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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Nine Dragon Wall Beihai Park - Beijing
COUNTRY FACTS Population: 1.3 bil Area: 22,117 km2; Third largest in world. Gov't: Communist State Religion: Officially athiest; Mostly Taoist and Buddhist, 3-4% Christian, 1-2% Muslim View Map
Nine Dragon Wall, Beihai Park, Beijing, March 27, 2003  



April 23. BEIJING Our flight from Guam left very early.  We were at the airport at 3:30am. When we had booked our mileage tickets over a month earlier we had a hard time even getting on the flight but after the onset of the Iraq war and SARS the flight was not crowded at all.  We had to book business class tickets to get a seat from Tokyo to Beijing but had to accept coach on the Guam to Tokyo leg because business was fully booked at the time. But, we ended up sitting behind a nearly empty business class cabin.  At least our business class tickets gave us snack privileges in a better lounge. 

Our flight to Beijing was only a handful of people.  The flight attendants were wearing face masks and some of the passengers chose to as well.  I tried on a mask and after a few minutes decided it was not very comfortable and, since I probably had very little chance of contracting SARS on my way into China, I took it off.  In fact, we had very little chance of catching SARS at all.  During our week in Guam we deliberated on whether or not to skip China all together but after some careful consideration we decided that only a fraction of a percent of people in Beijing had contracted the disease, even if we multiplied the official numbers five times, and if we were careful there would be very little chance of us joining those numbers.  We had armed ourselves with a supply of surgical masks, sterilization gel, and hand wipes.

It was smooth sailing though immigration and customs in Beijing.  We hopped a cab to the city center and got dropped in the general area of where we hoped to find a hotel room.  A local westerner nearby and his Chinese friend kindly pointed us in the right direction.  After checking two places we took the cheaper room at the Fangyuan Hotel, just a couple of blocks east of the Forbidden City.  It was a basement room but was clean and fairly comfortable.  The only drawback was that they had been renovating the rooms and there was a slight smell of wallpaper adhesive.  We didn't think it would be a problem but the cockroach we found limping across the middle of room should have told us otherwise.  I have never seen a cockroach move so slowly, and, consequently, it was its last move.  If the fumes were enough to handicap a cockroach it couldn't be good for us either. 

After stowing our packs we went out for a stroll on the nearby Wangfujing Road.  This was modern China at its brand spanking newest, a wide pedestrian boulevard with food markets, chain stores, and department stores.  Not even Starbucks was conspicuous here.  The road had a few pharmacies as well that were doing some healthy business.  Otherwise, the road was not very crowded. The governments attempts at raising awareness was keeping many people at home.  

One of the outdoor food markets took us away from the main pedestrian area an into winding alleyways of stalls selling all kinds of Chinese dishes.  There were several stalls that specialized in kebab-type foods of the most unusual variety, for us anyway.  There was, of course, your chicken and beef on skewers but they were lined up along side the scorpions, silk worm larva, and other members of the insect species that I didn't get close enough to recognize.  Yum.  This area drew a fair number of tourists and was complimented with a packed alley of souvenir vendors as well. 

Towards the end of Wangfujing Road we were approached by four young women who claimed to be art students.  They had good English and after a few minutes of chit chat they asked us if we would come look at their local art exhibit and give them our feedback.  We had a pretty good idea where this was going but went for a look anyway.  They took us upstairs in a nearby building where they had a small room full of various styles of Chinese artwork.  They kindly explained some of the pieces to us, trying to reel us in.  The plum blossoms done in brushwork represented "men" because men are strong and plum blossoms can bloom in the winter.  The bamboo in the other brushwork painting also represented "men" because bamboo is very hard on the outside but hollow on the inside.  (I think maybe we lost something in the translation there.)  The paintings of the four seasons represented the four stages of life with Spring being youth and Winter being old age.  And, of course, there were several paintings of fortuitous Chinese characters bidding people good luck in money, love, etc.  At then end they began their story about needing to raise money so they could go to practice art in Europe but then it started to break down when they suddenly wouldn't be there again the next day so we could take some time to think about purchasing something.  In fact, they didn't know what days they would be asked to work so we had to decide if we wanted to purchase something right then and there.  We kindly declined and thanked them for their time.   They may have truly been art students but it was unlikely and we didn't want to buy anything anyway.

From Wangfujing Road it was only a couple of long blocks along Beijing's large Jianguomennei Boulevard to Tiananmen Square.  The streets were almost deserted by Beijing standards but it made for a nice peaceful walk.  The weather was warm and the sun was just beginning to set over the Forbidden City.  Our stroll took us under Tiananmen Gate and into the courtyards that preceded the Forbidden City entrance.  There was a steady flow of Chinese people walking the streets as well but we didn't see many tourists.  About half of the people were wearing masks as well.  As we approached the entrance to the Forbidden City we went out the East Gate, back towards our hotel.  On our way back we found a nice restaurant and enjoyed a meal with the whole restaurant to ourselves.   

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30