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Tiananmen Square (August 2009).

Officially called the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this country in East Asia is one of the world’s powerhouses in politics, economics, and culture. It’s home to the largest population in the world at just over 1.4 billion, as well as the third-largest country by landmass. We also owe tons of our modern technologies to China, including paper, gunpowder, and silk, thanks to its rich 5000-year history of dynasties, emperors, and scholars. Honestly, we cannot imagine a world without China today.

Despite its controversies in politics and human rights, China remains a powerful nation that has gone through massive changes throughout the centuries. From its warring dynasties to its quasi-communist society, the country has made tremendous strides in modernization to get to where it is now in the 21st century. While many nations might not agree with how China has moved forward, there’s no doubt that it’s made a big name for itself on the global scale, to prove that it can go head-to-head with other large nations (e.g. United States, Russia, France, Japan) on global issues and economy.

I have mixed feelings about China. I am of Chinese descent, yet I was born and brought up in the United States. The fact that the U.S. and China has had a fairly-contentious past makes for perceiving its politics and cultural differences a fascinating affair. Not only that, but I also have Taiwanese roots– given how precarious the China-Taiwan relationship is today, it also makes it hard to choose sides on certain issues at hand. There are aspects about China which I agree and disagree with, but there’s no denying that it’s my ancestral home, and I’m proud of my heritage.

My family and I went to China in 2009 for the first time. I was sixteen years old, and we spent about nine days in the country going from major city to city on a guided tour. The visa process was a pain, as it cost over $100 USD per person. For a family of four, plus airfare and tour, it made for a pricey summer getaway! All the same, it was an intense, yet enriching visit of the country– familiar, but foreign to my younger self. It was a summer of relearning my ancestor’s history, culture, and language as I was exposed to tons of temples, locals, and of course, incredible food.

We began our journey in Beijing (北京), the country’s capital. It was a long and painful flight from Los Angeles: we spent 13 hours in air before a layover in Hong Kong, then an additional three hours to Beijing itself. No doubt, I was a tired mess once we arrived at Beijing’s airport. Our tour guide picked us up and took us to our hotel, the Westin, located in the very heart of the city center. We would spend two-and-a-half full days and two full nights in Beijing seeing as much as we could as possible, and it helped staying in a five-star hotel to relax after a long day’s worth of sightseeing.

The Westin in Beijing has got to be one of the most-posh hotels I’ve ever stayed in, even to this day. Besides being only a 30-minute drive to some of the city’s main attractions (e.g. Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace), the hotel itself is absolutely stunning, with obsidian floors and winding glass stairs in the lobby. We were offered generous traditional and continental breakfasts, as well as plenty of towels and Portuguese bath salts in our rooms. As if the sights in Beijing weren’t already impressive, the hotel itself is one to write an entire post about!

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The lobby.
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Our room.
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The bathroom.

My family and I arrived in Beijing in the early morning local time. Even though we were exhausted from a 16-plus hour journey, we didn’t have much time to rest, as our tour began that very same day. We dropped off our belongings, had a quick bite to eat at the hotel’s buffet, and soon set off on our coach to the first destination of the day. There was no time to recharge, nor for our jet-lag: we certainly hit the ground running!

Funny enough, our first stop was at a foot massage parlor. It was the first time I ever got a foot massage, but I was open to it as we probably needed it for our all-day walking excursion later on. We spent about an hour getting our foot rubbed, and afterwards I felt like I was walking on clouds! I usually have reservations about such services while traveling, but it was included as part of our packaged tour, so I went along with it.

We spent the rest of our first day at Tiananmen Square. The name translates to “Gate of Heavenly Peace” in Chinese. It ranks number seven as one of the largest city squares in the world (with three others within the top 10 in other Chinese cities) that honors its communist past, with sights like the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Great Hall of the People decorating its borders. The square also contains the mausoleum of Mao Zedong, who founded the PRC (aka “modern China”) in the mid-20th century.

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Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
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Revolutionary monument.
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Lamp with security cameras.

One can easily spend half a day at Tiananmen Square to absorb the history behind it all. It’s also a massive place to walk around at over 440,000 squared meters, and you can spend hours just at its National Museum of China on the eastern side. Even if you forgo a few things to do, you’ll still need at least two hours to really comprehend the square’s importance in Chinese history.

Tiananmen Square has been the place of many notable events. Just in the 20th century alone, it has been the site of the anti-imperialist May Fourth Movement in 1919 and where Mao Zedong made official the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The most-famous (and notorious) event was the protests of 1989, also known as the “Tiananmen Massacre.” Several hundred to thousands of civilians were killed in a call to democracy, and the protests ultimately failed. To this day, it remains a controversial subject for the country, with even some denying it ever took place.

We took in so much information that day, and it wasn’t surprising that we were starving at the end of it. Following our all-day visit of Tiananmen Square, our tour took us to dinner, where we were treated to a large meal that included the famous Peking duck. It was one of the best meals I had on that trip– the duck itself had a beautifully-thin and crackling skin that gave way to tender, moist meat. Pair it with sliced cucumbers, sweet bean sauce, and thin pancakes and it was utter perfection. If you aren’t vegetarian, Peking duck is a must while in China.

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Chef preparing Peking duck.

There’s so much more to our visit in Beijing that I’ll make another post on it. Stay tuned for it soon!

 

— Rebecca

4 thoughts on “Destination: Beijing, China (Part 1)

  1. That hotel looks absolutely amazing, but you must have been shattered getting straight out there! I’d love to visit China one day, looking forward to seeing what else you got up to there 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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