The last day in Beijing was definitely the busiest. To start off, we once again met up with Uncle Joe and made the trip to Tiananmen Square (once again wearing the lemon shirt in order to coordinate with Jake’s pineapples). Thankfully, we had an easy time going through security, so the only worry we had left was that Matt would say or do something that would get him arrested (he walked the line by taking pictures of some soldiers after Joe warned us not to). The square itself was impressive. In the center was the building that houses Mao’s tomb, which is basically a crystal sarcophagus from what Joe was describing. We couldn’t see it, however, because the entrance line stretched as far as I could see, just like it does every day. A lot of us were surprised that so many people here have such respect for the former leader (they refer to him as Chairman Mao still) since we in America are told a lot of bad things about him. But when we thought about it, Mao was the driving force that propelled China to where it is today, so it does kind of make sense.
We didn’t spend too much time in the square, just long enough to take some pictures with the big Mao portrait and for some of the guys to buy fake Rolexes, then we made our way across the street to the Forbidden City. As I emerged from the huge gate in the outer wall, the first thing I noticed was a basketball court, which certainly was not what I was expecting. Dr. Li explained that the soldiers stationed at the palace also live there, so they need some sort of entertainment. We made our way through the many layers of the Forbidden City with Joe giving us a history lesson as we went. It’s always weird to be in a place that is older than the entire United States. I think my favorite part of all of it had to be the Imperial Garden. There were beautiful rock structures, sculptures and ponds that just made it a very peaceful place even though it was filled with people.
Next up was a rickshaw ride through a Hutong (see day 1) and a visit to a traditional house there. Our host, Mr. Wang told us that the house had been in his family for three generations. Everything was arranged according to feng shui and he had two talking birds that could say things in both English and Chinese. Before we left, Mr. Wang said that I looked like a movie star, so needless to say I liked him. The last site of the day was the Temple of Heaven. First thing when we arrived, we took a group tai chi class where we learned some moves of the Chen Family Tai Chi. It was so relaxing especially because we were surrounded by trees. After our instructor had taught us a few combinations, he asked for a volunteer to lead the group, so I stepped in. I didn’t get everything perfect, but I at least got Dr. Li’s approval.
The actual temple was cool, too of course. It’s elevated, so we had a great view of Beijing. However, when we were on the bus ready to leave, we realized that Matt was missing (no one was surprised that he was the first one to be left behind since he kind of marches to the beat of his own drummer). So once we actually had everyone, we headed back to the hotel and said goodbye to Uncle Joe. Later that night, we met up with Xijuan again for our last night in Beijing. After some shenanigans, we really did try to listen to Dr. Li and call it an early night in preparation for the early train ride the next morning, but we had even more trouble finding taxis than the first night out. I was in the last group, so after more than an hour, we finally crammed the last five of us into an unofficial taxi, not caring if he tried to rip us off. And thus ended our stay in Beijing, with a lot of us getting about three hours of sleep.