Today was our first true experience with the large Chinese population as we visited Tien’amen square and the forbidden palace. The amount of people pouring into the Tien’amen square and the palace was overwhelming. In sweltering heat combined with high humidity, it was a sweaty, sticky, tiring day. First a word of caution, when doing an outdoor event in China, do not wear bright yellow :). Apparently, the bug population in China is attracted to the color like flies to sh… well you know… In all honestly, I likely killed 200 small bugs that decided to take their landing on my very yellow shirt. It was pretty disgusting,  but China has a way of getting you over these things :).

In a testament to how far China is moving in the right direction, Tien’amen square is nothing like it was in the past. Our professor explained a story on the last time he had visited the square. Due to the student demonstrations, people were not allowed to be in groups any larger than three. This sounds ridiculous but as the professor explained, he and two other colleges were walking through the square, talking to one another. A fourth college joined their group as the walked and within seconds, a guard was on them yelling to split the group up.
Our experience was much different. The square was packed with groups of people, some hundreds large. Like ants, the people swarmed the square taking pictures in front of the many government buildings surrounding the square. Surrounding the square were the People’s Congress building, the National Museum, the People’s Hero’s monument, and the Forbidden City entrance. The area seemed very safe and had a fairly laid-back atmosphere. Also in the square, along with many of the Beijing attractions, were foreigners from many countries; again a testament to China’s ‘opening up.’

After getting our fair share of pictures in the square, we moved onto the Forbidden City. The grounds are huge, much bigger than the square though we could only travel to 30% of it. As a series of successive buildings linked by courtyards and beautiful gardens, the structure was awe-inspiring. Sadly because of looting, (most by foreign countries after the opiate wars) most of the precious treasure from the complex was stolen and now resides in British, French, and Dutch museums. The rock garden at the end was beautiful though due to the heat and mass of people, it was difficult to enjoy. I missed the serenity of the Confucian Cemetery and Temples.
A note on that, the Forbidden palace, and many of the other locations we visited in Beijing, had much of the culture and original ambience intact. Though there were certainly shops scattered throughout the grounds, the commercialization of the portions we saw was kept at a minimum, much to our happiness.