A version of this story was published as part of monthly series that ran in the Warrensburg, MO The Daily Star Journal from Oct. 2000 through May 2001.
Needing to be Showed in Beijing
Our first holiday, for National Day, came after Sara and I had been in Beijing for only four weeks. Although the Day was only October 1, most people, like us, had off a week to celebrate.
Other teachers invited us to join their tour of the three gorges area of China. However, since we had arrived just two days before classes started, we opted to spend the week exploring the city.
Many individuals advised us that Beijing would be so crowded that we could not enjoy any attractions. Still, being from Missouri meant we had to be showed. We had a full agenda including observing the celebration on Tiananmen Square and a visit to the Summer Palace.
We decided to go to the Square on the evening of National Day to see the lights. Had we gone earlier in the day, we might have witnessed news in the making. Several Fallun-Gong members were arrested. Although we missed this internationally-televised event, we were pleased with what we saw.
We caught the trolley to the north side of the Imperial Palace. The view there at night was spectacular. The Palace seemed even larger than it had in daylight. The structures reflected in the river that serves as a moat.
We walked south along the outer wall. I told Sara that it was the first time I'd really felt like a stranger in a foreign land. She said, it reminded her of New Orleans. I could see her point. There were lots of different colored lights and a festive atmosphere.
Mostly, as we walked down the dimly lit alley, I felt a strong realization that we were where the "have not" had lived. It stood in dark contrast to the affluence that had been just on the other side of the wall.
Eventually, we reached the Square. The lighting around the buildings and in the trees, there, mirrored the Plaza at Christmas. On one side stood a three story country scene, representative of traditional China, made of pots of flowers similar to a Rose-Bowl float. On the other side was a modern structure which looked like a space ship flying above the earth. In the middle, was a temporary fountain, shooting water almost as high, if not as thick, as old faithful. On the water danced various colors from strobe lights.
Members of the Red Army formed lines at different places and moved around the Square in different formations. They weren't as impressive as the guard at Buckingham Palace; but, they were very sharp.
Later that week, we road the bus to the Summer Palace. There, we sat by the lake. We walked down the Long Corridor and enjoyed the art gallery contained on its rafters. We saw the marble boat. We climbed Monkey Hill to enjoy the view both afar and within the pagodas and temples thereon.
We spent most of that day in the shops on a street around the river which was modeled after an area in Suzhou so that the nobility could have a shopping experience without mingling with commoners. Between inspecting the assorted merchandise and observing the many artists who work there, we enjoyed a leisurely tea replete with traditional music and song from talented young women.
Beijing was crowded that week, but not unmanageably so. Thousands of people were on the Square on National Day; but the size of the Square dwarfed their number. Most of the multitude never made it to Suzhou Street at the Summer Palace.
Of course, "crowded" is relative, but the crowds for us weren't an obstacle or even a hindrance. In contrast, many of the Chinese with whom we spoke elected not to venture far from their homes during that week because they had been provided with exaggerated estimates of the number of visitors to Beijing. Had everyone done as we did, we might not have managed in the mobs. Still, Sara and I marvel at the number of Chinese who accept numbers as "facts." Then, we conclude that there are a good number of Americans who do the same.