Visiting Beijing in 2008 was an opportunity to tell the world about the tale of two cities. The difference with the original Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” was that Beijing was nothing like “it was the worst of times”. On the contrary, Beijing was at its “best of times” when I visited the country three weeks before the 2008 Olympics. It was a tale of two cities in a sense that Beijing will transport you back to the grandeur of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven but will also snap you back to the modern world immediately after you go beyond the gates of the well-preserved civilization.
Forbidden City is a must-see if you visit Beijing. The place is well-preserved and it is grand in every way. The edifice in the entrance is an imposing structure in stark contrast with the modernity that Beijing is well adapting to. The contrast is very pronounced as the Forbidden City is also right in the heart of Beijing. All the other structures inside the Forbidden City speak so much about the era to which it belongs and the lifestyle is well-documented. As a visitor, you will be brought back to the time when little girls are groomed to be concubines and you will get to have a peek inside quarters where they used to huddle and wait until they ripen for that role. Passing through the quarters designated for these girls was what struck me most in my Forbidden City experience.
The Temple of Heaven is a place full of symbolic practices but it really is the architecture which left me with awe. I am not a student or an enthusiast of architecture but even my eyes could see the beauty of the intricate designs and carvings of the walls and the woods and the ceilings of the structures laid out on the grounds covering the whole area of Temple of Heaven. Of course, nobody can miss the magnificence of the “Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests” but the details of the carvings in the “Circular Mound Altar” are unimaginably meticulous. But then again, it is the attention to details of the people in this era that made this civilization a great one worthy of emulation of civilizations that are yet to come.
Walking on the streets of Beijing immediately snaps you back to the present time. It’s a different road you walk on, totally different structural design and yet you know that you are in a city proud of its glorious past. The streets were clean contrary to what I have been warned before going there. I seldom see people spitting just about anywhere as I was told they were wont to do. The upcoming Olympics probably had a lot to do with it. The Chinese police were conspicuously everywhere so there was a consciousness that we have to behave at all times.
Hubby and I, together with Firstborn, stayed at the Novotel Beijing the whole 4 days and 3 nights and we were just walking distance to the Tiananmen Square. Walking to Tiananmen Square gave us a funny peek of a child’s bottom hanging on his mommy’s back. The toddler wasn’t wearing a diaper and there was a slit on his shorts. I thought it was out of lack of funds to buy for a diaper but I was humbled by my immediate judgment when I saw many toddlers wearing the same kind of shorts… turned out it was their way in China especially during the humid summer season. Mind you, that gave me a good laugh.
Night life at the whole stretch of the Wangfujieng Dajie was a good, clean fun of seeing fellow tourists going through the ins and outs of alleys buying souvenirs and taking in street food along the way. The main street was lined up with high-end stores and bright lights and I overheard one American tourist remarked “this is the Times Square of Beijing”. It was an especially memorablenight for our family. For some reason, that was a night when we received the most number of requests from strangers for them to take a picture of our son. Hubby and I would see some strangers secretly taking his photo. One yuppy Caucasian asked that he has his picture taken with our Firstborn. That was a surprising night for us (earlier that day in the Forbidden City, a group of teenage girls requested for a picture with hubby, weird!).
Another night life location was the Hou Hai Area with restaurants surrounding a lake. It was a beautiful, romantic area and it was obviously frequented by yuppies and foreigners who are out for a night of fun.
It was a good vacation. I went there without expecting much but I left the city amazed by the richness of its history and the dynamism of its present. If I go back there again, I honestly don’t know what to expect again. Three years is a long time for a country constantly striving to prove its power to the world.