🇨🇳 Day 3 of my Beijing Tour! 🇨🇳
On Day 3, we were headed to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Chinese Medicine, a Pearl Factory, the Temple of Heaven and The Summer Palace.
Off to Tiananmen Square!
It was pouring rain, but visitors were jam packed together in their rain gear, ready to see one of the most famous landmarks in China.
As we passed through the ticketing booth, my jaw dropped – Tiananmen Square was huuuuuge! We walked over a lovely white bridge and then scurried down the long slab of cement to get to the first beautiful temple. It was covered in gold and red paint, shimmering in the rain and wind.
Tiananmen Square is 4.5 times the size of Millennium Park in Chicago. We strolled past building after building, but the scenery was fairly consistent: big slabs of cement, with one anomaly: a beautiful Venice-esque bridge by the entrance. Literally every person who entered wanted a picture on this bridge. There were thousands of people, mostly in tour groups. I was glad to see that there was even a tour for people in wheelchairs.❤️
Our guide, Paul, was very energetic. He was 28 years old, a Beijing native, and a very fast talker. I had a very hard time understanding his fragmented English at some points, but he was very passionate about his job.
(He and I had some great discussions as we walked from place to place, and after the tour, I left him a nice note, complementing him on his fluency, as well as giving him some quick-and-easy tips for making his accent a bit more understandable ❤️)
As we walked on the miles and miles of cement, Paul told us that there were no trees or statues so that, in case terrorists wished to do harm to the prized tourist destination, they would have nowhere to hide. They could be easily captured or shot. 😬
After the 4.5-Millennium-Parks-walk, I got to use a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ bathroom! It wasn’t much different than a decent bathroom at Target, but at this point, I was really starting to miss standard western toilets. The squat potties were just so hard to use!
At Tiananmen Square, I had a hilarious time being photographed by fellow tourists, and followed around by small children, confused by the strange looking tourist (aka me 😂). I’ve never been anywhere where there is such little diversity, especially in touristy areas.
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was quite beautiful: large red buildings, protected by wide-brimmed gold and black and red roofs, complete with gold decorations down each column, and then adorable and intricate statues of various animals and creatures along each corner of the roof. Our guide told us that there is actually a specific order in which the creatures/animals are supposed to be in. (Dragon, lion, etc.) Each building was roped off, but the tourists would crowd around the openings, iPhones ready to take the same “unique” picture that each of the other 80,000 visitors would take that day.
We saw weirdly shaped trees and a massive rock that people were taking insta-perfect pics in front of. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque as to why it was cool, though 😂😂😂
We saw cluster after cluster of school children, all with matching caps, traipsing through the rain puddles, clearly wanting to be anywhere else. There were tiiiiiiiny dogs wearing sweaters (Fun fact: animals’ paws control their temperature, and sweaters – although better than nothing – are much more effective when their paws are covered), and then a lot of cement. I was so surprised at how flat everything was, and then I understood why locals were so enthusiastic about their small areas of nature in various corners of the city.
We went to the Chinese Doctor to learn about Chinese Medicine!
This was a fascinating experience! They shuttled us into a room with a projector, and buckets with towels in front of every seat. There was a short presentation about how acupuncture can be healing and more helpful than any type of modern medicine. (Not that I doubt this, but considering that I have to basically drug myself to simply get a tetanus shot, this is obviously not the route for me.) Then a dozen employees came in, all wearing clinical uniforms. They instructed us to take off our shoes and socks, and they washed our feet in the buckets provided. They then all sat down in front of us, one by one, giving us a 10 minute foot massage!
Funny story, though. I got the one masseuse who clearly didn’t want anything to do with my feet. She was slapping them, angrily jabbing at my bones and rolling her eyes. The people on either side of me were getting nice relaxing massages, but they were all looking at me like “…are you okay?!” At one point, my masseuse stopped altogether and very obviously started telling her coworker about how she didn’t want to touch my feet. I felt so awkward, because everyone around me had professional employees who were going about their business and being nice to each other. I got the one woman who openly hated a) her job b) me c) and my feet. When I tipped her (we were all instructed to give $3, which we all did), she SNARLED AT ME 😱😂.
I thought our experience was complete. Oh, no. I was wrong.
