world. It’s a party area, really popular with westerners. It’s well designed, and fun. If you are getting a little tired of traditional Chinese food, this is a great place to get your fill of French, German, Moroccan, and yes, even American food here. Or you can get what Beijing is most famous for, Peking Duck. At night this place lights up with craziness, as the bar and night club scene takes over.
After dinner we decided to swing by the Olympics Park. I don’t know if you saw the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics, but it was amazing. The dance numbers, acrobatics, and choreography were just stunning. The architecture of the stadiums were also the most unique and exciting that I had ever seen, from the Bird Nest to the Cube. We got there pretty late, but had a good time wandering around and taking pictures of the torch and buildings. It’s a nice little side trip.
The national Labor Holiday is over, and it’s time to explore sunny Beijing. I really was not sure what all the hubbub was about as far as the smog, the first three days we were here it was gorgeous, with no problems at all. The sky was clear, crisp, and yes, smelt really fresh. It was not till our last day that we started to notice a problem. People started wearing masks, runners were decked out in haz-mat gear, and as we drove to the airport it was like the city became enveloped in a haze. The skyscrapers that were so clear the last week were disappearing, as if they were in a dream. Everything got gritty, and very fuzzy. So this is what they meant by pollution. Of course this many people in one area will cause that, especially with China’s weak environmental laws. We soon discovered why the air was so clear for us. It was the Labor Day holiday; all factories were closed for over five days. We had arrived just in time at the second day of the vacation. So we literally were in Beijing at the best time possible with no factories working. So it was with a bit relief that we were leaving, as the city slowly got enveloped in smog. I was happy to say that we left Beijing in a cloud of dust as we were heading to paradise next.