Beijing - Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, one dream
Beijing - being there
I remember, somewhat hazily, being at school, learning about Peking, and dreaming of being there.
Today Peking is Beijing, steeped in cultural heritage and embracing contemporary changes as the capital of the People’s Republic of China.
I waited many years before my dream came true and I finally visit. And I’m not disappointed. This city captivates me.
The first glimpse of the Great Wall of China is awesome; the wall curling up and up, around and around, into the undulating mountains.
Time only allows me to walk the Badaling section of the wall - about an hour’s drive from Beijing. And yes, I admit it - there are wall to wall tourists to share my moment. It’s still worth it.
The walk is steep in parts although I didn’t for a moment think of quitting my journey. I tagged along with an elderly Chinese couple, the three of us plodding along with determination.
When we reach our designated ending, three happy people smile, bow, and shake hands excitedly. Regretfully, I have to leave. How wonderful it would be to see more and more and more.
A quote attributed to Chairman Mao states - you’re not a man until you’ve walked the Great Wall. Now I’ve walked a section, I’m uncertain how to interpret his words. Have I changed gender?
At the heart of Beijing is Tiananmen Square. Once again it’s an overwhelming emotional moment to be standing here. Thoughts of the past invade, traumatic events, triumphant events.
So much to see, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the people, Tiananmen Tower, Mao Zedong Memorial Hall and the National Museum of China.
The square positively hums with activity, overseas tourists outnumbered by Chinese visitors from other provinces. Red flags fly, red-hatted people queue solemnly to file past Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. It’s non-stop action.
A Forbidden City
From the square it’s walking distance to the Imperial palace known as the Forbidden City. For around 600 years this was the home of the Ming and Qing dynasties. UNESCO named it a World Heritage site in 1987.
The so called ordinary people were not allowed inside the gates – resulting in its forbidding name.
This palace is one of the best preserved collections of ancient buildings in China - a vast complex of halls, pavilions and courtyards. It seems like each time you walk through a gateway you are confronted with more grandeur.
Stories unfold as we wander around - see the rooms where thousands of the emperors’ concubines lived. And who better to watch over them than the eunuchs? No surprises there.
The Summer Palace
After the winter, when the heat became unbearable, the imperial court would adjourn to the Summer Palace – what bliss!
A marble boat appears to float on the massive lake. Gardens of ancient design surround covered terraced walkways adorned with delicately painted friezes.
The Palace is also known for its impressive 17-arch bridge and the Long Corridor decorated with brightly coloured paintings.
Working on the theory that it might be as close to the real thing as I’m going to get, I visit the Temple of Heaven.
This beautiful structure was built during the Ming dynasty, and every year the emperor came to pray. An elaborate ritual, praying to the gods for good harvests and good rains.
Back then,the surrounding park was off limits to the rank and file. Today it would be difficult to find a livelier atmosphere -the emperors would be astounded. It’s a people’s park.
Activities abound. Tai chi, Taiji bailong ball, dancing, choirs, badminton, musicians. Children fly kites, play soccer and whirl coloured bands of silk in the air. Older people knit and embroider or play cards and dominoes. Locals invite tourists to join in.
A visit to a Hutong
Millions of people in Beijing now live in modern apartments in sky-scraper buildings, so the Hutong areas are of great architectural importance.
Hutong are ancient homes centered around a courtyard. Many have been destroyed with the introduction of roads and increasing traffic.
The buildings and the lifestyle they represent are now considered to be Beijing’s living history museum.
The best way to visit a Hutong is by rickshaw, zig-zagging though the narrow laneways. The courtyard houses are preserved in the traditional manner, withpot plants, bird cages, and goldfish. The residents living everyday lives.
Change is evident. It was usual for three generations to live together as a family. Today, more and more young people are reluctant to follow the tradition and opt to live with friends their own age.
Beijing is a complex mixture of history and the present; symbolism, culture, history, food, markets, shopping, hotels.
All I needed was more time. Is there ever enough time? Ah well, back to dreaming.