Today was much colder than Friday had been and very damp, so the cold just soaked right through your coat. Brrrr! Our bus left at 9:30 that morning, and our first stop was The Great Hall of the People. This is China's equivalent of the Capitol Building. The representatives from all of their provinces have meetings here, and visiting dignitaries are greeted here. Each of China's 34 separate provinces/municipalities/regions has its own special gathering room, decorated in the style of that area. It was very nice to see this, as we learned about the government and history of China.
Everywhere, at all the popular tourist spots, are vendors hocking their wares. These range anywhere from panda bear hats to Chinese flags to kites to picture postcards. And they are not shy about trying to sell you something! But thankfully they usually respected a "no, thank you".
Off one side of the Square is the entrance to The Forbidden City. This was where the Emperors used to reside. It was called "forbidden", because only those he chose were permitted inside. Amazingly, this entire complex was built in only 14 years! From 1406 to 1420. It covers a lot of area, and it has its own moat. We saw the much-replicated stone courtyard area where the movies always show the Imperial Guards going through their weapons exercises. It is a city within a city - there are countless "side streets" with small houses, where concubines and others lived. We finally found some hot tea and coffee at a small souvenir shop in the center of the City! We were so thankful to go inside and thaw out a bit!
One thing I do have to tell you... The Peking Duck restaurant was my first ever experience with what us Westerners affectionately call a "squat pot". Now, I've experienced the "slammers" in the back woods of Minnesota, and I've experienced various outhouses in various locations, and I've gone behind a group of bushes when the need arose, but I had never before used a squat pot. It's basically a toilet bowl in the floor, with treads on either side so you don't slip and fall in! I have to say that it was definitely an interesting and unique experience. I don't know how else to describe it!
After lunch, we stopped at a pearl shop, where we learned that a large clam can grow sometimes 30+ pearls inside it! Then we went on to a silk shop, where they showed us the process of harvesting the silk and making it into comforters and pillowcases and such. It was very interesting, and the comforters were amazing!
After this, we were whisked away to a Chinese acrobat show. It was very cool! (literally and figuratively) We were still cold from the day of walking, and the bus was not very warm, and now we were sitting in a cold theater. But the show was great! They did the stacking chairs routine, 10 girls riding on one bicycle, a guy who balanced on a moving board and flipped bowls up onto his head. They also had motorcycles inside a globe-like metal cage. They started with one driving around, halfway up the side, then they added another, and then another, and another... They ended up with SIX motorcycles going round and round inside this metal cage!!!! It was incredible!
On Sunday, we would all fly to our respective cities where we would pick up our children! We wouldn't see the other families in our group again until Friday night. So, after dinner, we repacked and got everything ready to leave around 9 the next morning.
To be continued...