Sunday, August 19, 2007

Out-Of-Order Blogging

I never finished up describing yesterday, Saturday. After the orientation meeting, we had an excellent Chinese meal (in Taiwanese style, I believe) at a hotel restaurant. Then we piled on the bus for afternoon trips. First was Tiananmen Square. Let me say this: it's vast. Mao's mausoleum was on one side, a gate of somethingIcan'trecallnow opposite, the legislative building on the third side, and a museum that has never ended on the fourth side. The museum had a gigantic digital countdown to the Olympic opening ceremonies on one side, like the world's longest and least eventful episode of 24, in which Jack Bauer buys T-shirts.

The square was, as I said, vast. I'm terrible at distances, and too lazy to look it up, but it looked about five football fields long per side to me. It was teeming with crowds - mostly Chinese, as it's one of their most popular tourist attractions. Our guide warned us to stay away from demonstrations, and not to film anyone getting arrested or, like tear gassed or rubber bulleted or anything, but the occasion never arose. I was convinced not to pretend to be a tank and run down Katrina, which was my first impulse.

In addition to being vast, it was hot. The sun beat down without shade as far as the eye could see, and the stone pavers seemed to reflect the heat and glare back up, so you roasted from both sides. The humidity remained oppressive (though a Florida member of our group took it in stride) and there was not a breath of wind.

Our guide pointed out the heroic-image statues near the Mao mausoleum, portraying the four achetypes of modern Chinese society: the soldier (with a gun), the farmer (with a scythe or wheat), the worker (with a hammer), and the intellection (with glasses). If it comes to a fight, I think the intellectual is going to get his ass kicked, but what else is new?

Next we went to the Temple of Heaven, an extremely impressive 15th-century temple complex where the Emporer used to pray for good harvests. It's been repaired and replaced over the years -- including after a late 19th-century fire -- but the builders gave considerable respect to historical accuracy. Both the temple and the surrounding outbuildings are vividly painted, with blue and gold particularly standing out.

We returned to the hotel, packed, and went downstairs for a drink in the bar and dinner in the same Chinese restaurant. A good time was had by all -- we joined two other couples for dinner -- but the wine flowed freely and we fell asleep quite early when we got back to our room.

1 comment:

Ken L. (Shauna's husband) said...

I looked it up. Tiananmen Square is 500 by 800 meters ... the size of Vatican City. Wow!