Evidently, lots of tourists want to know where the boy
stood when he faced down the tanks during the protests in 1989.
And we were no exception. Once our guide answered that question, we
asked whatever happened to the boy. Who was he? The answer: nobody
We hopped off the bus and threaded our way across the street to the
square. I marveled at seeing the guards in their bright green uniforms.
We’d seen pictures of them before, but in person they were so much more
impressive. Young and handsome by anyone’s standards, they made an
impressive and imposing presence.
Encompassing several city blocks, Tiananmen
Square is huge. The square is named after the gate on the north
side, separating the square from the Forbidden City, the Gate of
Heavenly Peace. It’s easy to see how a demonstration could flare up on
that large site and why the government has so many troops patrolling it,
to squelch any hint of a protest. Add to that space the fact that the
protests happened 25 years ago and you can imagine why the government
had beefed up its military presence. The government took no chances that
any remembrance of the protests of 1989 occurred.
In addition to the troops, many Chinese dogged us as we wandered
around. They took videos and pictures of us constantly. I’m sure some of
them were secret police listening in on what our guide was telling us.
Regular Chinese citizens couldn’t take their eyes off us and followed us
around the square. Some of the braver ones even asked to have their
pictures taken with certain members of our group. It seemed as though
they’d never seen real live Caucasians before.
Off to the side of the square sat Mao’s mausoleum. At one end of the square (to the left of Mao’s tomb) rises an ornate tower. I never found out what it was for. After our free time was up, we crossed the main street to a restaurant that specialized in Peking duck.
After touring Tinananmen Square, our hunger for dinner caught up to us. Sheila helped us to safely cross the busy wide street on the east side of the square to our restaurant. At our tables with the ubiquitous turn table in the middle, the duck came out accompanied by some pancakes, plum sauce, and vegetables. We got our usual shot of beer and hot tea. Many of us had never eaten Peking duck before, so we didn’t realize that you fix it like moo shu pork, by rolling up shreds of meat in a pancake with plum sauce and vegetables. The duck was rather slim pickings around a carcass of bones, fat, and skin. For all the fancy preparation, it lacked flavor, except for the sauce. But it was dinner and satisfied us as we headed out to see an opera, Chinese style.actors making up before the opera began.
Our bus dropped us off near the old village of Hutong, which will be
torn down soon to make way for modernization. As we entered the village,
our rickshaws lined up
like taxis at a taxi stand. To work up an appetite, we tumbled in, two
Mature Friends in each, and off we rode around through the narrow
streets of town to get a glimpse of what traditional Chinese life is
like. Off we flew, with the driver pedaling away.
After making the circuit of the village, we stopped in front of a small
home, where we were welcomed in for a traditional home-cooked meal. The
home had one large room on the main floor with a tiny kitchen off to one
side. Along a side wall, a set of stairs led up to the sleeping
quarters. Near the stairs, a calendar hung on the wall with one of the
couple’s sons in his karate uniform, demonstrating a typical fighting
A bare bulb hanging from the ceiling lit the room effectively. Once
again we split up as usua in groups of nine
to a round table with a lazy susan in the middle. First, beer
appeared, and this time we got generous servings, in other words our
small juice-size glasses got refilled when we’d finished our first
Soon from the tiny kitchen the homeowners served us one of the best lunches of the trip. Astonished that anyone could put out such quantities and in such good quality from that tiny kitchen, we ate ravenously with much gratitude. As we left, I asked the hosts to pose for a quick picture to help us remember that special treat of a lunch.
Spoiled with friendly smiles and good service at all of our previous
hotels, the final hotel in Beijing turned out to be a big shock of
unfriendly staff, incompetent service (when service finally came), and
mediocre food. The only exception was the coffee boy at the breakfast
buffet. With a ready smile, he came around frequently.
When we returned to our hotel, we had free time to eat on our own.
Sheila had warned us to avoid the hotel restaurant, if possible.
However, the menu looked all right and a few of us ignored the warning
at our own peril. Slow, glacially slow, inattentive service set the tone
for the dinner disaster. When the staff finally brought out our drinks,
they set them on a tray away from the table and then disappeared. We
finally got up and served ourselves, opening our own beer and wine. When
the food finally appeared, unremarkable describes it in glowing terms.
None of us remembers what he ate.
The next morning after our usual buffet breakfast at the hotel, our bus
drove us to the outskirts of Beijing to tour the Great
Wall of China. As we pulled into the parking lot, the vastness of
the small section of the wall we could see overwhelmed us. I got a
similar feeling when I saw the Grand Canyon — I could not wrap my mind
around the immensity and beauty.
