There is a twelve-hour time difference between Ottawa and Beijing. The jetlag was brutal: we all woke up at 5 a.m., somewhat rested and very restless.
This early, only one activity came to mind: the daily flag-rising ceremony on Tian An Men Square.
It was still dark outside and there were few people in the street. The air was breathable—Beijing is still very hot and humid in September, with 25°C to 30°C temperatures, and there was little traffic.
Tian An Men Square is impressive. It’s huge and constantly crowded despite the police checks and security line-ups. If you ever want to spend an hour or two indulging in people-watching, this is the place to go. Even at 6 a.m., it was busy with tourists (mostly Chinese, I didn’t spot any other Westerner) looking forward to seeing the red flag rising in front of the Forbidden City and Mao’s iconic portrait.
We marched to the tune of 义勇军进行曲, the March of the Volunteers, and stood there, in the early morning haze, mesmerized.
No matter how familiar you are with China, it’s still a special place, at the heart of the history of the country.
After the ceremony, we decided to head to Wang Fu Jing. The street is usually packed night and day, but at 7 a.m. it was pleasantly quiet as most restaurants and flagship stores were still closed. Mark spotted a McDonald’s so we had to get a glass of OJ, then we took him for a real Chinese breakfast: steamed buns and tofu soup.
Then, we decided to soak up Chinese history with a visit to the (free!) National Museum of China. It was much bigger than I expected and we were starting to get tired—Mark passed out in the stroller around the Ming dynasty, not bad considering China’s long history.
After a short nap at the hotel, I begged Feng to go to a temple. We aren’t into religion but I had promised Mark to check out China’s “churches” and temples are pretty unique when you are used to Western worship places—the red and gold Buddha, the smell of incense, the prayer wheels, etc.
The Lama Temple is probably Beijing’s most tourist temple, but who cares! In the street, police loudspeakers reminded tourists that fortune telling is forbidden and that you shouldn’t pay for such activity. Inside the temple, we lit up joss sticks and walked from one hall to another, while Mark was playing hide and seek.
By the time we were done with the big-belly Buddha, we were feeling exhausted and even the sizzling hot bowl of rice and veggie didn’t give us enough energy to keep on going.
More to see, more to do… after sleeping!