Beijing, China: THE HELLO PEOPLE
|HELLO is the most popular word in Beijing. Like a scratchy phonograph
needle, the "Hello" people never tire of greeting tourists with the same message
and array of products priced from two dollars. "HELLO," they say, as merchandise
whizzes by - everything from jade chopsticks, cashmere scarves and sculpted Buddha's, to
hunter's fur hats and musical crickets. Did I mention the Chairman Mao glow-in-the-dark
I bet when you go home and someone
says 'Hello,' you'll say 'How much?'" explains Lily, an official
guide with Cameron Tours. "You can always answer 'Bull yow' which means 'No thanks,'
but they bother you anyway."
Welcome to Beijing, population 5 million. With another 6 million living outside the city,
China's capital is hopping and popping. Skyscrapers are as ubiquitous as chopsticks, and
so are the splashes of colorful billboards promoting the country's 5,000 joint ventures
with powerhouse companies like Motorola and Pfizer. "Beijing Is Waiting For
You," proclaims the most common advertisement, and from the looks of the city's
frenzied explosion of travelers, Beijing won't be kept waiting.
"Twenty years ago when I first began tours to China, there weren't enough hotels to
accommodate us," remembers Joanna Cameron. "And service? My funniest memory is
the first time I landed here. How about this? The pilot got off the plane before the
passengers and rode away on his bicycle!"
MAY I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?
Don't be surprised if you're stared at in China. On my first day in
Beijing, I noticed a nicely dressed woman looking at me as if we had met somewhere before.
She kept trailing me until I asked my guide what was going on. He just laughed. "It's
your hair," he said. "It's yellow. She wants to know if it's possible for her to
touch it." What could I do? I bent down and her hand glided over me in a light
massage. "Why the rub?" I wondered aloud. "In China, when someone washes or
fixes your hair, you must first give a massage," he replied.
THE GREAT WALL (CHANGCHENG)
Can Linda Evans Do This?
You'll need more than a casual workout at a Linda Evans health club
(or maybe you should just take Linda along) to climb to the top of THE GREAT WALL
(Changcheng), China's most prized historical site dating back to 500 BC. Taking 2,000
years to construct and eventually spanning 3,750 miles, the price in human life also
Hundreds of thousands of "volunteers" built the great
masterpiece which included garrisons for 1 million soldiers, 1,000 fortified passes, and
10,000 beacon towers. Many died from malnutrition and sheer exhaustion.
Today the walk is still strenuous. Steep and uneven, you'll need time and patience to
reach your goal. If it's during winter, you won't have to fight the crowds, but you might
have to fight the Siberian winds. Vendors are ready to help with bargains in fur-lined
hats and gloves (under $5). Once you huff your way up, don't deprive yourself of the $2
certificate that will announce to all: "Not A Plucky Hero Until One Reaches The Great
TIANANMEN SQUARE: BE THERE OR BE SQUARE
Since 1651, people have been flocking to TIANANMEN (GATE OF HEAVENLY
PEACE) SQUARE (GUANGCHANG). Although you may not remember it well back then, no one's
bound to forget the bloody vision of Tiananmen Square in 1989, the year of the notorious
Today as you glance north to south, you'll find the Monument to the People's Heroes, and
Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall where the communist leader lies in state in a crystal coffin.
To the west is the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and
Museum of Chinese History, one of the most important in China.
|WITHIN YOU, WITHOUT YOU. THE FORBIDDEN CITY (ZINJINCHENG)
yellow roofs. Vermilion walls. In Mongol times THE FORBIDDEN CITY was termed "The
Great Within" as it held in royalty and kept everyone else out.
The official residence of the Emperor is a Coldwell Banker dream with
775,000-square-feet and 9,999 rooms. Should anyone try to crash, it's surrounded by a moat
and a 33-foot high wall with a 4-mile perimeter.
With two groups of three palaces, Baohedian Hall (Hall of Preserving Harmony) is where the
emperor gave banquets. Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony) marked the emperor's ascension
to the throne. Quianquinggong (Palace of Heavenly Purity) was his bedroom, while
Kunninggong (Palace of Terrestrial Tranquillity) belonged to the empress. Keeping company
were the emperor's 10,000 concubines who saw him only once giving way to the phrase
"One night stand." The emperor undoubtedly was not amused to hear of someone
suffering a headache which could lead to unwelcome consequences.
