Our first stop on the China Tour hosted by Odyssey Tours was Beijing. Beijing is a whopping big city, by any one's standards, and it has more of everything! The traffic in Beijing defies description and I can only say, with total relief, that I am so glad I don't have to drive there!
The morning of our first full day we drove to the ultimate Beijing tourist site, Tiananmen Square. It really is as huge as rumored and I can now understand how you could conceivable fit half a million people within.
Tiananmen Square is definitely a major tourist site to the Chinese people themselves, much as Washington, D.C. is to Americans. I really enjoyed seeing the tour groups of Chinese touring one of their national sites.
I was surprised (I don't know why, exactly) to see the food coach parked within the square.
The large rectangular thing in the above photo is a TV screen that shows pictures and words. I wish I knew what it says there, but alas, I don't. We were in Tiananmen Square just before May 1st, International Labor Day, which is a three day holiday for the Chinese. Besides having three days off, many Chinese will take a weeks' vacation about that time and many travel to other areas in China, to have a break and visit a new place. While it was exciting to see so many Chinese out enjoying their beautiful country, it did make for extraordinary crowds as some of the places we visited.
This photo of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the Father of Modern China, is across the square from the famous portrait of Mao Zedong.
Besides Chairman Mao you can see Debbie and Rhoda, from my travel group. Rhoda was the liaison between the UWAA and Odyssey Tours, and a fine tour leader she was. Debbie was her roommate in college, and remains one of her dearest friends. The two of them were among my favorite of the people on the trip. I just connected with them both---fine, friendly, funny and intelligent women that they are!
This tall gentleman is our Beijing city tour guide, "Bill." His real name is Lian, but he answers to "Bill" to make it easier on we tourists---those of the inept ears and thick tongues, who consistently mangle and injure the Chinese language. He was an excellent guide (all our local city guides were excellent) and probably my favorite of all the local guides. We had a tour guide, Peter Wong, who traveled with us throughout China, and Peter was not only a guide extraordinaire, he became a true friend. More about Peter later.
"Bill" had a great little parasol with the image of a giant Panda on it. Since he was so tall, and the parasol so unique, we could always spot him, even is a huge crowd (such as we had one afternoon at the Summer Palace). It looked a little silly, but it was so effective.
There was a group of Chinese military men (I think they were military, not policemen, but please correct me if I am wrong) practicing for something, probably for some sort of display for May Day. These young men were obviously chosen for their height and handsome looks. They were a very good-looking and snappy unit!
We enjoyed a very fine Peking Duck lunch at the Beijing Roast Duck Home Cooking Restaurant. It was delicious! We had wonderful meals all over China. I was very pleased that Odyssey took so much trouble to try and expose us to a wide variety of Chinese food, taking us to restaurants that featured regional cuisine. I certainly didn't lose any weight on this trip!
It is the little details that I find I remember the most from travel. Those little things that are really quite familiar, but just slightly different from home, that make the big impressions on me. The Chinese characters in the metal at the base of a lamp standard, for example, leaped out at me on a street in Beijing.
Everywhere we went in China we had people approach us to take our pictures, usually with them, but sometimes just by ourselves. They were including us in their good times, their memories. I wonder if they know how the kindness and welcome that we felt everywhere we went was the most precious gift we brought home with us? I hope so. China opened wide her arms and bid us welcome.
I had a glorious time!
Next time---The Forbidden City.....