TianAnMen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong & Pearls

3:30am, Friday, May 12th, I wake up. Sound early? Well, in the time we're used to, that would be 2:30 in the afternoon. I wanted to be up by 5:00 at the latest, so I could work on getting the web page updates started, but I didn't really think I'd make it that late anyway.

Mom & my sister woke up about a half hour after I did. I finished getting my first page typed and up while they took showers and started getting ready for the day. Once I got my page up, I turned the laptop over to mom to work on her page while I took a shower and got ready for the day. We knew this was going to be an exciting day, the first day of our tour of Beijing!

At 7:00, we went down to the restaurant in the main lobby of the hotel for a buffet breakfast. They have a little bit of everything that you normally consider breakfast, plus a few chinese things like conjee. I had an omelet, which they cook so it's still runny inside, breakfast sausage, bacon, ham, hashbrowns like you get at McDonalds, a few different types of rolls and a few different types of fruit. They also had cereal if you wanted.

Joe was here to pick us up at 8:30 and we were on our way to see Beijing. Our first stop, TianAnMen Square. This is a very large cement area where people can gather. There is a congress building on one side, museum on another, Chairman Mao's mausoleum on a third. There really wasn't a lot to see here, except the fact that it was a huge area and a lot of tourists. On the fourth side of TianAnMen Square, across the very busy 8 or 10 lane road, was the entrance to the Forbidden City. To get to the other side, they actually have a nice tunnel going under the road.

The Forbidden City is also huge. This is where the emperor stayed. The whole area was for only a few people, yet there are 9,999 rooms in this 'city', and sits on 200 acres. They are renovating a lot of the buildings, some are done, some are in progress, some haven't been started. The general public isn't allowed in to all the areas, but even the areas we were allowed was a lot. A lot of the rooms, such as where they sleep, where very small, probably 8' x 8' or so. Other rooms, like where the emperor rested and waited for them to be ready for him to come to the parties, were huge with just a 'throne' in them.... probably about 25' x 25'. Joe told us a lot of interesting information about the different areas of Forbidden City.

Feng Shui is important in China. Feng Shui is balance of color and form, earth and water, male and female. For the Forbidden City, they needed water and mountains to achieve this Feng Shui, but the area it was built on is flat and without water. They resolved this by digging a 50' wide moat around the entire city and filled it with water. They used the dirt they dug up from the moat to build a mountain just beyond the Forbidden City, which they built the Emperor's Temple to look down over the city. The Forbidden City is within the city of Beijing and actually, after seeing it we realized that it is the 'old style' buildings we were looking out from our hotel room.

There was a slow rain, a little more than a sprinkle, that started about a third of the way through Forbidden City. Luckily, before I came I purchased a smaller digital camera to take pictures with as well as my large one. For the smaller camera, I also purchased an underwater enclosure. When it started raining, I was forced to put my big camera away and put my smaller one in the enclosure, but at least I could still take pictures.

After the Forbidden City, we went on a Hutong Tour. The Hutong area of town is the old style. They still have the old roofs, old style houses, etc. For the Hutong Tour, we were taken around in a 2 person rickshaw, pulled by a bicycle. Mom & Dannielle went together, and I went with Joe. We went through several areas and ended up at a school. We got to actually sit in on a Kindergarten class that were 3 - 5 year olds, and they did a dance for us. There were 8 kids, mostly girls. In China, public school is not free, and Joe said it is actually quite expensive. That is another reason that families only want to have one child in China.

After our visit at the school, we went on to a Hutong family house for lunch. It is becoming common in China to go to people's houses and eat. This can be an interesting experience because you have whatever they serve, you don't 'order' your food. The food that they served us was very good. By the end of the meal, I was doing rather well at using chopsticks, although they did give us forks as well if we wanted to use them. The longer we sat there, the more food they brought out. We started with four different things to choose from, by the time we were done, we had 11 choices - for the 4 of us! We left enough food to feed another 6 - 8 people. It feels so wasteful to us, but I guess that's normal here (considering it was the same way at a restaurant for dinner later.)

After lunch, the host showed us his hobbies..... grasshoppers, birds & fighting crickets. He is not only in chinese magazines for his food service, but also for his fighting crickets and his grasshoppers. He showed us a couple of the crickets in there box and all of the utensils they use to take care of them and get them to fight. He said the fighting crickets are very expensive and they live to be 100 days old. The grasshoppers that he showed us were about 2 - 3 times bigger than our normal grasshoppers. He had a couple of them out to show us, and they just sat on their cages. He also had a lot of birds outside in cages. We got to tour his house as well, a small living room, a small dining room, a small bedroom that the bed just fit in and a small kitchen. His yard, like most everywhere we have seen, was cement. It was small and shared with the house on the other side.

We thanked our host for lunch and the interesting information and were on our way again. We rode in the rickshaws back to where we began, thanked our drivers and were off to our next destination. One thing that I have noticed, is that there are several trees in the city, which isn't all that uncommon. However, wherever ther are trees, there may be a foot of dirt around them, or maybe no dirt at all - the cement sometimes goes all the way up to the tree. This was the same in the Hutong area as well.

China is known for their fresh water pearls. China fresh water pearls are the only pearls that come in pink and lavendar. They also come in white and black like salt water pearls. We got to see how they harvest pearls by choosing an Oyster and the associate opening it and showing us the pearls. With a salt water oyster, you only get one pearl, but with the Chinese fresh water oysters, they can create several. The one we opened had approximately 30 small pearls in it. The Oysters we had to choose from had only been creating the pearls for a few years, for the large pearls you typically see it takes 5 - 8 years. They also usually only get 1 or 2 high quality pearls out of an oyster, the rest are used for cheaper jewlery or for facial creams. We each got to keep a pearl out of the oyster we chose, mom got to keep two for Mother's Day.

The associate then showed us how to tell real pearls from synthetic pearls. By rubbing two of them together, you can hear a grittyness with real pearls. With the synthetic ones you hear a clicking like plastic. Also, after rubbing them together, real ones will have a bit of pearl dust that will rub off, synthetic ones won't. We looked through the store at all the beautiful pearls and jewelry that they had. It was really interesting to get to see how this was all done.

It was now about 2:30 and we had a couple hour break, so Joe brought us back to the hotel to relax.

Continue on to Silk & Supper or go back to the Main Page.

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