June 5. First full day in Beijing. Outside the 11th floor window of our luxury hotel, I can see other modern hotels and office buildings overshadowing the narrow hutongs, traditional alleys with dilapidated one story houses- filled with Chinese who probably service the office buildings and hotels. This is just one of the many impressions of my first day among the Chinese living in this city of millions.
It is a Chinese holiday, a long weekend. We walked nearly 3 hours across Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. My impressions. Almost no cell phones in use. The concierge at the hotel was very impressed with my Samsong phone and told me it would cost over $100 US to buy here. I was surprised. I thought all electronics cheaper in China. The Chinese do drive with their horns and while traffic seemed calmer than we had been warned about, this may have been from the comfort of our small tour bus. We haven’t driven in it yet. I saw almost no smoking by either men or women. The Chinese were very curious about us and particularly wanted to be photographed with either Tom or Clay, the two very tall, large men in our group.
Children were everwhere, beautifully dressed. Mothers encouraged young children to say “hello” in English. One mother obvious told her young son-perhaps 2 or so- to shake my hand. He eagerly ran up to me and took my hand, not really knowing what hand-shaking was. People are friendly and eager to extend their friendship to foreigners. While the places we visited were crowded the crowds were orderly. Only once did our guide, Victoria get into a shouting match with some guy selling over priced picture booklets about the Forbidden City. Women had beautiful umbrellas to keep the sun off them. It made a colorful picture.
We only had one questionable incident. After lunch at the Old Beijing Noodle Restaurant, Ed and I opted out for the afternoon tour to the Temple of Heaven to go back for a nap. (The names of places are colorful as the people). Our guide hailed a taxi for us and told him (in Chinese) where to take us. Fortunately, we recognized the hotel as he passed it. On purpose? Was he like so many taxi drivers in so many countries with tourists? We’ll never know but we spoke up and he turned around, turning off his meter. The ride still was only about $2.50 so all was not lost.