IN ALL MY GLORY
22 May 2011
OK. Let's get it over with. Here I am in all my hatted, wheelchaired finery.
Feeling very silly, but boy by the end of the tour, I felt like a right down regular royal queen! I think it was when we were in the inner city that I realized that the royal family probably got carried everywhere too and I was going to stop being self-conscious about it. I had a GREAT helper, whose name I never did find out. That kid pushed me everywhere, stopped when I started taking a photo and turned the wheelchair so I had the best angle, found shade for me to sit in, pointed out English signs, and followed Jenna everywhere. While others in the group were sweating and panting and looking for something to lean on, I was delightfully cool and comfortable...and had my own chair!
As for the hat, I took it off a couple of times when there was a wind that threatened to blow it off my head and I realized how cool it kept me, despite looking so stupid.
So what can I say about Tiananmen Square? It's big. Really big. And it's filled with people (tho Jenna says this was a "normal" day and that we should see it when it is really crowded). In my wheelchair, I got a feel for what it was like to be one of the crowd. We also passed an impossibly long line that snaked all over the place--people standing in line to visit Mao's tomb.
Jenna says that is there every day that the mausoleum is open (I can't remember how many days a week it is opened).
We also had my wheel chair pusher take what will probably be on our Christmas card this year.
(Must find a communist country for next year, since we have Moscow from last year.) Speaking of communist countries, though, Walt went out of our 5-star hotel today and walked around the block and found the following auto dealerships: Lamborghini, Bugatti, Aston-Martin, Range-Rover, Mercedes Benz, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Hummer, and a place with a RAM pick-up. As I said, this is a country of contradictions!
When we reached the end of Tiananmen Square, we went across the street to enter the Forbidden City. It was just the same as all the photos I've seen, though somehow a bit more "tired" than I expected. Still, impressive.
Jenna says that if the emperor were born in one room and changed rooms every night, he would be 27 years old before he returned to the room in which he was born. It's that big. Someone was surprised that there was no greenery and Jenna explained that nothing in the Forbidden City could be taller than the emperor and since trees grow tall, they could not have any. Also, would-be assassins could hide in bushes. So the whole city, except for a small garden, is without any foliage whatsoever.
Highlight on the tour for many was the stop where we were supposed to "look around" one of the concubine areas, but we had mango popsicles instead!
Shortly after that I found this sign and decided I need to post it on the door to my office at home.
After a small buffet lunch at another hotel dining room, we went to our afternoon tour, the Summer Palace, about 20 miles northwest of Beijing. It is the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China. Its Chinese name, YiHeYuan, translates as 'Garden of Nurtured Harmony' or 'Garden for Maintaining Health and Harmony'. (The Chinese are great at naming things!) Jenna told us that the "bad news" was that the place was 4x the size of Tiananmen Square...but the good news was that 3/4 of it is water. The palace was built during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). Between 1279 and 1368, Kublai Khan had the lake enlarged and constructed canals to bring water to Beijing. In 1860 the Anglo-French forces invaded Beijing and burned many of the buildings at the Summer Palace and in 1886 the Dowager Empress CiXi embezzled funds from the Navy and restored the gardens. She also built herself a huge marble boat.
The boat doesn't float and was used just for parties. We rode out to see it in one of the dragon boats on the lake.
We wandered around a bit (followed by the vendors who will NOT leave you alone). For some reason I started missing Polly.
We had two hours after our return to the hotel to rest and change for our final dinner. This was the biggie--the Peking Duck dinner followed by the Peking Opera. This event (which is optional and costs a bundle) has been the subject of many negative comments on Cruise Critic. Not enough duck. Terrible opera. Etc., Etc.
Well, our experience could not have been more positive. We were at Liyuan restaurant where the chef came and showed us how he carves his Peking Duck.
We had a whole table full of food in addition to the duck and the pancakes it was served with.
The duck was delicious, but we were all so full we left some on the table when we headed to the theater to see two short operas. On the way in we stopped to watch a guy putting on his makeup.
They presented two classic Chinese Opera stories, Death of Yu Ji and Havoc in the Dragon's Palace, one a love story and the other a funny, acrobatic form of opera
The only negative comment I had was about this group of women sitting in front of us who laughed and made fun of it all the way through. It's not something I would like to sit through every night, but I certainly enjoyed it tonight! And when will I ever have the opportunity to see Peking Opera in Beijing again?
The last thing we did as a group was to drive past Tiananmen Square with all its lights lit up.
We all stood around hugging each other goodbye--that didn't happen on our Russia cruise. Bags out tomorrow at 7 and we fly to Guilin. Now to see how I can pack all this junk I bought into the full suitcases I already had, knowing that there are 4 more shopping days until we go home!
I don't have a clue what sort of internet access (if any) I'll have in Guilin tomorrow night, but hope that it will be OK in Hong Kong.