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.

We love walking through the colorful hútòngs, the old Běijīng neighborhoods

Hútòngs – (simplified Chinese胡同traditional Chinese衚衕pinyinhútòng) 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.

Street food and neighbors in a hútòng.  Note the guy in his striped pajamas.  The living is very colorful  in the hútòngs. 
A hútòng alley
Fresh vegetables for sale
In a hútòng
Joining a little tour from our 9 Dragons Hostel, we rode about an hour from the hostel into the mountains–to the Great Wall, the best part of our trip. 
The green and blossoming Beijing countryside
Our guide took us to the Huong Hua (Yellow Flower) section of the wall, which is supposed to be closed, but for about 30 cents, we were let through the gate.
We spent  3 1/2  spectacular hours on the Great Wall–away from the crowds of tourists.

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.

The Great Wall extends for thousands of miles

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.

The sentries must have felt isolated–but we loved being away from crowds
At the top of a tower on the Great Wall
Barry on the Great Wall of China
Our 9 Dragon Hostel group on the Great Wall
At the top of a particularly steep section
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.
Some sections go down
Some sections go up
Many sections went up steeply
Vast and empty
Can we climb more?
Up we went
The Indonesian guys at the top of this section
I made it too!
We could have continued for thousands of miles along the Great Wall of China
Instead, we turned around and joined the others for lunch
The dangerous part of the trip involved our van driver who seemed to enjoy passing on curves

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.

Friendly people: a guy from China and Brian from Georgia, U.S.
At 9 Dragon Hostel party
Florio, from Switzerland, with Barry, the Chinese guy, and me at the 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;pinyin798 Yìshùqū).   Since the early 1990s, 798 has been important for art in Běijīng.

Běijīng 798 Art Zone – contemporary art

Much of the art is innovative.  Some involves copies.

798 Art Zone copies including Mona Lisa.  Do you have your masterpiece yet? 
Szechuan spicy lunch with Helen. Barry said he could taste nothing after the first bite.
Běijīng entrance
Chinese flag ceremony
Běijīng riverfront
Běijīng riverfront dining
Reggae too
The Forbidden City
Statues of the Empress taking tea
Forbidden City
Tian’anmen Square at night
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.
Inside the Forbidden City
Visitors come from everywhere
Sun dial near the Hall of Supreme Harmony

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.

Beautiful stonework
Ornate doors
Forbidden City wall with a copper and iron fire vessel.

The huge copper and iron vessels held water for fire-fighting protection.

Long walls of the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is vast and crowded and after a few hours, we wandered away. 

Barry and me at the park above the Forbidden City

From the park above the Forbidden City--looking the other direction

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

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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