At this point, the Chinese doctors came in. They were wearing suits, shiny shoes, and slicked back hair. They looked very professional. There were two of them on my side of the room, each followed by stern looking women, who ended up being the translators. When he got to me, the doctor asked how old I was, if I was married (he grimaced when I said no), and if I have children (another grimace at my negative response). He felt my wrist for a pulse, gently slapped the back of my hand a few times, and then told me through the translator that:
“Because you have cold hands, you have low circulation. You must have terribly painful menstruation, will negatively effect my ability to birth a child. Therefore, this will make it difficult for me to find a husband. What a tragedy! However, you can take a pill that will solve your husband-finding problems.”
“Umm…okay, what’s in it and how much is it?”
“24 herbs that I cannot translate, and it’s $110.”
So, I learned that I could find a husband for a hundred bucks, and that I have cramps. And that my bunions have offended a Chinese foot masseuse.
Temple of Heaven
At the Temple of Heaven, there were thorough security measures and beautifully painted walkways that led up to the large empty chunk of cement with the temple in the middle. The actual building itself, though, was quite lovely …and very round! 😂
The inside was expansive and meticulously decorated with red and gold pillars that stood as high as the eye could see. The ceiling designs were breathtakingly ornate. Such a pity that the entire place was roped off and visitors struggled to peek in past the crowds of Insta-models by the single open doorway.
Colorful, geometric flowers were meticulously planted in lovely designs leading up to the second entrance. The ceiling had swirly patterns of bright blue and green. Little old folks gathered around sets of cards, having the time of their lives. Babies cried. Adults grunted at the seemingly endless crowds.
We’d rushed and rushed and rushed to get here (we had an appointment time that was strictly enforced), and then we had 45 minutes to look around this one temple, surrounded by…nothing else inside the gates. Mind you, we weren’t allowed to leave the giant slab of cement that the actual temple sat on (we would need another ticket to come back in), so after maybe 10 minutes, my tour-bffs and I headed back toward the entrace. Anything to escape the cement!
The gift shop was adorable! There were beaded bracelets and porcelain plates, and wooden models of the temple itself. All kinds of items made out of jade, and silk scarves in every color imaginable. The prices were also much lower than I was expecting. Then again, maybe we had just been spending so much time in these 5th-Avenue-type stores that the gift shop prices seemed normal…who knows.
We then headed to the Pearl factory!
The factory was out in the middle of nowhere, like all Chinese tourist destinations, but it was beautiful! They had necklaces and rings and loose pearls of all different colors, as well as glittery pearl statues and clothing decorated by rainbows of pearls.
The pearl factory had the best “demonstration” of any of the places we’d visited. The gal giving the demonstration knew SO much, and her English was excellent! Freshwater pearls come in giant oysters and can be made by injecting minuscule pieces of oyster meat into the oyster itself (ouch!), and it then forms a protective shield around said piece of meat. This shiny protective coating is we know as the pearl. They can get dozens of pearls from just one oyster, considering their massive size. (Poor oysters 😞 )
It’s often difficult to tell whether or not a pearl is real. The pearl gal explained: the way to recognize authentic pearls is by rubbing two of them together gently. A white powder should appear where the pearls touch, but there should be no damage to either pearl whatsoever.
(Who knows if this is true, but with every necklace she showed us, she let people from our group rub them together. Sure enough – no damage to the pearls. Fascinating!)
This pearl factory sold the most amazing things! I loved the dogs made out of strings of cream colored pearls, which were BY FAR the coolest things I’d ever seen.
Off to the Summer Palace!
The Summer Palace is considered to be one of the most beautiful spaces in Beijing. It is a large open area, surrounded by a manmade lake. The actual palace is on the opposite side of the lake, and there is a lovely bridge that makes for a wonderful photography spot.
The Summer Palace has one of the very few bodies of water in Beijing, making this natural space extremely popular. On a warmer day, we could have taken the little paddle boat out to the lavish palace itself. However, we didn’t have enough time to get there and back, so we enjoyed from afar. Many people walked onto the bridge, and over to the adjacent island. I was hungry, so I stopped into the small cafe for a snack.
This was a mistake. A gross one.
I grabbed some milk tea and ice cream (to put in said tea) at the little cafe. However, my milk tea didn’t taste like tea, and the “milk” was clearly an unnatural powder containing no actual milk. The ice cream tasted like a mix between buttermilk and lemon juice (“vanilla” my tushie!). When I put it in my tea, it just sat at the bottom of this piping hot liquid and didn’t melt at ALL! 😱🤮 It even got a little warm. No natural ice cream would EVER keep it’s frozen state in a cup of piping hot liquid for longer than a minute or two. Clearly, this ice cream was not something that should be consumed.
