Today we left our fabulous hotel in Hengshui for Beijing early in the morning. The bus ride was 3 hours long and we stopped for the equivalent of Chinese fast food along the way at a rest stop. Pretty much all of us took advantage of the ride to catch up on some much needed sleep; it was pretty much a morgue for all 3 hours.
When we finally arrived in Beijing we switched from our large coach bus to two smaller tour buses, one with our luggage and one with us. Our tour guide was so excited to teach us about Chinese culture. She had been in Beijing for 3 years and said that every year here she fell more in love with the city.
Our first stop was the Forbidden City where 24 emperors resided over ancient China. The city is filled with huge courtyards and buildings that are so magnificent I wonder if even today’s architects could make something so beautiful. The complex contains over 8,000 rooms, including 25 bedrooms in the building where the emperor lived. Each bedroom had the same beds and layout so that assassins would be confused if they were trying to find the emperor.
The next stop was Tienanmen Square. For a couple of us on the trip, including me, this was one of the places we wanted to see most and almost didn’t get a chance. To stand in the same place that so many others united in to stand up for what they believed in and died trying to produce reform was awe inspiring. I truly felt as though it were hallowed ground. The square itself was massive, with buildings and statues and towers sprouting up all over. One building had a giant portrait of Mao on it. The security there was unbelievable; there were 4 security cameras on each lamp post and there must have been 60 lamp posts. There were guards circling the square with rifles and riot shields. It was quite intimidating, but I couldn’t help but think how much more fearful I would be if it were a tank rolling at me while I tried to stand my ground like so many others did at Tienanmen Square. What was rather interesting is that we were told not to bring up what happened in Tienanmen Square with any native Chinese people. It was part of the 3 T’s: Tibet, Taiwan and Tienanmen Square. It’s so different to not have freedom of speech.
Throughout the day, we shopped for some authentic Chinese trinkets we could bring back home. Joe Hallal seemed to be quite the bargainer, making cheaper deals than other students for the same goods. Some people bought Mao books, dragon figurines, small Buddha statues or incense. So far we miss Hengshui, but the shear amount of history in Beijing will suffice. Keep reading for more on our trip and how you can get involved next year!
By Zach Perry