My trip to China continues! Today we visit Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. It’s hard to believe it’s its been a year already…enjoy!

Originally posted 20/06/14 on TravelPod.

Many of you may have wondered why I decided to write a blog during my travels in China. Truthfully, while I do find it’s a great way to document my time overseas, my intentions were much more simple – I want my son Zach to be able to read about my journey like a storybook, each new day a different chapter for him to read before he goes to sleep at night.

Daddy loves you, Zach.

Ok, now on to Day 1 in China:

Rude Awakenings

I’ve never really experienced jet lag before. I have to admit though, that I am not a fan. Waking up at 3 AM (and I mean fully awake), and then staying up until 5:30 AM is certainly not my idea of fun. But hey, my body clock will regulate itself after a couple of days, right?

Breakfast was well done at our hotel. Full omelette service with all the fixings, bacon, toast, cereal, fresh fruit, etc.. For those of you with a more diverse palette, there were certainly some more daring choice on the menu: rice, fried noodles, various salads, etc.. And for those of you who are wondering – yes there were some items on the breakfast menu that simply left me scratching my head: pizza, corn on the cob in milk (creamed corn), and hard-boiled eggs in tea. Needless to say I stuck to what I knew and filled up on a hearty breakfast. We did have a long day ahead of us.

Tiananmen Square | Forbidden City

Our first stop today was Tiananmen Square. Words cannot begin to describe the historical site that is a political dichotomy of Chinese communist pride and democratic unrest. One of my earliest memories when I hear the name Tiananmen Square is the iconic image of the lone Chinese protester standing defiantly before a row of tanks presented by Western media outlets. That having been said, you can see in my pictures that the space is huge, and signs of China’s communist regime are everywhere – right down to the numerous closed-circuit cameras on every street lamp. Big Brother is watching.

As we made our way across the square towards the south gate of the Forbidden City, a unique phenomenon dawned upon everyone in our group: we were definitely a minority. So much so that we were often being stared at. In some cases, we were even being videotaped and photographed. Odd to say the least, but for many Chinese people, we were the first “foreigners” many of them have ever seen. Moreover, for many of the Chinese, many of them had never seen “Westerners” before either. In typical Canadian fashion, we humbly took the attention in stride – it was almost as if we had turned into instant celebrities overnight. The students now felt what it was like to be Justin Beiber…

The Forbidden City is a magical and mystical heritage site. Much of it is built out of wood, as was evidenced by all of the pots we kept seeing all over the place. People were always rubbing them for good luck, but the reality was they keep them full of water in case of fire. We learned that there were nine gates in total, and each new gate was more ornate and more beautiful than the last. We also had the chance to visit the quarters of the Last Emperor about whom the movie with the same name is based. It was really neat to see where he studied, played, and lived.

By the time we reached our bus just outside the North Gate of the Forbidden City, it was time for lunch. Throngs of people lined the streets and the constant hustle and bustle of Beijing traffic was omnipresent. Now, I’ve been to New York City and encountered busy areas filled with people like Times Square before. But in Beijing it seems as though it just does not stop. Truth be told, with roughly the entire population of Canada in a major metropolitan metropolis like Beijing, the pure density of people is unreal. And, of course, everyone is trying to sell you something – but more on that later.

Pickled Chicken Feet…

Lunch today was at an authentic Chinese restaurant. 17412298208_05218782de_oThe premise used at the restaurants was simple. Everyone sits around a circle table with a rotating dais in the middle. Then, the waiters brought out our food, and it just kept coming. Most of the fare was what you would expect – rice, noodles, steamed vegetables, etc.. But then they brought out the pickled chicken’s feet. I can safely say that it DID NOT taste like chicken. Thankfully, the rice, beef, chicken, and pork were plentiful, and we could wash it all down with some Coca-Cola.

Temple of Heaven

After lunch, our group visited the Temple of Heaven. An ancient area dedicated to the practicing of faith, the Temple of Heaven is now used as a public green space for the people of Beijing. Locals can enter the park for free and use it as a garden oasis & take a break from the urban jungle that is Beijing. One of the more interesting things I took away from visiting this site was that the main temple was the original structure used for the replica that can be found in the Chinese pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot. Zach – you should be able to recognize it immediately in the pictures!

I’ll Buy That For a Dollar!

Following our visit to the Temple of Heaven, we were treated to a visit to one of Beijing’s many “fake/knock-off” markets. Four floors of never-ending deals. Things were arranged nicely for your shopping pleasure: electronics on the first floor, clothing & bags on the second, fake pearls on the third, and gold & other more “real” jewelry on the fourth. It was a plethora of gadgets and garments for all tastes & styles…

…but were the salespeople ever aggressive. For those of you who have shopped Canal St. in NYC, it pales in comparison to the way we were accosted at the market. At one point, we were even being dragged by the salespeople to check out their stuff. Not for the faint of heart. However, if you were able to maintain your composure, you could easily score some fake Beats headphones for about $20 (no joke!). Really hoping to do most of my souvenir shopping at these markets.

To finish off our first day in Beijing, we were treated to a Peking Duck dinner. I’ve never had duck before and was eagerly looking forward to dinner. As a bonus, we were able to watch the chefs cut and prepare the duck right in front of us. The presentation was splendid. In one of the videos, you can watch how to properly prepare a “duck pancake” using a crepe style pastry along with other garnishes.

Phew – what a first day! It’s still surreal that I’m actually here in China. A country so steeped in cultural differences; a dynamic history with centuries of stories to discover.

I wonder what’s in store tomorrow?