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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Culture Meets Commerce in China

Temples and Traditions

The following day we flew to Beijing. Its Temple of Heaven, built in 1420, was the best window on traditional culture we had all week. In this huge parklike setting, we watched as thousands enjoyed an early spring day.

An elegant woman danced in the center of a ring of harmonica players. “Chinese people love to dance in the public square,” said Leo.

We walked past games of hacky sack, where men and women kept a birdielike object aloft with their feet. A huge crowd surrounded a band and a conductor, who led them in singing. Outside a gate, a family played songs on traditional gourd flutes.

We walked up on a marriage market, where men spread profiles of prospective brides and grooms on the pavement. They compared the “credentials” of potential mates for their children. When we tried to take photos, they shooed us away.

“If one of their kids is over 26, they begin to worry,” said our local guide, May.

The remainder of that day was spent at the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Built in the early 15th century, the Forbidden City was home to emperors and their households for 500 years.

The walled city is massive; almost 1,000 buildings are there, and their courtyards stretch for acres. We joined thousands of Chinese visitors in touring its outer and inner courts. The first was for ceremonial events; the second held living quarters for the emperor’s vast household.

“The emperor had 3,000 concubines at any given time,” said May. “They stayed in the Forbidden City for life. You had 9,000 housemates and eunuchs living around you. Boys who became eunuchs were sold by their families for food and living assistance.”

When we got to Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of the People was being used for the government’s National People’s Congress. Huge red flags were flying across the square for this Communist Party meeting.

Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum is there, as is the National Museum and monuments to World War II and the Domestic War, China’s civil war that lasted from 1927 until 1950 and ended with Communist rule.

“Mao opened up Tiananmen Square,” said May. “He moved China from feudalism to socialism. He tried to brainwash a lot of people during the Cultural Revolution. We hope one day we can have the freedom you have in the United States.”


The Greatest Wall of All

The Great Wall of China stretches nearly 4,000 miles, not including trenches, and most of it dates to the Ming dynasty. On our last day, we traveled to Juyongguan Pass, where the massive wall traverses steep mountains into the horizon. I headed for the uppermost tower in the pass, hundreds of feet above us.

“Leave half of your energy for coming back down,” said May. “You have to be more careful coming down because the steps are very uneven.”

That was good advice. So is this: Do the Great Wall in the morning when you have ample energy because some steps are as much as two feet high.

Take photos both ways as you go up because coming back down is tricky. If you are in good shape, you can lose the crowd going up, but you’ll meet them again coming back down, so it’s much more congested.

It took me about 40 minutes to climb to the uppermost tower. Where I started the wall was three meters wide, but it narrowed to maybe a meter as I neared the top.

The following day, our day of departure, my legs ached from climbing as high and as fast as I did. The Chinese call that “noodle legs.” The ascent was worth it.

Let’s see: Exclusive of flights, we spent nine days and eight nights on the ground in China. I should probably do the numbers — nine means royalty, and eight means wealth.

For me, those add up to one remarkable trip.


Wendy Wu Tours