We began our day with a trip to Tiananmen Square. Unfortunately our appointment at the U.S. Embassy was cancelled, but we made up for it with other perks and extra time on the Wall. It was an incredible experience to walk around a place you only ever see and read about in books.
A great deal of history lies in Tiananmen Square, this being the largest public city square in the world – most notably for what took place almost 20 years ago, the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. After Chairman Mao died in 1976, his successor Deng Xiaoping introduced series of reforms in order to modernize China. However, not all was just fine and dandy. Despite a great deal of economic change, restrictions on the Chinese people’s freedom of speech kept human rights in China far from Western standards.
Social discontent came to the fore when students and workers gathering in the square to mourn the death of liberal figurehead Hu Yaobang turned into a protest. After warning the demonstrators to leave, the army got sent in, and around 1000 civilians were shot down and run over by tanks in the famous square, in full view of international media. This was an awakening for the rest of the world. The result of this protest just proved how truly suppressed Chinese people still were and the freedom they were denied. Clearly the students didn’t have a right to free expression.
We walked around, and then just like any good tourist would do, took a million pictures facing every direction. Afterward we headed for the Heavenly Temple, the largest sacrificial temple in China. Built in the 1420s during the reign of Emperor Yongle, it is the site where the emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasty would offer their sacrifices to Heaven and pray for rain and good harvest. While walking around the gardens we observed groups of mostly elderly citizens dancing, singing, and playing Taji Ball. Ricky and Dan decided to join in and practice using their “soft hand” skills.
After our breakfast feast we headed for the Great Wall, one of the Eight Wonders of the world. Built to keep foreign raiders out, it is perhaps the most remarkable defense system known to man. It’s hard to imagine this entire wall being built by hand, and consequently, the inevitable death toll that followed. Our guide, Tina sang to us “Hey Jude” on the way; it was quite amusing. She was seriously the best guide ever; even though she did carry around that ridiculous-looking bright yellow flag held up in the air – it just screamed “tourist.”
Once we got to the Wall (or an accessible section of it at least), what had started as a beautiful Beijing day turned to pouring-down rain. That just further added to the experience because then we got to dress up in these cool white plastic ponchos that made us all look like ghosts.
Some of the guys thought it would be cool to race to the top (by top I mean as far as we could go). Unfortunately for the guys, though, the girls conquered. As the sky started to clear up and it stopped raining, we could see further into the distance. It is difficult to put into words how incredible this was to see. The thick smog also made for a fantastic series of mysterious, “urky” pictures … though we could hardly make out the other side of the valley to grasp the full expanse of this majestic wall.
Beer and then some …
Next we headed for dinner at another traditional Chinese restaurant, but with hula dancers this time. Yep that’s right, and not to mention one of them was a guy. When we finished our meal the dancers came off stage and for some reason aimed straight for all of us “outsiders.” First they tied red thread around our wrists. We were nervous about what this could possibly mean, and they then brought out beer for everyone. Everything seemed perfectly normal until they started to force feed it to the guys themselves. We girls were very entertained. That whole time I was thinking “oh man I hope they don’t do this to us because I have an aversion to the taste of beer.” Well sure enough, one of the girls forced a cup of beer down my throat. Right when I thought all this jazz was over, we were all coaxed on stage to perform some sort of traditional Chinese cha-cha dance with them. It was quite hilarious, and we all got a good laugh out of our newfound moves.
Since its incredible billion-dollar makeover, Beijing is very different than what I expected it to look like. New roads, new buildings, an incredible airport; you could tell that most of the city had been very modernized. Although we could only see from a distance, we were fortunate to be able to see some of these Olympic sites. This included the famous “Bird’s Nest,” where the opening ceremony will be held, the infamous “Water Cube” for the swimming, as well as part of the Olympic village.
I know they are starting to take measures to clean up the pollution too but it’s hard to imagine it being any worse than it is now. There is so much hidden beauty being blanketed by the overwhelming smog. Coming from mountain air myself, this was definitely the first thing I noticed. Beijing has cleaned up quite a bit though, and much of the city seems fairly modernized. Also since being in Beijing, I was surprised to see how much less friendly the people are compared to in Vietnam. They are not as eager to help, and for some reason they do a lot of pushing and shoving.
That night we met with our professor to further discuss our case study and prepare for our final presentation in Shanghai on July 3. The following morning we left for Qing Dao. We had to wake up at 5:30 to beat the rush-hour traffic. And by the way, traffic in Beijing is unreal. I have never seen so many people walking around at 5:30am. It seems like rush hour around the clock.