Asia 2008:
Day 9 - Beijing, China


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Asia 2008: [Day 1 - Tokyo] [Day 2 - Kyoto] [Day 3 - Kobe] [Day 4 - At Sea] [Day 5 - Nagasaki] [Day 6 - Busan] [Day 7 - At Sea] [Day 8 - Dalian] [Day 9 - Beijing] [Day 10 - Beijing] [Day 11 - At Sea] [Day 12 - At Sea] [Day 13 - Shanghai] [Day 14 - Shanghai] [Day 15 - At Sea] [Day 16 - At Sea] [Day 17 - Hong Kong]

Tuesday, April 1: It's Beijing! No, not really, it's the port of Tianjin, which is a 3 - 4 hour drive from inland Beijing.
The local Chinese authorities took an hour longer than expected to clear our ship, then we faced long lines as we had to go through security in the terminal building. This messed up every full day and overnight tour to Beijing.
As we got toward the front of the line, we glanced back at our majestic ship.
Our drive into Bejing took us past mile after mile of newly planted trees. Each tree was lashed into place to protect it from wind while it established roots. We tried to do the math: 6 - 10 trees per row times one row every 4 feet times both sides of the highway times over two hours of driving. Our best estimate is eleventy billion newly planted trees.
Debbie spotted the first few Maersk containers on the Tianjin highways, but Tom spotted this beauty about halfway to Beijing.
Since we were late getting into Beijing, we went directly to lunch first at the Regal Palace Theatre and Chinese Cuisine Something-or-Other.
Lunch was served family style, which proved to be a little difficult for those who weren't used to the concept of taking only a small portion and leaving enough food for everyone else. We learned quickly to get our fair share lest the food run out by the time it got to us. We were able to identify most of the food except the appetizers, which were identified on our menu only as "Appetizer assortments." Every single thing was delicious, even those items we couldn't identify.
The lobby of this restaurant featured lots of aquariums, both traditional and tub-like. We couldn't tell if they all served as holding tanks for future meals, or if just some of them did.
For this adorable guy's sake, let's hope not all of the water creatures are on the menu.
You've gotta love a futuristic building with "Golden Jaguar" on the front.
Finally, we got to see the sights we had come for. Our first stop was the Forbidden City.
Let's look around, shall we?
This procession of creatures are located at the corner of each building.
The weather was partly cloudy, and the air was strangely foggy -- a combination of weather and polution. It was especially noticeable ...
... when looking across a square. We've touched up all of these photos to make the colors more vivid except for this one so you can see the odd haze. This is the view looking back to the main entrance where our tour started.
Some of the largest buildings are under renovation for the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics, but the temporary fencing around these buildings gave a hint of the treasures inside the buildings.
Here's the next major courtyard. Sorry, we're not tour guides -- we just take pictures and look around. This is the main place where the big gatherings took place. We recognized it from "Mulan."
These pig snouts are decorative and functional -- they serve as rain spouts. In the background is the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
From one vantage point, we were able to see the city beyond for a short while.
Here's a nice dragon detail on a large door.
Here's a view into one of the fancy buildings.
This large stone carving graces the steps leading up to the aforementioned fancy buildings.
Here are some of the roof creatures up close, so you can see the amazing detail.
Check out this gorgeous wall ...
... and this awesome lion statue. We never tired of seeing these statues all over China in front of restaurants, hotels, and businesses.
In the concubine section, this giant crystal symbolized the purity of the concubines. At this point, Debbie reminded Tom that he'll never have concubines because he's not emperor of ancient China. Tom told Debbie that he wouldn't change places with the emperor, because the emperor of ancient China never had antibiotics.
Debbie's favorite part of the tour was the garden.
The paths had a huge variety of stone mosaics that were in remarkably good condition.
The magnolia trees were just beginning to bloom.
Many of the trees were hundreds of years old. Those that were 300 years or older were marked with tags nailed into their trunks. So, you live three centuries and you get stabbed. Nice.
More interesting buildings and another pond.
There's a large moat surrounding the entire Forbidden City complex. We'd love to have a moat around our home, but it would require either tearing down our neighbors' homes or settling for a very small moat.
