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Written by: Danny Spitler

06 July 2002

We arrived at the China World Hotel around noon on Saturday, China time. We had lost a day crossing the International Dateline. The hotel was five star in all respects and could rival any Hyatt Regency that I have ever stayed in. On a quick visit to the basement level I found a fully equipped weight room, a 20-meter lap pool, a steam room, sauna, whirlpool, and a cold plunge. I wouldn’t have any trouble doing my upper body exercises while we were in Beijing, and from the looks of the schedule my legs were going to get all the work they needed.

The hotel provided a private room for our group’s “welcome to China” dinner, and we all headed for bed in an attempt to get our bodies on China time (15 hours ahead of Mountain standard). Ten hours later we were standing in Tinanmen Square. It was Sunday so there were thousands of weekend Chinese tourists as well as locals joining us in the square, but it is the largest town square in the world so there was plenty of room for all of us. We split up for a while then regrouped for the mandatory group picture with the Gate of Heavenly Peace in the background. This is the entrance to the Forbidden City and the place where Mao Ze Dung stood to proclaim the beginning of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. You can imagine the party that they are going to have here in a couple of months at the 50th anniversary of that event.

For our group picture a couple of the girls cajoled an uniformed policemen into joining our group for the picture. He seemed cordial enough, but as I looked at the single red star on his shirt and cap, I couldn’t help but wonder if he might have been wielding an automatic weapon and gunning down students on this very spot several years ago.

From the huge square we walked through a walkway under the main street facing the square and emerged across the street to enter the Gate of Heavenly Peace and into the Forbidden City. Our Beijing guide, Jon Jin, purchased our tickets and we were transferred from modern day China to six centuries earlier as we began to wander through the huge city built exclusively for the many emperors who ruled China for over two milleniums.

It was hot and humid and there were thousands of other tourists to contend with, but nothing could detract me from being amazed with what we were viewing. The Disney Corporation has had no input into crowd control at this place, and in order to see the emperor’s throne you had to fight your way through hundreds of other tourists.
Everyone was struggling to get to a small viewing point, where only a dozen people could stand. Most of our group didn’t attempt it, but I dove headfirst into the melee and grasp that rarest of feelings..….being one of the tallest persons in the crowd. After five minutes of squirming through every opening, no matter how small, I found myself standing in from of the massive throne. I stayed only long enough to take a well-earned photo and then started fighting my way back out of the crowd. I finally broke free with the feeling that I had just had an intimate encounter with a small percentage of the Chinese population.

We continued to wander from one amazing site to another listening to Jon Jin provide interesting facts and stories along the way until we finally arrived at a building housing some of the emperor’s private rooms. We were able to view the rooms though a glass wall, which was sufficiently smudged with many days of pollution, fingerprints and nose prints. I thought about the potential profits of a Windex concession stand. The ladies in our group were interested in hearing about the elaborate robes and the spectacular jewel encrusted crowns, necklaces and rings worn by the emperor. The males in the group were more interested in the concubine statistics. According to Jon Jin the emperor kept a significant number of concubines on his staff, and when he decided which one he would sleep with on a given night she would be delivered to him naked, in order to insure that she was not carrying any weapons.
Then she would have to crawl to his bed on her hands and knees to make sure that her head was never higher than his head. This was a major no-no. I think that we can conclude from this story that sex has not changed much over the last few centuries. We still take time to remove the jewelry and there is still groveling involved. We have just had gender role reversal.

Prior to exiting the Forbidden City we were ushered into a gift shop where the People’s Republic gave us every opportunity to contribute filthy, capitalistic, Yankee dollars to Chinese economic development. Then we were whisked through some narrow residential streets to a restaurant that was tucked back off the beaten path. As it turned out this was one of Chairman Mao’s favorite places to eat. His smiling face adorned the wall of the entryway, and I assumed that he signed his picture with Chinese characters which could be loosely interpreted as “Who loves ya, baby?”

We packed our hot, sweaty bodies around two large, round tables and had the first of many sumptuous Chinese lunches and dinners. I quickly relearned my chopstick skills and was soon snatching items onto my plate as the dishes rolled by on the center lazy susan.

After lunch and a short bus ride to the suburbs we found ourselves wandering around through the extensive grounds of the Summer Palace, used by several of the last emperors.
There were many buildings, statues, and gardens along with a huge lake, which we learned, was dug out by several thousand peasants. The highlight of hot, crowded afternoon was when tall Brad (6’ 8”) waded into a large group of grade school kids on a field trip and let them all pose for pictures with the giant American.

We arrive back at the hotel just in time for a quick shower before reassembling in the lobby for a trip to a downtown restaurant and a Peking Duck dinner. Dinner was followed by a request for a special stop on the way back to the hotel. Jon Jin went to bat for us with the bus driver, and we all got to buy T-shirts at the Hard Rock Café of Beijing.

Next…..The Great Wall I