Beijing (August 31st - September 8th)

Distance biked so far: (19,087 km)

With visions of the 42-hour train ride still vivid in my mind I booked the high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing. It is 1,300 km between the cities but can be done in 4.5 hours. The train was originally designed to travel at a sustained speed of 350 km/hour but to save costs and decrease the risk of accident (an accident on a high speed train in 2011 caused the death of 40 people); the government put a limit of 300 km/hour. In biking terms, it would take me 3 days to bike a distance the train covers in 1 hour.

The flag of China is distinctive with a red background and 5 stars in the upper left corner. Based on their recent performance in the Olympics, we will be seeing a lot of it in the coming years being raised at the medal ceremonies. The flag in its current form was adopted in 1949 after the Chinese Revolution that brought Mao Zedong and his Communist Party to power and established the People's Republic of China. Once again I am reminded that any political party with the name "People" in it generally is not for most of the people. The color red used as the background of the flag represents the Revolution. The 5 stars and their relationship to each other on the flag represent the unity of Chinese people under the leadership of the Party. The large star symbolizes the Communist Party (the Party is always the most important) and the smaller stars symbolize the four social classes of working class, peasantry, urban petit bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. You will notice that each of the four smaller stars points to the larger star meaning once again that it is the Party that is central.
The Great Wall of China is one of the world's most famous sites. It is estimated to be 8,800 km long but there are parts no longer standing so it is difficult to get an accurate measure. The Wall was built around the historical northern borders of China as a defense against invasion. Despite the oft-repeated "fact", you cannot see the Great Wall from the moon, at least no one has ever been able to yet. It is only about 30' wide and tends to blend into the surroundings so would be no more visible than a highway.  The Wall is made up of various sections that were built over a long period of time and not in a continual effort. I joined a small group from our hostel and spent 3 hours hiking on a fairly remote and rugged section. There are a number of photos on my Flickr page but here are a few.
Beijing is a modern and bustling City of about 20 million people but there are many cases where they are attempting to keep some of the historical buildings and temples. A perfect example is the modern West Beijing train station, illuminated at night.
The entrance to the Forbidden City is through the Meridian Gates, another famous site.
One of the words that you see all over China is Harmony. There are signs everywhere from new condo developments to inspirational messages from the Party to encourage people to live in harmony. Here is the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City.
Here is the throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony.
Here is a breakfast my guide and I shared in Beijing. The restaurant was packed with locals enjoying some tofu in sesame oil, soymilk, pancakes with eggs and a beef filled bread.
The Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing is China's largest and best preserved complex of ancient buildings. It is the largest ancient building in the world. China seems to have a lot of world's largest, world's fastest, world's most populated etc. There are 980 buildings here and I had no intent on seeing all of them. The City is enclosed within the walls of the Imperial City.

The name of Forbidden City was derived from the fact that it was off limits to the public for over 500 years. It was home to two dynasties of imperial rule and as is the case with most palaces for royalty, the common folk who actually paid for the buildings were not allowed to enter. In the old days, an unauthorized visitor would be duly executed. Chairman Mao of course has top billing.
They love tea so much here that they need big teapots.
While others were busy in the outdoor gym.
While others preferred music.
Some women preferred knitting and the latest gossip.
On one of my mornings sitting in the park watching the masses go through their tai-chi routines I noticed an absence of birds. I looked around and only saw a handful in a big park. In the next few days I made an effort to find some and it was difficult. I looked it up and found that during the Great Leap Forward from 1958 - 1962, there was a purposeful attempt to kill birds. The Great Leap Forward was Chairman Mao's attempt to use the vast population to quickly transform the country from an agricultural economy to a modern communist society. It was to be accomplished through rapid industrialization and collectivization. The idea of collectivization meant that private farming was prohibited and those who engaged in it were killed. The Great Leap forward ended up being a greater leap backwards and it was estimated that up to 45 million people died, most through mass killings and starvation.

One of the many brilliant ideas initiated during this period was the Four Pests Campaign. Mao Zedong decided that the country needed better hygiene (based on what I have seen here he did have a good point) and one way to accomplish that was to exterminate mosquitoes, flies, rats and sparrows. The birds were included because they ate grain seeds robbing the people of their food. The masses were mobilized to eliminate birds and people took to banging pots and pans (they were loud then too) or beating drums to scare the birds from landing and forcing them to fly until they fell from exhaustion. The birds nests were torn down, eggs broken and the young killed. Children at school in recess would bring in the dead pests and get rewarded. The problem that no one seemed to understand was that there is a balance in nature. In addition to grain seeds the sparrows also ate large amounts of insects and without the birds, the crop eating insects proliferated and ended up causing far more damage to the crops than the birds ever did.

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of religious buildings in central Beijing. Emperors visited the complex for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for a good harvest. When UNESCO designated the Temple of Heaven a World Heritage Site in 1998 it was described as "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world's great civilization." Here is the Temple.
Here is an example of some of the "masterpiece of design".
China has a lot of people but it might have been much more if not for the 1 child policy. The policy was introduced in 1978 and applied to first children born starting in 1979 to alleviate social, economic and environmental problems in China. Despite the outrage generated around the world, a recent study completed in 2008 showed that 76% of the people here approve of the policy. It's a perfect example of how people tend to judge people in other countries but they do not have to live with the consequences of not having the policy in place. It's always easy to make judgment on others when the policy has no impact on your own life. Officially the law restricts married urban couples to having only one child while allowing exceptions for several cases including twins, rural couples, ethnic minorities and parents without siblings themselves. If a couple marries and both are only children, they can have a second child. The policy currently applies to about 36% of China's population. The policy is enforced through fines based on the income of the family. As is the case with all government policies, bribes and corruption mean many families have more than one child. In 2008 the government announced their intent to keep the policy in place for another 10 years but there have been signs recently that it may be reviewed sooner.

One of the great things about Beijing is the Hutong or local neighborhoods. One of my highlights was just wandering around the old winding streets and watching people go about their lives. Many of the old Hutongs have been designated heritage sites by the government and they have provided money to the families living there to provide renovations to keep them up to living conditions. Some of them are completely rebuilt in modern standards but still with an old feeling with traditional shops.
One man preferred cracking whips.
In addition to their 980 building winter home in Beijing, no self-respecting Imperial family would be caught dead without a summer home and the Summer Palace fit the requirements. The sprawling grounds served as the summer home and the palace grounds, temples, gardens, pavilions, lakes and bridges served as a nice retreat for the families. Here is Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace.
The Palace has many corridors and pavilions, many painted in bright colors and in incredible detail.
The waterways and parks make for a peaceful setting, a nice reprieve from Beijing.
Once again there were people out in full force doing various activities in the parks. Here is some dancing.
Here I am in the front.
Here is a Hutong with a canal running through it and with me on a rented bike.
I went to the 798 Art district in Beijing to see some contemporary art. It is a renovated military factory containing unique buildings and is often compared with Greenwich Village or SoHo in New York. Here is a picture of Mao and me.
I was walking through one building and couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. How would you like this in the corner of your bedroom?
I still don't know what to think of this sculpture.
Beijing has fantastic food but so far I still haven't seen sweet and sour chicken balls or fortune cookies that I would find back home. They don't seem to know as much about Chinese food as we do. Here are a few food items at the night market that you don't often see on the streets in Canada. I passed on this delicacy.
The grasshoppers were crunchy.
These insects had a "nutty" taste so next time I'll just eat some nuts.
I loved Beijing; a City with so much history those 5 days there just can't do it justice. Tomorrow I am taking a 12-hour night train to the City of Xian to see the Army of Terra Cotta Warriors, one of the world's greatest archaeological sites.