Today was our first full day in China. Although most of us are still getting adjusted to the time change, everyone seemed excited this morning for a full day of exploring Beijing. We started the day by taking the subway to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, followed by lunch at Brown Door, a nearby family-style restaurant, and then finished the day with visits to the Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market. Our focus for today was the history of China, both in our sightseeing and our reading and journaling. It was interesting to see some of the oldest buildings in China right across the street from some of the newest buildings and China. The contrast between the new and the old is striking, and that same sort of mix of new and old seems to have found its way into Chinese culture. China’s history as a country goes back over 4000 years, which is much different than the United States, having been around for less than 250 years. This incredibly long history, combined with the fact that China has been closed off from the rest of the world more than most other countries, has produced a culture and history that is fascinating and strange to an American college student on his first trip across an ocean.
I was most struck by the sheer size of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was amazing to walk through the first few enormous gates, go through multiple temples, see a few different palaces, and view the beautiful gardens, only to realize that in almost two hours of walking with few stops, we had probably seen less than half of the Forbidden City. It was also amazing to see the persistence of the Chinese people when it came to the Forbidden City. It seemed as though every building in the entire park had been burned down at least twice, and every time something burned down, it was rebuilt just the same way. The Chinese have lots of respect for their history and where they come from, and I am just beginning to understand a little bit of what that history is all about.
My favorite part of the day, however, had to do with a much more modern attraction in China, the pearl market. It was fun to play the haggling game with the shopkeepers, seeing how low of a price you could get on the items in their stalls. I was able to get a hockey jersey for 15% of the original asking price after walking away at least five times, each time being grabbed by the elbow by the salesman and offered one last “final price”.
Today was definitely an eye-opening experience, and one I will never forget.