All right, now on to our first day in Beijing. We woke early, in our sleeper car, only to find the train was going to be late (like the overnight one from Shanghai to Xian). We were about an hour late when we walked out of the north exit to find our guide, Demi, waiting patiently for us. She had been waiting for an hour and a half, unfortunately. But she, happily, led us to our driver and we headed off to our first destination, The Temple of Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven is actually a complex of buildings all built for the Emperors to worship Heaven and pray for a good harvest in the coming months through incense and animal sacrifice. The buildings are stunning. The blue ceramic tile used on the roof is to symbolize the sky and it's just gorgeous. We quickly learned the detail that goes into all Chinese design, from our amazing guide Demi, as well as the history of the Temple complex.
One great part of the area is the park that surrounds it. It is filled with seniors. They are all in groups: knitting, dancing, exercising, playing instruments, playing this cool hacky sack game with a badminton birdie thingy (they let B play), playing cards, dominoes, Chinese chess etc. It was really interesting. I loved seeing it. Demi said that seniors can buy a pass for parks in the city very cheaply and go whenever they want. It's their way to keep active and socialize.
Here are some photos from the Temple of Heaven:
After that cultural highlight we went to Tienanmen Square, which was packed with people. Demi knew just where to go to beat the crowds (she has a way of avoided them, thankfully) and we were on our way through the security turnstiles. The square itself is on the way to the Forbidden City but is also a place that Chinese people go to have their photo taken with the portrait of Chairman Mao. I don't know if you can tell how great he looks in the portraits below but he looked very fresh faced because they have just put up a brand new portrait in preparation for Beijing's special day on October 1st.
It is probably the horrible student demonstrations in 1989 that most people think of when they think of the square and it's certainly on your mind as you walk it. But there was no discord at all as we walked. Just a lot of happy people, with their families and swarms of bus tour groups, all wearing the same hats, with their guide speaking into portable microphones. The kids had their share of people asking for photos but they are happy about it now that they heard that David's cousin Peter and his son Zach had a similar experience in China because they are both so tall (6'6" and 6'5"). They even had people ask them to hold their babies for photos! By the way, Bereket is asked all the time now, which is good. He said he likes being the centre of attention so he's totally fine with it.
We actually got to see lots of animals and the kids were thrilled. They took lots of photos but I will just show you a few highlights:
Both she and the driver were so interested in our trip and took our photo. The driver doesn't speak any English. He just spoke through Demi and grinned and us and gave us a thumbs up. He looks just like a Chinese version of our friend Jonathan. He is such a safe driver. The best we've had by far.
When we arrived at our apartment, Demi went in with us and waited for the lady to come before leaving. Our apartment is great. Nice and clean with a great washer (we did two loads right away) and drying rack, two big, comfy beds and a great Chinese restaurant downstairs. We had delicious fried rice and spring rolls and everyone else really enjoyed the pork dumplings so I'm sure they're awesome. You can see the cooks making everything to order and the place is just packed so that's always a good sign. Oh, and it's cheap. Which is good too!