Spring Festival In Beijing 

Written by Jun 28, 2004 09:06
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After the SARS

During the past year, travelling anywhere in China is dangerous. Travelling agencies hit their all-time low and scenic spots can only be appreciated thru pictures. The SARS outbreak did a lot of damage not only to the holiday spirit, but also on the freedom to roam!
This year was entirely different! I joined a local tour in Beijing in hopes of having a splendid time during the Spring Festival and my expectations were overwhelming! It's as if SARS was never heard of! The scene at the airport upon touchdown can be compared to the number of ants parading their way to a picnic ground! Flocks after flocks of people arrived some directly making their exit while others waited for their groups.
I said to myself, this is Beijing, the capital of China, the travel guide must at least know a little of English. This actually was my biggest disappointment, yes the tour guide did know some English words...only two English letters to be precise and that is WC! Serves me right to join local group...I, however, made the most of the tour by being sequacious and enjoying the beautiful scenes and befriending the other local tourists! Here are some of the highlights of my visit:

Day 1

For a big crowd (more or less 50) you can't expect everything to go smoothly...at the airport alone, the group got into a churlish kind of argument on where to sit inside the bus. Many of them were obstreperous, puerile and loved having a lot of guffaws! This is just what you'll expect if you try to immerse yourself in a Chinese crowd. If you can't beat them...ha ha...join them!
My first day was actually the day when I arrived! We had our first stop at the Temple of Heaven. At a temperature slightly below zero, the weather didn't feel anything like heaven! What I just marvelled at in pictures I was actually able to see...the majestic Prayer for Harvest Hall with its top protruding like a rocket about to be launched into outer space is an architectural wonder! The other places, though I could not remember their names anymore were also worth looking at. At the Echo Wall, located near the exit, I tried to hear my voice make a complete round, but with all the carfuffle and raffish sounds, I guess it got lost!
Next we headed for a cloisoinne factory! The place was stuffed with people. I had to squeeze my way thru. The products were artistically done with matching decorations, but the prices were in astronomical figures so I just took some pictures as a souvenir!
Lastly, we went to the Tian'anmen Square where we just speculated on some soldiers performing a kind of national rite. A strong breeze along with the chilly temperature is not what you would call a pleasant day to sight-see. Nothing much really, but the fact that you're on the biggest square in the world, made me warm all the more!

Day 2

The hotel where we stayed at was also jam-packed with tourists! Dining tables had to be cleaned up one after another, a long queue of people waiting to whet their appetite and another series of piffles and guffaws can be heard! This is the actual Spring Festival...you'll get used to it...you really have to, otherwise you won't enjoy your stay! Ha ha ha!
For breakfast we had rice porridge and some steamed bread called "mantou" literally meaning barbarian's head. The tale has it that a wise general had to cross a river. The river god, however, wouldn't permit them unless a hundred of their heads be thrown in the river as sacrifice! The general came up with a plan of making artificial heads which he threw and afterwards was given a green light to cross the river. Pretty amusing, isn't it especially for an origin of a local delicacy!
From what I've heard, when we got on the bus, we we're heading to the Ming Tombs, the sepulcher of Emperor Wangli. I've read that he was the guy responsible for the decline of the dynasties because he was very irresponsible in the state affairs! The site of the tombs is enormous! You actually have to descend thru a series of steps to be able to see it! The renovation done on the tomb is amazing...it is well-lighted and would remind you of an underground labyrinth. I felt like a sardine being pressed in a can! The number of tourists just keep on coming! You can have a great sigh of relief once you come out of the underground tomb.
Inside the bus, I saw some signs saying "Badaling" so I was pretty sure we were headed for the Great Wall...I actually thought Badaling meant Great Wall, but to my surprise, it is just a name of a place where a portion of the wall is located!
Upon my ascent to one of the posts, there is a booth selling certificates of the your climb costing 30rmb. I bought one, but to my surprise, there are more booths selling the same stuff cheaper even and it had your picture in it! I also bought a rubbing, one of those heavy stone pictures where you have your name chiseled on it!

