|A first time visitor to China will discover that the old
has been transformed. China today, especially the major cities is
glittering, modern, bustling with tourists and futuristic hotels are opening
all the time. The old Shanghai is hidden behind a forest of steel and glass.
The modern airports, the purchase possibilities and the welcoming spirit of
the people make it a place for travelers, business people or just gawkers.
China is becoming less mysterious. The country is transforming into an
inviting and modern nation. More and more people are visiting places that
they once only dreamt about. Now that they are gearing up for the Olympics,
more and more people are thinking of China as a holiday destination.
I was once told that China wasn’t ready for foreign visitors. Not only
are they now ready but the network of hotels, especially designed for
tourists, the tour companies, guides, the food services or special
entertainment make China ‘THE” place to visit. The streets where tourists
walk are generally clean and safe. The people are warm and cordial,
especially the children. The merchandise is worth buying, even if many of
the items are ‘knock offs’ and the price is right. Consider my Burberry
winter coat that I’ve worn now for three seasons at a cost of $40. Each
visitor returns with his tales of modern cities, river cruises with visual
sights that amaze even the seasoned traveler or entertainment peculiar to
this now-inviting country.
Each visitor has his favorite sites. Shanghai is now modern, sparkling
and inviting. A Yangtze cruise or a trip on the Li River is on most
traveler’s lists. Here are a few of my special discoveries in the Beijing
Beijing is as modern as you can imagine with fast food outlets and modern
western shops everywhere. Even the styles are up to date. Beijing hotels
boast everything a visitor could want. The squares, palaces and modern
boulevards are not to be believed.
China’s Official Capital and most popular attraction, The Forbidden City,
dating back to 1406 when construction started, containing 8700 rooms that
took 200,000 workers to build. It occupies 720,000 square meters with 9,000
bays of halls and rooms. The ten-meter high walls are 3,428 meters long with
four splendid corner towers. There is a 52-foot fortifying moat surrounding
the whole wall. It is so big that when we walked from Tiananmen Square to
the other side, we had to take a taxi back. For centuries, ordinary people
could not enter the gates, hence the name, Forbidden City. It served both
the Ming and Quing dynasties well. Twenty-four Emperors ruled the whole
country from here for almost 500 years. The last person to actually live
there was Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Quing Dynasty. (See the film “The
The city includes magnificent halls, serene pathways and secret places
where discussions could be held away from prying ears. The Imperial Gardens
boast huge pines, exotic flowers and rare stones. There are pavilions,
two-storied houses and ponds. There was nothing left to be added, except,
perhaps, toilet facilities for the masses of visitors. They are few and far
between. Nobody expected this sacred sanctuary to be a visitor’s paradise.
Of course Mao’s picture greets you and reconstruction is an ongoing thing
but it’s a place worth visiting with a guide.
The reconstructed project became a key cultural relic in 1961. It was
added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1987.
I found the site fascinating to visit. There were hundreds of foreigners
there that day but even more Chinese who still venerate the traditions of
Even before you enter the Meridian Gate you are faced with two
magnificent gold-plated bronze lions. The guide explained that the one with
its paw resting on a ball was male and the one with the baby was the female.
They are perfect symbols of power, grandeur, dignity and luxury. It is at
this point that the emperor would give his New Year’s announcements as well
as his decision about the destiny of those imprisoned.
There are too many halls (rooms) or courtyards to describe or even
remember. I particularly enjoyed the bedroom of the emperor (Quinqing Hall
with its ornate ceiling, red pillars and ornate rear screen. Like most
buildings of this era, one can find great ceramic heaters. This room is no
The Tai he Hall is larger but similar in some respects. It was here that
the emperor was enthroned and held important ceremonies. The emperor’s
throne was made during the Ming dynasty. It is painted gold with dragons
adorning it. Behind it is a gold-plated screen.
Documents, lanterns, bridal chambers, inner moats with sculpted bridges,
gardens with pagodas, ornate curtains and statues of cranes or tortoises
plus sculpted marble staircases, gold encrusted globes or clocks and dragons
as well as portraits of emperors and empresses give us a better idea of the
opulence of the rulers of this gigantic and once-mysterious country.
About an hour outside the city, constructed, as a protection over vast
distances is still a draw for people from all nations. Walking on the Great
Wall is an exciting thing for visitors. Considered one of the Seven Wonders
of the World, and dating back to 770 BC and built in sections, it covers a
distance of 54000 km. It is the only man-made construction that can be seen
from space. When it was constructed, wars were fought with swords, lances
and bows and arrows. This was the best way to defend against warring
invaders. The beacon towers, could be a source of communication in case of
attack. The expansion of the earlier walls in 221 BC required 300,000
soldiers to do the work during the Ming dynasty. The guides like to tell us
that if this were turned into a wall one meter thick and 5 meters high, it
would have enough material to encircle the globe ten times.
It is difficult to describe the feeling one gets when one visits this
monumental undertaking. Thousands still visit daily just to walk over tiny
sections of the wall. At the base camps there are restaurants, parking lots
and souvenir shops. It has been turned into a tourist Mecca. The view during
a red sunset or at dawn’s first light or even when it is covered with snow
looks like a silver dragon. It’s lifting. During the rainy season, it sits
above the low clouds as a silent sentinel to man’s ingenuity.
We visited the large mountainous section at Badaling which has been
meticulously constructed and is an outstanding example of ancient military
architecture. Here, the surroundings are beautiful, especially during the
autumn months when the surrounding colors are so vivid.
From Sima Terrace on a dizzying height one can see the lights of Beijing
on clear nights.
The wall looks like a dragon winding its way through green forests that
are covered with puffy white snow in winter. Being there is its own reward.
It is key to China’s pride. You can enjoy it in any season.
The sections are all open to the public. People come to breathe fresh
air, some to do exercise and some to bear witness to the enormity of the
project that will surely leave one humble on return. I certainly felt that
way. I think about my walk on only a fraction of the wall and I dream about
returning. True, it’s a tourist haven but it is beyond belief that something
as old and grand as this should still be standing and welcoming strangers.
Just being there takes away some of the mystery of centuries.
There are so many other places in China worth visiting.
I recommend the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian, a city of 11,000,000 that
few westerners ever thought of visiting before the thousands of Terra Cotta
warriors were accidentally discovered. Now you can see nearly 80,000 of the
million life-sized armed warriors, 10,000 horses and 1,000 chariots arranged
in Qin battle formations. The area covers 20,000 sq. m. It’s awesome and
once the capital of all China.
The Li River near Guilin, in Guangxi Province where tourists cruise on
flat bottom boats over all or part of the 52 mile journey through mysterious
looking peaks on the limpid Li River under perfect blue skies. You drift by
water buffalo, rice paddies and fishermen on bamboo rafts. The eye-feasting
scenery will amaze but never disappoint.
The mountain terrain is unique.
I ended my first tour in Hong Kong. Again, there is nothing like it, from
the crowded streets of Kawloon to the dizzying heights above are memorable.
People, busses and hawkers fill the streets. Markets abound as do street
signs, and people, people, people. Hog Kong is like nothing I know. I’ll
write more about it when I’m there this summer.
I am planning another visit to China for the spring of 2006. One cannot
expect to see it all at once. It is captivating and one gets the feeling of
being on the back of a sleeping giant. The people are cordial. The
experience is most rewarding. But go soon. The changes are so rapid it’s
hard to keep up.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)