Today was exclusively composed of cultural visits, all of which were close to the hotel. Uncle Joe was also with us again today to act as a tour guide of the sites. He was a blast to have a tour guide, just like at the Great Wall visit.
We started off in Tiananmen square, which is massive. The square was filled with tourists from both within and outside of China. Joe explained to us that Tiananmen is the largest city square in the world, and it is a very popular tourist spot for Chinese people due to many of the famous locations. This includes China’s national parliamentary building, Mao Zedong’s resting place, where you can see his preserved body after waiting in a line for 2 hours, and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen is also the first place where we really started to notice people who would stare at us oddly or take pictures of us with and without our permission. Dr. Li, Joe, and the two program coordinators did their best to shoo off any unwanted spectators. Many would listen to them, but some would continue to stay close or take photos of us, which was insulting to Joe, Dr. Li, and the PCs, as they weren’t respecting their wishes or our right to privacy. It was explained to us that Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are both incredibly popular tourist locations for Chinese nationals, many of who are from rural areas and have never seen people of a different color from them before. Other than that, the rest of the visit to Tiananmen and the Forbidden City was great. Both spots are beautiful and massive, and they have a lot of rich history behind them.
Once we walked through the forbidden city and finished our tour of the sites. We made our way to the bus, which picked us up on a street with a lot of beggars. They made me feel uncomfortable as I could tell that they were used to trying to get money from tourists, especially since they were so close to a huge tourism site and I was afraid that they were going to try to pickpocket me or pressure me into giving them money, but neither came to fruition and we were able to get on the bus and have lunch without a hitch.
After lunch, we visited a Hutong and had a rickshaw tour of the area. Hutongs are alleyway neighborhoods that date back to the Mongolian controlled China and are densely packed with small homes. We saw a guy who was selling counterfeit Rolexes on our visit who we encountered several times on our visit, and every time he tried to sell us a Rolex for $10. We always had a blast running into him. The neighborhood itself though is quite dirty. Every building is covered in dust, there were broken down motorcycles and broken down tuk-tuks, and many of the public bathrooms in the neighborhood smelled horrible. Oddly enough though, we saw many high-end cars and people who looked to be rich. We were then able to enter one of the homes and the tour guide, not Joe, told us that these homes are worth about $44,000 USD per square foot. Many of the homes are at least a couple hundred square feet, making most homes worth millions of dollars. The Chinese government also mandates that there are no external modifications made to the homes, which includes cleaning the outsides to preserve their historical value, and the broken vehicles are used to reserve parking spots. The neighborhood may look like its in poverty, but everybody living there is incredibly rich. From the Hutong, we made our way towards the Temple of Heaven and a Tai-chi lesson.
We started off our Temple of Heaven visit with a Tai-chi lesson. The lesson was ok and a good introduction to Tai-Chi, but we had the same problem here that we had in Tiananmen, there were unwanted spectators. This time really got to me though since we were separated from our bags for the entirety of the lesson. I was afraid that somebody might decide to steal one of our bags. Thankfully, nothing was stolen. The Temple of Heaven itself is a beautiful building, with many intricate pieces of artwork present on its outside. The temple is also surrounded by a serene park that is quite beautiful, and one can get a great view from downtown near the temple.
After the temple visit, we went back to the hotel. I worked on my business pitch with my group, I packed in anticipation for leaving for Xi’an the next day, and I called it an early night and went to sleep.
Then I started vomiting,