Beijing - Giant Pandas
A more relaxed morning start time today allowed the children a chance for a sleep in or quiet time to revisit their special purchases from the day before. However, it was still only 8am and we were out the door and on our way back into the special central area of Beijing.
The bus dropped us off at the southern end of the imperial precinct and we walked across Tiananmen Square. The first impression was of its incredible size, with space for over one million people to gather. While it may conjure anti-social images from its past, it is known as ‘a heavenly place’ in China as it remains best remembered as the main gate of the royal palace of both the Ming and Qing Dynasty.
Two magnificent statues flank the front of the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, depicting the pioneers of the New China. Thousands of people were lined up to enter the mausoleum and view Chairman Mao’s body, entombed in a crystal cask inside since his death in 1976.
Continuing our walk along the south-north axis, we passed the Monument to the People’s Heroes, a ten-storey obelisk in memory of those who died in the civil struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. Behind it was a magnificent installation of a bouquet of flowers some 3 storeys high, decorating the wide-open promenade leading to the Imperial Palace/Forbidden City.
Mrs Yang shared many interesting facts about the area, supported by the students who had spent time researching these attractions. Of particular interest to the students was the hierarchy of the buildings in the grounds, evident by the height, the colour and the number of protective figures on the roofline. Gold tiles, gold paint and gold artefacts were everywhere as the colour yellow/gold was reserved solely for those things or places associated with the Emperor.
Our walkthrough concluded at the northern end, where we hopped back on the bus and out to the western side of the City and the Beijing Zoo. The days have been lovely and warm while on the tour, so the bus is a refreshing bit of air-conditioned comfort after the extended walks through the sights. Our driver is fantastic, just appearing where and when we need him – which is not easy in such a busy place.
When we got to the Zoo, it was straight to the Giant Pandas, where (as luck would have it) we arrived at feeding time. These incredible animals must be one of the few species in the world that can be accurately represented by a stuffed toy. At times we were certain that they were costumes with people inside! At one point the children shared their Chinese skills aloud, singing and calling out to Dà xióngmāo (Giant Panda), and it obliged by walking straight over to them. We were impressed by the size, configuration and apparent comfort of the panda enclosures. While not officially in the imperial part of town, they are certainly treated like royalty.
We finished the day with another couple of hours of shopping, with the children getting every ounce of value out of their RMB. Smaller denominations of yuan are now being exchanged for little jade carvings, technology accessories and a variety of ‘sparkly’ items. Again, the children enjoyed the thrill of the chase, bidding and counter bidding with stallholders to secure the ‘best price’.
Dinner was at the hotel restaurant tonight, and it was pleasing to see the students trying a variety of new dishes. Many have expanded their repertoire and tastes remarkably since they arrived, as well as mastering the use of chopsticks. There is likely to be more sharing and chatter over the day’s events back in their rooms, until ‘lights out’ in preparation for our last full day in China.