When we got to our next stop, the Temple of Heaven, we amused ourselves watching the gorgeous magpies while our tour guide frantically tried to get us tickets before closing time.
Score! We were able to get in, and bolted down long outdoor corridors lined with people playing cards.
The sun was sinking in the sky by the time we got to the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest. Australia's sunlight is described as "diamond light," so we dubbed China's sunlight "smoky topaz light."
Don't worry, it wasn't really that dark yet. We were able to get several properly exposed photos.
This temple has been recently cleaned up and it is absolutely stunning.
Here's the interior ...
... and here's the view looking out from the temple.
The temple is surrounded by columns with dragon carvings on them.
Those pale in comparison to the amazing carvings in the center of the stairs leading up to the temple.
Just before it was time to go, we bought a few Diet Cokes from a souvenir kiosk. We missed the ubiquitous vending machines of Japan, but we were happy that Diet Coke was more readily available in China.
Our next stop was the highlight of our day -- Tiananmen Square. A windstorm was rolling in as we arrived.
We quickly photographed a few major landmarks, such as the Monument to the People's Heroes, ...
... then hurried across the square to see what was up with the large gathering of people in front of Tiananmen Gate and the photo of Chairman Mao. People were pouring out of the subway to join the crowd, and police patrolled the area in police trucks with loud speakers talking to the crowd in Chinese. The Olympic torch had just been in the square the night before and this gathering had the feel of a protest of some sort, but we were never able to confirm it. Our tour guide told us that it was people gathering for the nightly lowering of the flag, but we're not sure we believe it, because the group didn't disperse during the 45 minutes we were there, and because the police trucks were literally driving through groups of people on the edge of the crowd.
This is the Great Hall of the People, ...
... and this is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, also known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Large sculptures flank either side of the viewing area in front of the building. Here's one ...
... and here's the other.
Being here was almost as good as being in Red Square.
Across the street from the Square is this unidentified structure with a large Olympics 2008 countdown clock on it.
Tom wanted this shot of the road around the square to better visualize how it might have looked with tanks rolling down it.
After our allotted time to visit, it was too late to check in to our hotel, so we walked the few blocks from the Square to our next stop, a restaurant for a Peking Duck dinner. The sun was setting during our walk.
Here's the entrance to the Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant.
Inside, we were able to view the large brick ovens used to cook Peking Duck.
We were also able to see plastic versions of the cooked ducks. Yum, let's eat.
The restaurant was a large, brightly lit hall, with several dozen large round tables.
By now, we knew the drill regarding the lazy Susan in the middle of the table.
Our menu featured the wrong ship and the wrong date, but listed four different duck-based dishes we'd be enjoying, including deep-fried duck, fried duck with bamboo shoots, duck bone soup, and the big finale of the evening ...
... Peking Roast Duck, carved and served immediately. It was quite delicious.
Our bellies full, we walked back to our tour bus, still parked in front of Tiananmen Square, which gave us the opportunity to see the square lit up at night.
It was a beautiful sight, wouldn't you agree?
Our drive to our hotel took us past a McDonald's which mocked us that we never got a chance to experience the Chinese version of McDonald's.
Our final -- and very welcome -- destination of the evening was the luxurious Beijing Hotel, glimpsed here through the window of our tour bus.
We were each handed our keys by our tour group representatives so that we didn't have to check in separately and we went up to our rooms. The hotel was amazing, with wide hallways and extra wide elevator lobbies. This is the seventh floor, where we were staying.

Our room was spacious and the beds were topped with feather comforters, with every possible amenity available. If only we had more than 9 hours to enjoy the luxury! But we hurried off to sleep, since we had a date with the Great Wall the next morning.

Day 10 >


Asia 2008: [Day 1 - Tokyo] [Day 2 - Kyoto] [Day 3 - Kobe] [Day 4 - At Sea] [Day 5 - Nagasaki] [Day 6 - Busan] [Day 7 - At Sea] [Day 8 - Dalian] [Day 9 - Beijing] [Day 10 - Beijing] [Day 11 - At Sea] [Day 12 - At Sea] [Day 13 - Shanghai] [Day 14 - Shanghai] [Day 15 - At Sea] [Day 16 - At Sea] [Day 17 - Hong Kong]

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