Our 1st day in China was jam-packed! We woke up to an amazing breakfast spread – more food than I’ve ever seen in my life. The hotel buffet had everything from personal omelettes to noodle bowls. Yum! After pigging out on a mix of Asian and Western-style breakfast foods, we piled on the bus and headed to Tianamen Square where we saw Mao Zedong’s mausoleum. His body now rests there in a crystal coffin draped with China’s national flag. We also visited the Monument to Fallen Heroes, China’s main congress building, and the famous red gate to the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City was unlike anything I have ever seen before. After walking through multiple courtyards and ornately decorated buildings, I was in shock when our amazing tour guide Lisa pointed out a map of the city. We had only been through a few gates, and were just starting to get to the good stuff – the main palace, residences and their interconnected gardens, pathways and bridges. I learned so much about the grounds like the use of large metal bowls to store water in case of fire, and using the number of animals perched on the rooftops to determine the importance of the building. After a morning of walking we headed for a quick lunch and then embarked on a journey to visit the summer vacation grounds of the royal family.
Just as we were entering the Summer Palace all the visiting groups were pushed to the side by security as a highly ranked political member and their entourage arrived for some sight seeing. Everyone stood out of the way and looked on as military escorted them onto the palace grounds. We didn’t find out who the important visitor was, but we made sure they were well out of sight before following. The Summer Palace is an oasis made up of open water, gardens, and historic buildings. I was astonished to learn that the massive lake was man made!
While touring the Summer Palace, Lisa told tales of Empress Cixi and her beginnings as an imperial concubine. She became very powerful after her husband passed due to the appointment of her son as Emperor. She ruled over China for 47 years in the throne behind the curtain. I found her story fascinating, and it was interesting to learn about her life and the other royalty who had walked in our footsteps centuries before. We strolled along the longest covered pathway in the world (728 meters), rode a boat across the lake, and watched as locals flew kites on the 17 Arch Bridge. The unique mix of old and new Beijing was highlighted by the differences between my ultra modern hotel and the ancient palaces.
After wrapping up our tour, we headed over to the Silk Market to pick up some gifts – some for family, friends and for us too! The market offered everything from chop sticks to silk pillow cases, fake designer bags and watches. I had a lot of fun bartering for the goods and left with some awesome finds and an appreciation for the local salespeople’s persistence!
A couple of funny things happened today. We were apparently pretty famous in China because people were constantly filming or taking pictures of us. Robin was especially popular amongst Chinese locals! We also had some fun learning how to perfect the “Asian squat” together. Someone approached Brian B. and rubbed his belly saying, “Happy Buddha!” Stay tuned to hear more about our shenanigans in China!
Here are some stats for our big first day:
Steps walked: 22,994 per person and 781,796 collectively!
Distance traveled on foot: 17.72 km.
Best deal at the market: 160 Yuan or approximately $32 CAD for a “designer” bag.
Number of times Robin was asked to take a picture: 22.
Blog post submitted on Edy the bear’s behalf by Study Tour participants Jennifer, Jolene, Chelsey & Azia.