Written by Pam Manke.
I had always wanted to go to Beijing and see the Forbidden City. I had seen the movie ‘The Last Emperor’ and that really sparked my interest. Trying to get someone to go with me in November was not as easy as I had expected, even with the price so reasonable. I think the main reason being that Beijing’s climate is very similar to Michigan’s. Finally, my sister Patti agreed to go with me. She lives on Vashon Island, just 15 minutes by ferry from Seattle.
We signed up for a Pacific Delight Tour, which included a direct flight from Detroit to Beijing on Northwest Airlines, six night’s accommodations at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, two full days of tours, and breakfast daily. Our flight was 14 hours long, but we went prepared with magazines, snacks, neck pillows, and melatonin to help us sleep. We had not seen each other for at least a year, so it was also a good time to catch up with one another. It reminded me of those long car trips when we were kids, except now we could drink alcoholic beverages.
When we arrived in Beijing, it was Sunday evening. The airport was nice, as they had just opened it on November 1, 1999. After clearing customs, our Pacific Delight representative greeted us and we were off for our hotel. Our hotel, the Great Wall Sheraton, was great! The staff was extremely friendly and almost everyone spoke English. We looked forward to getting to our room and were delighted to find it had everything we needed- a mini bar, tea maker, robes, and slippers.
We were up early the next morning for breakfast. We had everything to choose from, but the best thing was the coffee. My sister, being from the Seattle area, has to have good coffee, so now we could relax. We had lots of fresh fruit, omelets made to our specifications, cereal, rolls, and other Chinese options as well.
Our first day in Beijing, the temperature stayed close to 60 degrees for most of the day permitting us to get in a full day’s worth of touring. We saw the Forbidden City’s treasure-filled Imperial Palace and the imposing Tian An Men Square. After lunch, we went to the Summer Palace and took a boat ride on Lake Kinming, then onto the exquisite Temple of Heaven.
Our second day of touring included the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, and the Chang Ling Exhibition Hall. Climbing the Great Wall is something I will never forget. It definitely wasn’t easy, especially considering how cold and windy it was, but my sister and I still enjoyed everything about it. The other people in our tour group helped make things even more interesting. It’s fun going with a group because they ask questions that you might not have necessarily thought of yourself. By the end of the day, I had learned so much more about Chinese history that I felt like this day alone was worth every minute of the 14-hour flight.
The next day we opted to just “hang out”. We were exhausted with all the walking and sightseeing we had done on the days before. In the evening we did go see an acrobat show that was fantastic.
On our fourth day, we were off for the Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum where his body is on display. The Chinese come from all over to see Chairman Mao. The experience was quite moving, but we were ready to move onto happier places. After Chairman Mao, we visited the Tibetan Lama Temple. This temple is still in use today and there are 22 monks who currently live there. We then went to the beautiful Bei Hai Park. We had a great time there. A lot of walking! They have several small steps, so you need to be in pretty good shape and wear comfortable shoes.
On Friday, we went to the zoo. I really wanted to see the panda bears, but when we got there, they were sleeping. We had a good laugh about that. We also visited some farmers, saw a greenhouse, but our favorite experience was visiting a local kindergarten class and listening to the children sing us a song. It is amazing that they are already learning English at such a young age.
For our last evening, we decided to go to the Opera. The performance was beautiful, but watching it was close to torture. The seats are slanted on such a slope that it was constant work to stay in them and the English subtitles were just as difficult to follow. After a while, a group of us found the whole experience quite humorous and by the end of the show had laughed ourselves to tears.
The shopping in Beijing is great! They have silk, jade, pearls, and much more. The prices are unbelievable and if you like to haggle, this city is definitely for you. We spent our last morning trying to cram all of our new purchases into our suitcases.
All in all, my sister and I had a great time. The people of China are very friendly and so appreciative of everything they have. It was a quick glimpse at such a wonderful culture. I cannot wait to go back!