I was photographed countless times-- chased down a few times so someone could have their photo with a "big nose." When I was walking with Will, we were stared at. When Will wasn't with me or he stepped back to see what would happened, I was swarmed with people wanting to take my picture or have their photo taken with me. When Jackie and I were together at the Summer Palace, taking a short break, we caught the attention of an entire tour group all wanting our photo and to pose with us. Granted, these photos were all taken at tourist locations, so it could be people coming into Beijing for a vacation and they have never seen a Western woman before. It was both funny and interesting to witness.
The amount of things destroyed or hidden away after the Cultural Revolution must be mind-blowing. The artifacts we saw at the National Museum were astonishing and beautiful and so amazing, but when you went to the main tourists sites, they were missing or replicas or noted as destroyed. For a culture as old as China to have lost so much of historical objects seemed incredibly sad to me. Maybe (hopefully!) I am mistaken and there are warehouses full of amazing ancient Chinese sculptures, etc. I hope so, but the impression I had was that the pre-Revolution China is ignored except in the form of palaces.
We also couldn't get our heads around the pollution. Part of it was construction dust, as every part of Beijing is being rebuilt or renovated to make way for the constant stream of people coming into the city from the country-side. But, there is also the pollution from the factories north of the city. The lack of regulation is disturbing, as well. You can't trust the food, the products, the infrastructure to have been made with any regulation or inspections. At the end of the day, feeling the pollution grime on your clothes and face, tasting the metallic coating in your mouth, you understand why everyone spits constantly (trying not to swallow the poisonous materials in the air) and you --at least we were-- quite relieved to know that there was an EPA/FDA in the US watching out for the water, the air, and food.
We were also surprised at how little people spoke English-- especially after hosting the Olympics. The metro-- which was outstanding and so easy to get around, and so extensive-- has English signs and announcements but to find someone to carry on a conversation in English was rare. Specific words needed to conduct a shopping transaction were known, but many times beyond that, we were at a loss to communicate, very frustrating when I got lost a few times trying to find a particular museum or shop.
However, it is an amazing place. We don't have to go back to Beijing but we want to go to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xian. Seeing the Forbidden City and the Great Wall were something I never thought would happen, and to have been there is truly awesome. Yea, China! Yea, homeward bound!
|popular Western ladies are we|
|2nd Century BCE bronze rhino at the National Museum|
|the concrete lot being built and the Olympic torch (and the pollution) from our hotel room|
|the Bird's Nest and Olympic Park by night|
|Warning signs in the metro|
|and on the train|