I arrived in Beijing Tuesday, August 9. The flights were easy and it was smooth traveling from the airport to my hostel via bus, subway, and on foot.
My first, fast observation is this city feels safe. The streets are well lit, people use their technology in public spaces more than in Minneapolis, I have not experienced catcalls, and there are no signs or announcements on public transit about watching your belongings.
My second observation is people are kind. The vendors I interact with patiently try to make sense of what I point at and attempt to pronounce in poor Chinese. The attendants on the bus and in the subway give accurate, helpful answers to my gestured questions, and the friends I know and have been introduced to go out of their way to treat me to meals, answer my questions, and show me this great city.
Now, for two obvious observations I did not fully understand until I reached this city:
- China is huge!
- China has a lot of people!
Not until I plotted my transit between cities and navigated Beijing did I begin to understand the massive scale of this country. The next city I will visit, Xi’an, is almost 700 miles from Beijing. Traveling from Xi’an to the third city on my trip, Chengdu, is 800 miles farther. In comparison, the entire width of the United States, New York to Los Angeles, is about 2,500 miles. Check out my Route page for a quick sense of where each of these cities falls on the map. They do not come close to spanning even half the width of China!
My first few days of touristing brought me to the most popular destinations in the city for Chinese tourists during peak vacation season. Daily attendance at the Summer Palace, a hangout for Qing dynasty royalty, was close to 50,000 people. The Forbidden City welcomes (and caps) visitors at 80,000 people per day. For perspective, Minnesota State Fair daily attendance is 2 to 3x larger but spread over 16+ hours, not compressed into business hours. The pictures below at other famous sites like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City give an idea of the masses of people.
This week I visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the University of Minnesota Beijing office, The Great Wall of China at the Jinshanling section, the Lama Temple, a famous Hutong, and a Tea House. I enjoyed the company of new and old friends too over meals and sight-seeing adventures!