At this point, my tea smelled like lemon-y sour milk, and it had little chunks of warm “ice cream” bobbing around. Needless to say, I didn’t drink it.
As I was warming up in the cafe, I kept hearing these slapping sounds. It turns out that the woman who owned the place was whacking flies with a fly-swatter. She let them drop onto the tables and the floor, and then swept them into a garbage can. She plopped down at the table next to me and, while waiting for the next group of flies to settle, and counted the dead ones in the garbage can.
The bathroom was also an experience, lol. There was a “line” but no one respected it. The little old ladies physically pushed everyone else out of the way. The other women spread out within the bathroom itself, and made a mad dash for whichever door opened next. If you didn’t see it or waited too long, the person behind you would run ahead and steal it from you! 😱
They were all squat potties with slippery floors and dirty little holes in the ground. I got the lucky stall that was supremely dirty. The smell was unbearable. There was no soap, paper towels or drying machine of any kind. (I’d read that this is normal in China, but they had dispensers for soap and holders for TP…they were just out of everything.) My nose and I were so glad when we left, haha.
What an experience!
There was also a crowd of little ladies waiting for me and my tall and beautiful tour BFF, Marcella, to take pictures with us when we came out of the bathroom. No one spoke the same language, but we all laughed and smiled for the cameras. 😂
I had one last evening to look around the food courts, eat dinner with my lovely new tour friends. I bought everything jade-ish, a colorful backpack for plane snacks, and tried on a zillion silk scarves. I crashed at my hostel in exhaustion, ready for my flight the next morning.
Thanks, China! Until we meet again! 🇨🇳❤️🇨🇳
If you’re interested in the after story, read on…
I had 19 hours of flying ahead of me. I took the metro to the airport in Beijing. It was $6 and lasted an hour. The food was – again – terrible, but I had a nice guy next to me who was visiting the US for the first time. He and his friend talked the entire 13 hour flight, and I watched Aladdin and Life of Pets 2. Then I watched them again.
There was a little pupperoni in front of me that I got to store under my seat for take off, because that seat had more room than the seat in front of hers did. I reassured her (through the translation of the guy next to me) that I’d flown with three cats overseas, and understood how stressful it was to fly with animals. I told her he looked fine and that he was probably so glad it was dark so he could rest. She didn’t look reassured and kept apologizing for me having to watch him during takeoff. I would have given anything to keep him under my seat the whole time 😂 He fell asleep, we flew forever and ever, and then we arrived for our transfer through Chicago. Finally back on land! (We went over Russia, how cool!!!)
But then my flight from Chicago to Colorado was delayed. Nooooo! I managed to talk my way onto a different flight to Colorado that was boarding. I was the last name to be called on the standby list and literally jumped for joy when they announced my name. I was on hour 23 of being awake, and I was overjoyed that I didn’t have to wait three more hours for my delayed flight to head home. I had the very last seat on the plane, right in the middle. The gate agent asked if I had baggage and her eyes popped out of her head when I said that I’d only brought a carry on…to China…for 3 weeks 😂.
I ended up having 3-5 various size bags, depending on which flight it was and how many of the plane snacks I had eaten. I somehow convinced every gate agent that I’d acquired 2 bags worth of food at the airport.
When we were landing in Colorado, I’ve never been so certain that the flight attendants were going to announce an emergency landing. We dropped thousands of feet every few seconds, and blew almost entirely sideways twice. Drinks spilled, people fell out of their seats (buckle up, folks!!), the overhead bins spilled everywhere. The flight attendant carts went flying. The actual flight attendants were chatting away in the back, so that was reassuring, but I was too exhausted to realize how scary the situation really was. I put my head against the seat in front of me and fell asleep in between each jump, probably a total of 55 times. I even felt a bit rested when I got off the plane, thanks to my interspersed 10 second naps that happened during our terrifying landing.
What an incredibly long day. I’d never been so glad to be home to see my cutie, who met me at the bus and carried all 4 of my bags 😂😂😂, and my fluffies, who’d entirely forgotten that I existed. 😂❤️
Thanks, China! Until we meet again! 🇨🇳❤️🇨🇳
Happy travels, and thanks for reading!
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Looking to read about The Great Wall and the Jade Factory? Read about Beijing Tour Day 2!
Looking to read about the giant pandas and the Silk Factory? Read about Beijing Tour Day 1!