The Great Wall 07/10/2011
 
When walking through the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden city, it was easy to convince myself that I was on some sort movie set.  It was hard to convince myself that it's actually real.

I did not have that problem on the Great Wall.

We started by trudging up an alley created by vendors selling "I Climbed the Great Wall" tshirts and Mao hats.
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Patt and Baseemah in front of vendors.
We continued to trudge up to the the cable cars that ferried us up the mountain to the wall itself.  We climbed some more steps, then found ourselves on the Great Wall itself.
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It is the most phenomenal structure I have ever seen.  It literally goes on and on and on.  I could count the beacon towers over mountains, then more mountains, then more until they became specks in the distance.

The Wall is difficult to walk on.  The steps are very steep and worn.  The path itself is very well made, but, well, old.  It is very up and down, sometimes at 35 degrees or more.  But the hard walk is worth every minute of the breathtaking scenery.

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Going back down the mountain was a breeze.  We took the metal luge down to the bottom and it was totally fun.  I have no pictures because I was trying to hold on.   It is worth the 24 hours of travel time, the jet lag, the cost of the tickets just to see the Great Wall.  Plus, you feel appreciated on the way up!
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Forbidden City 07/05/2011
 
As I am sure you noticed, I was unable to blog while in China.  Internet and power were both factors.  However, I will be chronicling my journey over the next few days so stay tuned!
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The Forbidden City covers 7, 800,000 square feet of land and has 9, 999.5 rooms (pavillons count as half rooms).  It was built for one person, the Emperor.  It also housed his servants (all eunuchs), wives and concubines, all told around 3,000 people whose only purpose was to serve the Emperor.  No wonder he had a God complex.

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Since the Forbidden City was kept in its original state until 1912, when the Emperor fell, it looks just like it did when it was first built in the 1400s.  The paint is kept up, as well as the wood.  Most of the structures are wood.  The roof tiles are glazed with different colours according to what the building housed.  Only the Emperor's buildings could have these yellow tiles.  Libraries were black tiled, concubines' places were green tiled. 

There is an insane amount of symbolism to keep up with in China.  When you go through doors, women should enter with the right leg and men should enter with the left.  The door mantels were raised according to how high ranking you were.  Auspicious animals guard the corners of buildings, and the number depends on how high your social class is.  The Emperor gets 12.

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The most beautiful part of the Forbidden City, to me, is the courtyard.  If you ever saw the movie The Last Emperor, this courtyard is the one used for his coronation at the very beginning.  (If you haven't seen The Last Emperor, you should.  It's amazing.)
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The Forbidden City is beautiful and elegant.  However, I can't help but think it was also lonely.  When everyone around you is there to serve you, do you connect with anyone, really?  it must have been a difficult life.
 
 
So I finally got the interwebz working in the hotel room (obviously).  This post will be long, but others I hope will be shorter.

The flights were flights.  I had Pocky and bought a Good Luck Cat cell phone charm in Narita (Tokyo) just to prove I was there.  Narita was boring--I honestly expected more from the Japanese.

We arrived at 11pm last night (so June 24) and woke up to a beautiful day in Beijing.  The sky was blue and the temperature was a cool 88 degrees.

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Our first stop was the Summer Palace, a favourite of the Empress Dowager Cixi (who was by all accounts terrible woman.  The Boxers rebelled for a reason).  
As I walk in, swallows swoop overhead.  There are two huge ponds of lotus, but they are not blooming yet.  The huge lake is surrounded by weeping willows. 

My big adventure at the Summer palace was barganing for a Chairman Mao watch.  The watch has a picture of Mao, and his arm waves as the second hand ticks.  I bargained from 100 yuan to 60 yuan (about $10 USD) and avoided being given counterfeit money (John the Tour Guide had warned us ahead of time).  I drew quite a crowd, and I'm sure the locals probably laughed at the price I paid, but I was proud.

At all of the historical spots there are so many people, mostly Chinese.  The Chinese language is beautiful.  It sounds like everyone is singing.  The language is based on 4 tones, which our incredible tour guide John (Li Juan) taught us.   

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Next we watched a Tai Chi master go through the first 4 frames of the Tai Chi exercises. Then we tried some ourselves.  I could get into this Tai Chi business.  Check out the blinding whiteness of my legs.

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We took a dragon boat back across the lake, then took off for the pearl market, which was quite an experience.  AFter a family style lunch of delicious food (I haven't had a bad meal here yet) we headed for Tiananmen Square.  While I did not trip in the Square, I did trip going up the stairs for lunch. 

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Tiananmen Square is enormous.  Gigantic.  Vast.  It can hold 1 million people.  This pic features my friend Baseemah and the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  This is around the time that it really hit me that I was not, in fact, at Epcot.  I was, in fact, in China for real.  

Tomorrow I will share more about the Forbidden City, and our Peking Duck dinner, which was amazing.  I will also try to get a pic of the Incredible John, tour guide extraordi

 
Packed. Mostly. 06/21/2011
 
My suitcase is packed.  Everything I will have for 10 days overseas in a carry on.  I am an amazing packer.  I still have my backpack to finish, but that includes things like my computer and the book I'm reading.

I have to pick a question to explore while I'm in China (for the Professional Development class I'm taking).  Two options I am considering:
1.  How does Buddhism integrate into the modern Chinese culture?
2. How does literature integrate into the modern Chinese culture?  Are the Chinese reading new releases?  How well do they know older Chinese literature?  Are Chinese students "readers"?

Any other ideas?
 
T-Minus 4 days 06/20/2011
 
I leave on Thursday and I have bought almost nothing I need, besides clothes.  I am trying to carry on all of my luggage, so I need to practice pack as well.  I think as long as I have underwear, a passport and some toilet paper, I should be good to go.  What would you take on an international trip?