THEME FROM A SUMMER PALACE (YIHEYUAN)
In 1902, the SUMMER PALACE was reconstructed from the 12th century
and became a classical Chinese garden. The main entrance leads to the Hall of
Benevolenceand Longevity where the affairs of state were conducted by the empress Cixi. At
the Deheyuan (Court of Virtuous Harmony), she watched the performance of the Peking Opera
in the largest theater in China.
Leshoutang (Hall of Joyful Longevity) became the residence of the
Dowager Empress between May and November. It is said that when she traveled to see the
renovation in 1905, it was with a retinue of 1,000. Nearly 500 eunuchs turned out to
Today you won't get such a grand welcome, but you will find the Summer Palace welcoming.
There's the man-made Kunming Lake and a Marble Boat at the end of your tour, but it's the
LONG CORRIDOR that has become world famous with its 800-yard walkway. Look upwards at the
beams and you'll see more than 8,000 paintings depicting stories from Chinese classic
novels, folk tales, and landscapes.
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN, MING TOMBS, HUTONGS... LI LI WILL MAKE
YOUR HEART SING.
China gives the tourist so many ways of reaching heaven with
monuments being called "heavenly peace" or "heavenly purity."
But you'll want to visit the TEMPLE OF HEAVEN (TIANTAN) constructed
in 1420, the country's most famous temple within a 667-acre park. Enclosed by a wall, the
northern portion is round which represents heaven, while the southern is square signifying
The Temple of Heaven marks the spot where the emperor came to pray for a good harvest, and
a sacrifice to heaven was made in the Quiniandian (Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests). By
the way, if you hear an echo, you won't be imagining things. A short distance away is Echo
Wall with acoustic powers to pick up what someone says in a faint whisper. Moral: Be
careful what you say!
THE MING TOMBS (SHISANLING) contain 13 out of 16 tombs of the Ming emperors. Only three
are open, but that should give you time in the museum with its priceless artifacts. Don't
miss the commemorative gateway leading to 24 stone animals arranged in pairs.
||All right, so it may be hokey, but you won't be able to resist a brief tour of
the HUTONGS, dwellings that resemble ancient cities. Dating as far back as the Yuan, Ming
and Qing dynasties, hutongs were planned and then ruled over by emperors who commanded
supreme power. They were lived in by two types of classes: the aristocrats and
Imperial kinsmen, and the merchants and ordinary people. The main buildings in the
hutong were almost all quadrangles with four houses standing on the four sides. The
big quadrangles of the high ranking officials were built with roof beams and pillars all
beautifully carved and painted. However, the ordinary people
had small gates and low houses. Not for everyone, especially not for newlyweds, there are
still those families who prefer the tight knit grip of a Hutong where your neighbors are
right beside you in the courtyard and corridors.
Rickshaw drivers will cart you around and you'll definitely chat with the locals. The day
we visited, a toddler seemed "planted" outside in a full military regalia. A man
greeted us who appeared to be about 200-years-old, and cheerfully showed off his model
Hutong. Who knows, maybe he lived in a villa in the heart of town and appeared daily for
casting calls. IN BEIJING, CALL: 66159097.
|LI LI will make your heart sing. That is, if you can get into the remarkable LI
LI'S FAMILY RESTAURANT located in a residential corner of Beijing. What sets Li Li's apart
from all fine dining establishments throughout China is her family lineage. During the
time of the Empress Cixi (grandmother of Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China), it was her
great grandfather who was responsible for the Imperial Court and the Imperial kitchens.
Meals for the Emperor included a selection of over 100 dishes, and it wasn't uncommon for
some recipes to run up to 2,000 words.
Fortunately, many of these treasures were passed down to the family,
and it was no wonder that her father, Li Shanlin, became fascinated with the idea of
recreating the Imperial menus and opening a restaurant. His timing was bad as the Red
Guards confiscated his Imperial secrets. Fortunately, he kept a spare and then waited for
the political climate to change. Today Li Li's Family Restaurant is hailed as the finest
and most difficult for reservations. You will have to book months in advance, but you can
always call and take your chances. Unpretentious, Li Li still cooks daily, while her
father, in between tempting morsels, regales the company with stories and secrets of the
Li Li's Family Restaurant
GETTING AROUND: PLAN WISELY. BOOK A TOUR OPERATOR.
