China - Part 1
By Claire Barraclough
Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited on a familiarisation trip to China, hosted by Wendy Wu Tours and Singapore Airlines. Upon arrival into Beijing we got a shock to find the temperature a chilly six degrees, here we were met by our Wendy Wu guide, Zoe, who would remain with us for the 10 days of our tour. Beijing airport is huge, with six terminals and after security checks, you need to catch a train across to one of the terminals to collect your luggage and clear customs.
Our three nights in Beijing was staying at Hotel Yuyan which is comfortable and relatively central. Up bright and early the next morning, found us heading to Tiananmen Square, I don’t think I have seen so many people in once place at the same time, there was a line of people literally a mile long, lining up to get into the Mausoleum to worship their faith….absolute dedication as it was very cold, and these people line up for hours on end, with no guarantee that they will even get in as its only open for three hours a day. With a little time to wander around the square we had the “obligatory” photo taken above a huge picture of Chairman Mao. We then carried onto The Forbidden City, which is around the corner from the Square. This place is the largest Palace complex in the world at 74 hectares, surrounded by a six metre deep moat, a 10 metre high brick wall and boasting 9,999 rooms.
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court, was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court, was where he lived with his royal family. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court, 14 emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. Listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987, the Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions world-wide. After looking around this amazing palace, we looked forward to sitting down and enjoying a Chinese acrobatic show, which was children from age 6 -18. It was neat to see, and is amazing how much practice and dedication these children have from a young age, you can certainly see how they “clean up” at the Olympics. Another early morning saw us heading two hours from the city to see “The Great Wall of China”. They say that you haven’t been to China until you have climbed the Great Wall. Due to the weather it was rather cloudy, so the views weren’t that good, slightly disappointing for me, as I imagined it like the pictures you see, with blue skies in the background and the wall stretching for miles, but travelling at this time of the year the weather is unpredictable. Still an amazing sight to see and reflect on the enormity of the material and labour required for this construction and the thousands that died building it. Built over 2000 years ago, it stretches from Shanhaiguan Pass on the east coast to the Gobi Desert in the west, over 5000 kms away. There are several sections that you can visit on “the wall”, and the section we visited was rather touristy, with lots of people around. Later in the evening we stopped at the famous Silk Markets. This is a five storey building with just about anything you can imagine to buy. Mostly “knock-off” labels, but still quite well made and lots of bargains to be had. With a bit of free time before our flight to Xi’an we organised with Zoe a trip to the Hutongs. We all piled onto rickshaws and saw how the local Chinese lived.....cont Part 2