Well, today was a busy day! We began the day at 8 AM, boarded the bus and took a trip to Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square is the political heart of Beijing. The square, which can hold over 1 million people, is surrounded by the old Beijing city walls, the Congressional Museum, the Great Assembly Hall of the People’s Congress (the ruling body of China) and the Forbidden City (the residence of the Emperor). The Square is huge and beautiful. In the center of the square is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this site; the wait is often over two hours.
After Tiananmen, we proceeded across the street (or rather under; in downtown Beijing, most crosswalks are under the streets as opposed to cross them). Passing below the giant portrait of Chairman Mao, we passed through the first gate and entered the outer courtyard of the Forbidden City. The pictures (which you will see when I return to the States) do not do this place justice. The City is enormous; it is over 1 square kilometer in size. Each building looks the same. Each is painted red (for good luck) with yellow roofs (the symbol of power and the Emperor). The expanse just goes on and on in an almost dreamlike way. I cannot wait to show the pictures! As I said before, my camera is broken, but Dr. Rahman has been kind enough to share her camera with me.
After touring the City for well over 2 hours, we got lunch at a small buffet a few miles away. Next to this lunch is the world famous Bangfuchun Pearl Market. We had a little tour of this lovely store and was given a demonstration on how to collect pearls and how to tell real pearls from counterfeit. The store had beautiful pearl jewelry and other items, but well out of my price range.
Our next stop was just as imperial and beautiful as our first: the Summer Palace on the outskirts of Beijing. This palace, on the edge of a lake (well frozen this time of year) was the summer residence of the Emperor and his servants. Again, neither words nor pictures can capture the beauty of this place. The tour took us along the “long corridor,” which is a long walkway going along side of the lake. It is about half a mile long and breathtakingly beautiful. At the end of this is the marble boat. The marble boat is exactly what it sounds like: a giant boat made entirely of marble. Of course, this boat cannot float and is entirely ceremonial. It represents the Emperor (the boat) being supported by the people (the water). Again, most of this story will have to wait until pictures!
After the Summer Palace, we returned to our hotel for some R&R before dinner. Dinner was, much like lunch, in a buffet style. The food here is quite good! After dinner, the professors and I enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and conversation in the hotel coffee house (designed in its original 1918 style). It has been a long day, but a fun one. Tomorrow is the Great Wall (about a 2 hour drive outside of the city).
One thing that amazed me were the street vendors. They are everywhere here. And they are not shy. They will go up to you and put a hat on your head, and try to sell it to you. Or just keep asking you and telling you prices. For the most part, if you shake your head, they will go away, but not always. And if you do buy, be sure to barter! Some of the kids from Dean College (who are traveling with us) spent upwards of 50 Yuan (about $10) on gloves that I was able to talk down to 20 Yuan (about $3.50). Bartering is important in this country and people expect it. Bartering is no easy thing: it is time consuming but can gain great deals (such as my knock-off North Face gloves for $3.50).
Jonathan M. Murphy
Framingham State University
MetroWest Economic Research Center