Day 2...continuation

The vendors on the wall were very nice, some even were very persistent that you buy their products! One of them even said "You say price" for a certain product I took a little interest in. I said "Ok...1" in which he immediately responded "dollar". His response started me off with a wild laughter! It was a good thing because the temperature was -12 and the humor was just what I needed to keep myself from freezing!
There's even a camel on one of the posts happily chewing on some hay without any regard for the cold. You have to pay a certain amount if you want your picture taken with it, but since there is only one guy looking after it, many tourists still had their pictures with the animal when the person's back was turned. Unfortunately, when I wanted my picture, he turned towards me asking for some money. I simply gestured apologetically that I haven't taken any pictures yet!
The scene wasn't as nice as the ones you see in postcards because it was just the start of spring and the grass wasn't even green yet! At the foot of the wall were many stalls selling various items. You have to do a lot of haggling before purchasing any items. There's one picture frame I liked costing a whooping 280rmb! But, since it was only a simple wood portrayal of the Great Wall I didn't show much interest in it and only said that I had 50rmb in my pocket. As I slowly walked away the store owner kept on lowering the price until it amazingly dropped down to 50! I had to buy it even if I didn't like the furious reaction of the person selling it!
Next stop was this skiing park of a sort where I just looked around and amused myself with some piled-up snow and two reindeers! This is what I actually wanted to see...SNOW, bad part about it is that it was only artificial! Of course, the reindeers were real! The cost of the skiing equipment was way beyond my budget, so I had to patiently wait in the bus for the other tourists to finish off their fun time on the man-made skiing slopes!
Dinner was awaiting us at the many lined food stalls along Wanfujing St. We had an hour and a half to walk around and eat to our heart's content! I just bought a corn on the cob and three barbecue sticks. The magnificent sight of the Great Wall was enough to sate my appetite!

Day 3

The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace were on today's list of places to visit. As we alighted off at the Tian'anmen Square, I grumbly said "Oh no, not here again!" The tourist guide, with very little English knowledge, just gestured me to line up along with the other people...to where the line leads to...I don't know! After an hour, we reached what I later came to know as the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao. People bought bouquets of flowers to put on the marbled figure of the late chairman. I was in awe of the hall! It was exquisitely built with huge columns and finely lined carpets! This was the first time I felt at ease because despite the multitude of people, the place was very serene!
After crossing a short bridge with Chairman Mao's large portarit overhead, we came to a gate leading to the Forbidden City! I only got to see this place in the 1980's movie "The Last Emperor" where Henry Puyi (his English Name) the emperor of the Manchu or simply called the Qing Dynasty was dethroned! The grandeur of the place makes you feel like an emperor! The design and structure of the buildings were superb! With all the meticulously carved figures on the columns and roofs of the buildings, one can only stare with astonishment at the exquisite craftsmanship! They greatly show the brilliance of Chinese architecture! Having lost myself in the crowd, I continued to my walk around the place with great curiosity and marvel! By the time I found my way around, my other tourist buddies were in a fit...I didn't know that they had waited for me that long!
It was probably in the early afternoon when we reached the Summer Palace. The place was a sight for sore-eyes! I took particular interest in the longest corridor with all its fascinating paintings seen above! The lake was frozen and as I desperately wanted to have a try at the frozen surface, I was held back by our tourist guide in fear that something might happen to me! Yes, I did see the marble boat forever stationed at a certain part of the lake. Makes me wonder why the Empress had it built in the first place when it can't be mobilized! The arched bridges are simply an amzing work of art! Neat and slender!
Although, we just passed the towering pagoda(I forgot its name)which is the landmark of the place, I already felt a sense of accomplishment! It was just a dream coming to these historical sites and by just seeing them in all their splendour is simply fulfilling!

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