Běijīng, China: The Great Wall of China, Tian’anmen Square, The Forbidden City, and Hútòngs
Barry and I headed next to Běijīng, the capital and second largest city in China. With almost 18,000,000 people, the city is crowded. To give you a little idea of what having so many people involves, at some of the major intersections, pedestrians have 73 seconds to make it across the multi-lane roads. The city is growing. The old is replaced with the new.
Hútòngs – (simplified Chinese: 胡同; traditional Chinese: 衚衕; pinyin: hútòng) are narrow alleys formed by courtyard residences especially in traditional Beijing neighborhoods. Most have been torn down and replaced by concrete highrises that lack the communal living of the hútòng.
Barry and I stayed at the 9 Dragon Hostel, located in a hútòng. We recommend it although if you are used to soft, thick mattresses, you may not be very comfortable. The hostel is clean, helpful, and close to the Metro; for 2 yuan, less than 3o cents, we could reach much of Beijing on the fast, clean public transportation system. However, we learned not to travel during rush hours when the crush made us feel like flattened fish.
- A hútòng alley
The Great Wall of China established a line of fortifications extending over 5,000 miles roughly along the southern border of Inner Mongolia. Although most of what remains today was built during the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall (or “The fort of 10,000 Li”) was in use from the 5th century B.C. through the 16th century A.D.
I needed to crawl up one really steep section, and what I hadn’t expected from just looking at pictures of the Great Wall is we were already at a high elevation, so I soon was panting as we hiked up ancient sections of the wall.
- On the side of the wall away from the expected Mongolian invaders were doorways and steps so the sentries could perhaps go into the nearest town for food.
We were able to go as far and as fast as we wanted on a beautiful day on the Great Wall of China. I loved the whole experience.
Besides being a good choice for its convenient location and good atmosphere, our 9 Dragon Hostel was fun. One night, the hostel owners invited everyone staying there for a Peking duck and pint of beer party.
Besides getting to go to the Great Wall, we saw other important Běijīng sites. Helen, a recent university graduate whom we met at the Běijīng Train Station, was our guide one day and gave us an overview of the city. She took us first to the 798 Art District -(Chinese: 798艺术区;pinyin: 798 Yìshùqū). Since the early 1990s, 798 has been important for art in Běijīng.
Much of the art is innovative. Some involves copies.
- Szechuan spicy lunch with Helen. Barry said he could taste nothing after the first bite.
- Běijīng riverfront dining
- With Mao at Tian’anmen Square
- The Tiananmen Gate was first built in 1417 and Tian’anmen Square originally designed and built in 1651 but enlarged to four times its original size in 1958. Now Tian’anmen Square includes the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. I couldn’t help but remember the 1989 Tian’anmen Square situation, but now it is just a huge tourist site.
- The day after our great Běijīng overview with Helen, Barry and I returned to the Forbidden City, which is now called the Palace Museum. Occupying the central part of Běijīng, it was the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Construction began in 1406. Twenty-four emperors ruled the whole country from here for nearly 500 years. Built to look resplendent and magnificent, the Forbidden City has over 9,000 halls and rooms; its walls are about 33 feet high, and a moat, 171 feet wide, surrounds the walls. The city was a strongly fortified castle. In 1987, UNESCO included the Forbidden City in the list of Word Heritage sites.
The halls have very poetic names: the Pavilion of Gathering Fragrance, the Gate of Divine Prowess, The Hall of Union and Peace, the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of preserved Harmony. In the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most magnificent in the Forbidden City, grand ceremonies including emperors’ enthronements, imperial weddings, and title conferring took place. Royal banquets for emperor’s birthday, festivals for New Year’s Day and Winter Solstice, as well as Final Imperial Examinations held in the early Qing Dynasty all happened in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
The huge copper and iron vessels held water for fire-fighting protection.
After six great days in Běijīng, Barry and I headed back to Lin’an and the summer school session there. However, we took a fast train with soft seats, which was comfortable and only 10 hours long.
Come check out Běijīng and, of course, the Great Wall of China–my favorite site.
- Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée