The Birds Nest – Beijing, China

Beijing. Home to the great wall of China, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, the tombs of the Ming Dynasty rulers, and of course the “birds nest”. The birds nest is the name of the stadium used for the 2008 Summer Olympics.  Today it is used for so much more. Its Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival) and it is a beautiful time of the year.  The streets sparkle with different color lights and large red Chinese lamps. It seems a lot like Christmas in America.  One of the differences between Christmas and this holiday is that instead of giving toys to children, they are given red envelopes with money inside instead. The entire country enjoys a two week holiday. Its the largest human migration on earth as everyone goes home to see their family.

In order to get away from the crowds we decide this would be a good time of the year to visit Beijing. Unfortunately with the population being between 15 million to 22 million that can seem impossible to do.  Arriving in Beijing I notice it’s not like other cities in China.  Most cities in China are primarily skyscrapers in a small area with patches of smaller buildings and shopping malls.  Beijing is primarily smaller buildings with patches of sky scrappers.  The architecture of the buildings there as well as the buildings in all cities in china are worth the trip by themselves.  As we were there we made a video outside of the new CCTV (China Central television) building and you can view it here at “The Foreigner”.

We arrive in Beijing around 10 am and have time to check into the hotel. We make it to Tianenman Square but the Forbidden City isn’t open so we walk back to Wang Fu Jing to eat Duck at Quan Ju De. Wang Fu Jing is also known as walking street.  Its called this because cars are not allowed on this street. It gives the freedom to roam all the stores and attractions located there without waiting to cross the street. Quan Ju De is one of the most famous Duck restaurants in the world and is well worth the visit for the taste sensation.

It’s the 20th of January and it’s cold. The small shops and vendors with hats and gloves are a welcome luxury to have.  We’re coming from North China where it is cold as well. I’m glad we brought extra clothes, because it looks like we will be doing a lot of walking.  Tiananmen Square and Walking Street are bountiful with many photo taking opportunities. There are many statues and monuments as well as shops, giving an opportunity to take home some of the culture of China.

We book a tour of The Great Wall, the ming tombs and a few small shopping centers along the way. We are up at 6 am to reach the bus on time.  The night before was officially Chinese New Year. The skies filled with the sound of sporadic fireworks all night. The climax came at midnight. The skies lit up and sounds of explosions echoed non stop until the early hours of the morning.  Fireworks are legal in China and anyone can buy the big fireworks only available during an American Fourth of July show. The results can be seen in the following video “The Foreigner – Episode 3 – Fireworks”. 

I’m not feeling well when we get to the bus and I’ve been up sick  most of the night before. It’s a large bus and the seats are fairly comfortable so I relax and try to get some rest.  The tour guide stands up and starts talking in Chinese. I’m really in no mood to have my translator tell me what he’s saying for the next two hours. So I try to tune it out and look out the window to see the sights along the way.

The Great Wall is truly one of the great man made wonders on earth. But with the bus only stopping there for an hour and a half, there will be no time to climb to the top and take in as much of this magnificent creation as possible.  The terrain is mountainous. It reminds of my home in Colorado without the barren, snow capped mountain peaks. When we start climbing the wall, I decide its a good thing we don’t have time to make the climb. It’s steep with stairs of different width and different height, and can be treacherous especially on the way back down.

Its also colder than the day before. We make it a quarter of the way up, snap some photos and decide to go back down. We look at the wall scrawling up both sides of the valley we’re standing in and follow it to the summit of the mountain. From there it’s a drive by of the Ming Dynasty tombs. We then stop for some shopping and some lunch before going to the Ming Dynasty museum.

I think it is important to note here that having someone that speaks Chinese and English is truly essential. Without one there are many parts of the tour that will be impossible to understand, making it hard to get all the culture and history of the country.  There are many translators throughout China and the cost is reasonable. You will however have to pay for another ticket in any of the activities you do. Its a very small price to be able to communicate with the people that are in charge of your tour for the day.

While in the Ming Dynasty Museum there’s an opportunity to dress up as the King and Queen and have pictures taken.  It’s a long process putting on the costumes and waiting in line to get on the stage and sit in the “throne”. They allow you to take pictures with your camera as well as with their camera. You can purchase a book of the pictures they have taken of you and your loved ones. Or you can decline and be happy with the pictures on your camera or phone. Buy the book, It’s truly a souvenir that’s fun and worth the cost.

From there its time for more shopping.  I’ve always enjoyed the street vendor shopping experience more than the mall atmosphere. To me, one of the greatest parts of these tours is the little shopping area’s they take you to. Its amazing the interesting trinkets you can find there.  Finally and almost 12 hours after our journey began, we’re back in the room for a welcome rest.

The Forbidden City is where rulers from the ming dynasty thru the Qing Dynasty lived. Its a small, self sufficient city enclosed by high walls. The walls isolate it from the large city surrounding it. During ancient times, If you were to be seek council from the King, you would be led through the gates and into one of the many palaces.

It can take a full day to get through this very ancient and fascinating city. Even though they offer an audio tour in different languages, it would still be a more enjoyable visit by hiring one of the many local translators to accompany you.  With the over 5000 years of history this country has to offer, its also recommended to research the sites before arriving to get the full enjoyment from them.

On Walking Street, if you can find your way through the thin row of shops where they sell scorpions on a stick, starfish on a stick and other bugs and lizards on a stick, there is a great shop with an amazing artist.  For about 35 dollars (240 RMB) he will make a copy of your face to go on a doll you can take home with you. Don’t be to alarmed at all the people stopping to watch and look at you.  Its in the Chinese nature to be curious and anything a foreigner does is worth them watching.  There are tea shops that take the time to let you test the tea. It turns the buying process into a luxurious and expensive experience.  Another famous street in Beijing is Qian Men Street. The shopping there is amazing and the history is quite extensive.

There is so much to do in the city of Beijing.  Its clean, the people are friendly and spending time there can be a wonderland of learning and experiencing Chinese culture and the people that live here.  For more of this story you can watch the video of the city here:  ”The Foreigner – Episode 2 – Beijing.”

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