Last Stop, Beijing — the final installment

Beijing used to be Peking.  Now the only things called Peking are Peking Duck and Peking Airport. On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao (as our guide always called him) seized control of the city, announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China and changed the name back to Beijing.

This was our most anticipated stop.  Here we would visit the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Jim was excited beyond belief to see these places.  In 1976, the Cultural Revolution came to an end.  Remember the picture of the student standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square?  My mother kept a copy of it hanging on the wall in her bedroom. I got my political leanings from her, as did my brother (well, his leans in the other direction) and sister.  Just an FYI for all my Facebook friends!

First stop, check in at the Ritz Carlton. Wow!  Very nice! Since we didn’t make it a habit of staying in really nice hotels, I found the bathroom amenities of special interest … the shampoo, lotions, etc.  This one had a drawer with complimentary shaving kits, toothbrush kits, comb kits, among all the other things. I made sure to remove those everyday so I’d get refills. I’ve got a great supply in my bathroom at home if one of my house guests ever forgets something.

Our first venture out the next day was a drive to see the Great Wall.


There are several places you can go to climb it.  We went to one of them, Badaling Hills. Once again, we were among the one million Chinese tourists also visiting. We had to stay in a group as we entered the gate, so we were pushing and shoving, as instructed by our guide. He had the exact number of tickets for us to enter and didn’t want anyone to get in the middle of our group and screw things up. Push. Shove. We’re here!

Oh my! This place was amazing. From the parking lot up to the wall was a huge, long hill.


So we hired a wheel chair for Jim and I to share.  Why walk when you can ride? Jim rode up and I walked. The Wall is 3100 miles long, (or 4000, depending on the expert) built between the 5th century BC and 16th century AD. No, we didn’t walk the whole thing. Once on the wall, we decided we didn’t need to make a contest of it. We went halfway up the first segment, looked around and decided we’d just tell everyone we climbed the whole segment or the whole thing depending on who we were talking to. Steps in China never have handrails.  We were a little concerned with the crowds around us that we’d get bumped and go tumbling down.  The views were amazing … the valleys … the hills … other segments of the wall. Yep. It looked just like the postcards. Seriously, it was amazing.

We drove back to Beijing and went to the Sacred Way.  This was a tree-lined avenue bordered with massive sculptures of animals. As I remember, it was 1.5 miles long. They really were trying to kill us! And remember, it was in the high 90s to low 100s.


This avenue led to the Ming tombs. By the time we got to the tombs, after having done the Great Wall, most of us just wanted to know where were the buses.  Remember, we were all old.

The buses then took us to a hutong. Many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. The older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations. These are narrow alleys with residences and businesses along each side.

We took pedicab rides around the area and spent some time in one of the residences. Our driver had to work really hard to get Jim and I around.  We are not skinny minnies.  When it came time to pay, I paid him for 3 people! Maybe I should have paid for 4. He was a really skinny man.

Back to the hotel to clean up and go to dinner.  Once back from dinner, Jim and I enjoyed hanging in the cocktail lounge … our favorite end of the day activity.

Next day, up and about to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square was one of my most memorable places.

It was enormous and imposing. It can hold one million people. This is where Mao Zedong lies in state in the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall.


Another huge building is the Gate of Heavenly Peace with a gigantic picture of Mao on the outside of it facing the square. He’s watching us!

From there we walked into the Forbidden City. This was the Imperial Palace from the Ming to Qing dynasties, 1420-1912. There were 999 rooms. Who knows why they didn’t add one more.  Our guide told us why, but I didn’t quite understand it.  Something about religion or superstition.  Since it was the palace of the Emperor, no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission.

Now here’s where it gets interesting!  Remember when I mentioned the name tags in my earlier post?  This is where they come into play. We were to wear these tags at all times.  Our guide had put his cell number on the back, in case we got lost. We were instructed to find someone with a cell phone and call him. Once again, we were in mobs of people. At one point, we stopped at a gate and Jonathon told us to go into this one particular square, look around for 45 minutes and then come back to this same spot. Off we went to take our pictures, etc.  The crowds got to be too much and I told Jim I was heading back to our meeting place. He proceeded on.

