Beijing, China – More Than We Expected

Beijing, China – More Than We Expected

Beijing is China’s capital city and the centre of political activities and power. It has a population of between 22 and 24 million residents and is the third or fourth largest city (by population) in China, depending on the source used.

On the first morning of our stay in Beijing, 29th August 2018, we awoke to a crystal clear day and surprisingly Beijing remained that way for the following two days.

_DSC7099View from our Beijing Hotel, Chaoyang District, 8.58 am

Note the two cables running through the photo above. There were many more out of this view. I have no idea why they were there. It was as if the best way to get power to the hotel’s upper floors was to “plug-in” to something at ground level (a generator perhaps)? There is probably a better explanation. I should have asked.


Our first tour destination was a pearl factory in the Dongcheng District.

_DSC7120Maggie viewing freshwater pearls, which beautiful and relatively inexpensive

Then 20 minutes away was Tiananmen Square, however the square was closed due to a China / African conference, so we walked along its outer edge to the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace Museum).

_DSC7156South entrance to the Imperial City, off Tiananmen Square

_DSC7173Meridian Gate, Entrance to the Forbidden City

Only the Emperor was permitted to enter through the central Meridian Gate, that is when China still had an Emperor, of course. There are four additional entry “tunnels” in the Meridian Gate, two either side of the centre (see above) and one in each of the side “wings” (see below).

_DSC7174The Left “Wing” of the Meridian Gate

Yellow was the Imperial colour, hence all of the roofs of the Forbidden City are yellow. In the Ming and Qing dynasties only the Emperor could wear yellow clothes or pearls (yes they do have yellow fresh water pearls).

_DSC7194A western gate of the Imperial City

_DSC7195The Gate of Supreme Harmony (large central building)

The all wooden structures are beautiful and the painted detail is stunning.

_DSC7247In the Hall of Central Harmony this young lady is preparing for a special occassion (perhaps her wedding)

_DSC7255External detail on the Hall of Central Harmony

_DSC7260View across the front of the Hall of Central Harmony from the platform in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony

The Forbidden City (Imperial Palace Museum) is large and complex. We didn’t have the time or the energy to explore all of the 980 buildings, consisting of palaces, halls, gates and pavilions. (Information on number of buildings courtesy of Wikipedia)

_DSC7294Pavilion of One Thousand Autumns in the Imperial Garden – north end of the “City”

Emperor Yong Lee, third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty constructed this city between 1406 and 1420, however it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since. Most of the current architecture dates from the 1700 hundreds onwards.


In the late afternoon we were treated to a spectacular musical drama called The Golden Mask Dynasty performed in the OCT Theatre, Chaoyang District Beijing. Two scenes from the show are below.



Day two in Beijing, 30th August 2018, commenced with a visit to the Jade Museum.

Of course Jade is a green substance, right?

_DSC7329This Jade Dragon is anything but green

Chinese Jade is available in many colours and is especially prized in white. Apparently Jade is the second hardest rock on earth, after diamond and consequently very heavy.

_DSC7350Imagine having this guy in your living room – may not be suitable for houses with wooden floors

Even though we loved many of the Jade carvings and were offered free freight on the more expensive items (costing sqillions of AU dollars), we resisted a purchase.


The main highlight of our tour was a visit to and the climbing of the Great Wall of China. We were told that Chinese people call it “The Long Wall” or “The Walls” (as there are many walls and extensions, constructed at different places and at different times, joined together).

_DSC7382View of “The Walls” from Juyong Pass looking east (purpose of foreground buildings unknown to me)

The most popular tourist section of the wall is here at Juyong Pass, just northwest of Beijing.

_DSC7402Taken from Watchtower 8 – Watchtowers 9, 10 and 11 can just been seen. 12 is out of sight at the crest of the mountain

And contrary to popular belief “The Long Wall” cannot be seen from an orbiting space craft with the “naked” eye.

_DSC7418Martin (right) Maggie (looking back) and Rita powering on (centre) heading for Watchtower 9

We started our climb at watchtower 7 and while I made it to number 9, Maggie, Rita and Martin achieved the ultimate climb to the top, at Watchtower 12.



