Reflections on Day 1

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Today was my first real day on this trip. I arrived at my hotel at 8:45 PM Thursday, Beijing time after departing on a 4:10 PM direct flight from Boston on Wednesday. I met our hosts, Ivy International and my fellow educators on this trip. After a brief (but delicious meal), I crashed so that I would be fully rested for one of two major sightseeing days on this trip – Beijing, one of the world’s great capital cities. Our hosts selected three major landmarks—Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. I will never forget this day.

Nothing prepares you for the scale of these landmarks. Tiananmen Square is the largest public plaza in the world and I don’t know if anything even comes close. On a reasonably mild (and for Beijing, blue-sky) January day the Square you could appreciate its vast size. The Square contains the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese Parliament building, which, apparently contains banquet halls that anyone can rent out for special events. Not pictured in any of my photographs are the soldiers who patrol the square in military precision—it’s illegal to take pictures of the soldiers. One feels bad for them because many of these young men are on sentry duty and they must stand motionless at attention for long periods of time while the wind sweeps through the vast open space.

From the Square, we crossed into the Forbidden City, passing by the imposing one-ton portrait of Mao and into the Forbidden City, the home of the Chinese emperors from the early 15th century. It took 13 years to construct the palace complex and the Ming emperors employed over 100,000 artisans to work on the intricate bronze and wood carving. Basically, each building became more breathtaking than the next.

After a busy morning in Beijing, we settled down to a lunch of Hunan delicacies (including a light Chinese meatball covered in rice—amazing). From there, we made the hour drive to the Great Wall. We spent about an hour climbing the wall that really seems to extend forever. The climbing was a little challenging as the step pathway is very uneven with some stairs quite steep. The panoramas were worth every step.

About halfway into our climb, I ran into a group wearing a Rutgers sweatshirt. I introduced myself as originally being from New Jersey. It turned out we were from the same town of Clifton. Randomly on the Great Wall of China, two perfect strangers who grew up about 10 minutes from each other met. The magic of travel.

All of that hiking meant that we had earned our dinner, another feast of local specialties, which starred soup dumplings. While soup dumplings have become trendy over the past few years in the States, they were nothing compared to the real thing in Beijing. After dinner, we concluded the day doing haggling in Beijing’s famous Silk Market, where the game is to negotiate. I inquired about the price of a couple “Lacoste” polo shirts. What an experience! He started asking for 485 yuan, then dropped to 250, then 150, then asked me to name my price as he tried to prevent me from leaving the shop. For pricing, 100 yuan is roughly 16 dollars. I did not purchase the shirts (they were too-much a knock-off), but I could not help but chuckle at how fast the price went down.

Tomorrow, we’ll start the real work of meeting potential international students. It’s a full day, from 10:30 AM to 5 PM and then it’s off to Qingdao in the evening. Perhaps I’ll find some future Bishops. But after one day in Beijing, I want to come back to see more.