China is one of the hottest destinations this year, but you'll need
an expert guide to show you the ropes. Unlike Europe which is well traveled and used to
tourists, the Chinese are still discovering foreigners and what to do with them. That's
why the tour operator is the key in planning a successful, adventuresome journey.
Cameron Tours out of McLean, Virginia is my No. #1 choice for their expertise and
flexibility. For over 20 years, long before it became fashionable, they were discovering
the country and booking independent travelers who wanted to explore but also see the
"in" places with in-depth facts. Joanna Cameron, president, has recruited
experienced guides who understand English and the American traveler. Remember that the
majority of Chinese do not speak English unless you count the HELLO people, but all they
say is hello.
PARIS? NON WAY.
Stick to the finest establishments and you won't be disappointed.
Even so, you won't be able to do much about the bathrooms in restaurants, theaters, and
stores. Bring a noseclip, toilet paper, and wet wipes. Restrooms in China are just the
China is a country on the go! You'll see very few homeless, but what you'll notice is how
the young and old work and live in harmony. Grandma often cares for the children while the
Early mornings you'll find people doing Tai Chi and ballroom dancing. The Chinese thrive
on exercise. You can tell by their seemingly easy way of pedaling their bikes. However,
unless you're suicidal, do not rent one for you won't be able to keep up or comprehend the
flow of traffic. It's also not advisable to rent a car (see suicide reason above). You'll
notice how the people on bikes look as though they're about to crash into the people in
buses, who look like they may go head into a flow of people crossing the grand boulevards
that are three times the size of les Champs-Elysées.
China is not France. Beijing is not Paris. But you already know that, so what are you
||TURANDOT IN BEIJING?
Circle September 7th for the
historic premiere of Puccini's Turandot in Beijing's Forbidden City. The story tells of
the cold-hearted Chinese Princess Turandot who lived in Beijing's Forbidden City. Any
suitor who wished to marry her first had to answer three riddles correctly or die. I
will not solve any riddles for you. You can do that when you attend the concert in style.
Zubin Mehta conducts this spectacular opera that will surely be "the"
event of the year in China.
JAPAN AIR LINES: TAKING A BOW
The craziest thing happened while we were waiting for our Japan Air
Lines flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. The rain never let up and all flights were
delayed for hours. What to do? Like everyone else, I headed for the snack bar and drowned
my sorrows in Freetos, then turned on my Walkman and tuned into my favorite friendly guru,
Dr. Laura. So many people were calling in that day with a wild assortment of problems, and
Dr. Laura, always confident and cool, chucked out zippy answers. As usual, I tried to
guess what the good doctor would say to some of the callers who ranged from delusional to
While keeping score, I noticed many hostesses milling around our gate. They approached
each passenger and then bowed. "So sorry," I heard one say. I caught up with her
and asked the question she had been hearing all morning long, "When are we
leaving?" For a moment she looked rather worried and then put on her best smile.
"I am so sorry for the delay," she told me. "So sorry." I comforted
her. "It's all right," I heard myself saying. "I'm in no hurry." WHAT?
She bowed and I bowed. We both exchanged sincere apologetic looks and then faded away from
Two hours later we boarded our flight for Tokyo where we would overnight (courtesy of
Nikko Hotels) in Narita, about 20 minutes from the airport. The next morning we would fly
to Beijing. But for now, I headed upstairs to Economy Class on JAL's 747 and smiled.
||As we were tiptoeing down the runway, I noticed something peculiar happening from
the window. One of the Japan Airlines crew from San Francisco drove a pick-up truck
parallel to the plane and then turned to face the captain's window.
I fell into a small panic thinking, oh no, we would be delayed once
more. But he simply waited. As we revved up, he quickly hopped out of the truck, caught
the pilot's attention, and then bowed. Just bowed. Then we were off.
Japan Airlines information: 800-525-3663
FOR ALL INFORMATION ON CHINA, CHECK WITH:
CAMERON TOURS, INC.
6249 North Kensington Street
McLean, Virginia 22101
# # #
"The LIVEWIRE" for Travel
Watch. Former President of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, and created the national writers conference, "The Days of Wine &
She is a travel and entertainment reporter living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
(More about this writer.)
- Web: http://www.i.am/lindamarie