_DSC7441A wider view of “The Wall” stretching across the ridge on the other side of the valley


After lunch we travelled back into the city to explore old Beijing in the Shichahai District.







_DSC7606Blind man playing for donations. His instrument could be a Sanxian (normally plucked, not bowed) or a 3 stringed Erhu (normally has 2 strings)

While we did encounter a lot of street sellers offering “genuine fake” goods, I can’t recall seeing any other disabled buskers during our visit.

_DSC7641The Ribbon Dance performance by these Chinese women apparently has references to the Chinese Dragon

There were many surprising things about Beijing. The abundance of trees, shrubs and flower beds throughout the city along streets, highways and in parks was definitely not expected.

_DSC7649Enough rickshaws for the entire group to experience a ride

These rickshaws were operated by part-time drivers for tour groups and not by the normal licensed drivers.


_DSC7663Example of electrical wiring as seen throughout parts of Asia

As part of the tour we were privileged to visit an old style family, courtyard home in the Shichahai District. In China’s cities, single level courtyard style homes are rare, as highrise living is becoming the “norm”.

_DSC7699The Cricket Man

When assembled inside the court-yard, our group was introduced to The Cricket Man. He trains crickets (yes, insects) to fight. People bet on their favourite fighting cricket and at the end of the fight lots of money changes hands. How does one know which cricket won the fight? The cricket that is still living wins.

The Cricket Man showed us his latest prize-winning cricket, the tools he uses to train his “charges” and several magazine articles about his “cricketing” exploits.

An early dinner was cooked by the host family and served to all 42 of us seated inside the one room living area of their home. Our hosts provided 6 or 7 different Chinese dishes, in quantity to feed us all. The food was delicious and the “after dinner” entertainment from our friendly hosts was, well…very entertaining.


DAY 3 – 31st August 2018 commenced with a visit to the Beijing Zoo.


This was perhaps the only disappointing location of our tour. It was wonderful to see the Pandas, however it was difficult to find viewing space. Plus their enclosure windows were covered in hand marks that obscured the view from many angles. I felt fortunate to get these photos through the glass.


The enclosures of many other animals didn’t appear to be well maintained and the animals were difficult to see. The gardens and some of the buildings, however, were attractive.



A visit to the Wangfujing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (including a free medical diagnosis), plus lunch and shopping time in the Wangfujing District of Beijing rounded out day three.



The next day our tour would take us 6 hours south to Hangzhou on the 9.40 am high-speed train. Find out how we coped in the next episode of alistairstravel – coming soon to your screen.


Personal Comment:

To put this into perspective – We were in China for only 8 days. We spoke to a handful of people. We visited a relatively small number of approved locations. Our experience could be considered as “stage-managed”. My understanding of China is still very limited.

Our tour was partly subsidised by the Chinese Government through an Australian company called “Trip A Deal”. Thousands of Australians have already travelled to China on this deal. We were told the Chinese Government is using this approach to show Australians the extensive improvements that have been accomplished in China. And amazing changes in life style, housing, infrastructure, transport, technology, commerce etc., etc. are there to be seen and experienced.

China did prove to be a very different society to what we expected. People on the streets and in the shops and restaurants appeared to be happy and enjoying their lives. The people we spoke to seem to live their daily lives in a similar way to Australians in relation to education, employment (except pay rate), raising a family (two children now permitted), buying a home (almost entirely highrise in the cities), and hoping the government will stay out of their lives (except for creating desired improvements).  Free enterprise is allowed and encouraged in many areas of the economy.

Some of the freedom Australian’s enjoy is not available to Chinese people. There is censorship (for us it was most notable on the internet). There is limited religious and political freedom. There are human rights abuses (as I believe there are also in Australia in relation to asylum seekers).

Of course, I would rather live in Australia. But if I was born in China today, maybe I could live a contented life (albeit with some limitations and concerns)?

Our Beijing guide, Michael (wish I could remember his Chinese name) is well-educated and knowledgable about China and Australia. He is also a warm, friendly, generous man, who I would be proud to call a friend.

Feel free to leave your comment below.


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