Sheila gave us free time to climb the wall as far as we could or just
sit, relax, and enjoy the breath-taking views. Some of us climbed
up to the third guard tower while a few fit guys made it almost to
the top of the rise. We quickly realized that we had to watch every step
we took because of the uneven
stairs. I thought they’d been worn down over the years, but found
out later that the designers made the stairs uneven to deter any
invaders from moving along the wall quickly. Going
up wasn’t so bad, but coming down was downright dangerous. Those
of us who climbed up did make it back down in fine shape, although
sweating and panting from the exertion.
After working up quite an appetite climbing the wall, we headed off for lunch at a cloisonné factory. First, we toured the factory to see how cloisonné art is produced. Painted painstakingly by hand on light-weight enamel, cloisonné came in many forms, from plates to huge vases and even fountain pens.
We had some extra time, and so the bus stopped at the site of the
Beijing Olympics so we could see in person the venues where athletes
competed in the summer of 2008. Has it already been that many years in
the past? The venue we all wanted to see was of course the famous Bird’s
Most of our visit consisted of prancing up and down the promenade being
called on by a gauntlet of vendors. Soon we made our escape, but to
what? To a clinic that sold Chinese herbal medicine.
After listening to a far too long and enthusiastic presentation, the
master of ceremonies introduced the "doctors," who paraded in dressed to
fit the part. The MC then asked for volunteers to get an examination.
Those who did volunteer would receive a "prescription" that he could get
filled at the adjoining "pharmacy." The doctors looked as though they’d
come from central casting — older, wizened in appearance, glasses, and
speaking no English whatsoever. Everybody got a prescription, whether
applicable or not. Some of us indulged in a free massage, which relaxed
I got talked into an examination, and the ... uh ... doctor ...
prescribed Bu Shen Yi Zhi capsules. These pills supposedly contained
Fructus Amomi Amari, Eucommia Bark, Desertliving Cistanche Epinedium
Herb, Rehmannia Root, etc. This concoction supposedly would treat me for
conditions that even my physician in Seattle hadn’t diagnosed. The
capsules would tonify my kidneys, correct weakness of waist and knee,
and cure any sexual debility.
As if that weren’t enough, found out I needed another pill that would
promote blood flow, clear and detoxify my heat [sic], revitalize my
energy, and improve liver function. Unfortunately, some of our group
fell for this nonsense. Oh, well....
After making our escape from the clinic, we wandered around the evening
fresh market, checking out all the delicacies.
Yes, him ... and the food, too! The most fascinating to many of us were
the bugs and especially the
scorpions! Unfortunately, we didn’t try any of the food because
the next event on the agenda involved food, our dinner.
The next day, we visited the Summer Palace of the emperors and Empress
Ci-Xi. Situated nine-and-a-half miles northwest of Beijing, this site is
the largest, most well-reserved royal park in all of China. But don’t
take my word for it when you can read more about the park on this Web
The grounds surround a large
lake, bordered by watch
towers as well as imperial
offices and private quarters. In the lake, Empress Ci-Xi spend
millions to construct a large boat in
marble. After walking through the grounds, along the lake, we
boarded a boat to take
us back to the other side, where our bus had parked.
Next, the bus let us off at a local market place called Silk Alley. Located near the U.S. Embassy, the market took up the whole building, three floors of silks, fake silks, fake jade, and lots of other touristy trinkets. We were given an hour or so to wander through so we could bargain and buy any last-minute souvenirs. But before shopping, we ate some lunch on our own. Many went to a nearby McDonald’s, but a couple of us ventured into the basement Chinese fast-food restaurant and bought much healthier fare by pointing and enjoying eating surrounded only by locals.
Then up to the shops, where some guys bought silk items like pajamas,
table runners, bathrobes, stuffed
pandas, chopsticks, and other items to haul back home. Soon the
bus pulled up and took us back to our hotel, where we could put up our
feet and relax before taking one last dinner in China, this time,
mercifully on our own.
Near the hotel, we found a small strip mall with shops, the Chinese
equivalent of a 7-11, and two restaurants — one Chinese and the other
Mongolian Grill. Sheila offered to help those of us who chose the
Mongolian Grill, which was the majority. Five of us opted for the
Chinese restaurant without any help because we craved a little adventure
with the locals and because we’d been subjected to a Mongolian grill for
lunch earlier in the tour.
Fortunately, for the adventurous five, one of the waitresses in the
Chinese restaurant spoke enough English to take our order. The food came
out quickly and we each had a fine, cold large Chinese beer to wash down
the food. The food was excellent, nicely spiced and plenty of
vegetables. We thought we had it made ... until we tried to order a
second round of beer. When words failed, we tried sign language. When
that failed, we pointed to the beer cooler. We tried all the tricks we
learned as kids when we played Charades, but nothing, not one trick
worked. We finally gave up, paid out bill, and went back to the hotel
for a good night’s sleep before leaving for home the next morning.