Back at the meeting place, Jonathon began counting heads.  I could tell he was coming up short.  After his second count, I was able to get his attention to tell him Jim wasn’t there. We had rented a wheel chair here, so Jonathon and our wheel chair guy went in to look for him.  They couldn’t find him.  They went back in a second time.  No dice. After waiting another 15 minutes or so, we made our way to the gardens, hoping he was there.  He wasn’t.  So Jonathan and the wheel chair guy went back in to look for him.  Still no Jim. We were due at the lunch place and Jonathan was not sure what he should do. One of his group was lost! Finally, he made the decision to leave. When we got on the bus, he came to me to talk.  That’s when he found out Jim wasn’t wearing his name tag. Then I had to tell him Jim didn’t have his room key. And then I had to admit he didn’t have the card with the name and address of the hotel. Now he really got concerned.

Finally I told him, “Jonathon, this is not his first rodeo.  He’ll just have to get a cab back to the Ritz Carlton.” Kinda cold hearted, I know.  But, there was a bus load of people just waiting around getting hungrier and hungrier.  Herein was the problem. There were two Ritz Carltons in Beijing, on opposite sides of town. There was a good chance he would end up at the wrong one. Off we went to lunch.  Jonathon was so quiet.  Usually, he was talking while we were riding.  Then, his phone rang.  Jim managed to call the other guide to contact Jonathon that he was getting a cab back to the hotel. Jonathon was so relieved.  Now he was the guide we knew and loved … talking, laughing.  He told us that this was the first time he ever lost anyone in 20 years of being a guide. Jim loves being first!

This is Jim’s account of his wonderful adventure:

The morning we were leaving the hotel to go to the Forbidden City, my name tag fell behind the end table. My name had long been smudged off, so I left it there. The Forbidden City was so much bigger than I expected. And there were thousands of Chinese tourists. Our guide told us where to meet and at what time.  I, of course, was not listening leaving it all up to Irene. 

I went into the garden and took some pictures then left to go back. I could not find Irene anywhere nor could I find anyone from our tour group. I walked all the way back to the entrance gate and saw a shack with a sign that said tour guides.  They told me I had the go all the way back to the garden. I had just had total knee replacement in March and again in June, I wasn’t sure I could make it. I started walking and soon saw a couple walking toward me with Viking River Cruise name tags. They were from the other bus and had told their guide they would be going on there own. I got the phone number of the other guide but I could not call from their phone or mine. We had been told to just ask anyone and they would let you use their phone. But very few spoke English. I did see a couple that looked non Asian, I asked to use their phone and I was able to call Jimmy (the other guide) and asked him to call Jonathan. I was not worried about me, I knew I was going to be able to get back to the hotel. I was concerned about Irene and the rest of the group. I walked out of the Forbidden City and started looking for a taxi. None of the drivers understood what I was saying when I asked to go to the Ritz Carlton. Finally one held up two fingers and said two hundred. At this point I didn’t care what it was going to cost. I got into the taxi and we started. Soon the driver turned to me with his cell phone and pointed to the screen. He was listing all the hotels in Beijing and he did have the Ritz Carlton in the center. I said, ” Yes, that’s it.”  About five miles later he let me off at the hotel …  it was the wrong one. There were two Ritz Carltons in Beijing. Each was about five miles in opposite directions from the Forbidden City. Luckily Jonathan had called the hotel in case I would be brought to the wrong one. They put me in a taxi and I was soon at the correct hotel. Shortly after the bus came and Jonathan gave me a big hug. When I told him my story he laughed and said, ” Those cab drivers couldn’t even pronounce Witz Cawton.”

Next day, we were heading home.  Tired, but ready to sleep in our own beds and sit in our own chairs.