We apologize for the lack of updates due to Blogger being blocked in China but will do our best to wrap up our approximately 5 weeks in China.
We flew into Beijing from Jakarta and were pretty surprised at the lack of English in such a big city. None the less, our hotel was in a Hutong, traditional alleyways in the city that are disappearing as all of China has entered the 21st century at full speed. Seeing the PLA perform the flag ceremony both raising and lowering the flag in front of Mao's portrait in Tiennamen Square makes one realize the odd communist capitalist relationship that exists in the country with megamalls and five star hotels everywhere.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace connects the square with the Forbidden City, which was the pleasure palace for the emperors in the Ming dynasty. Near the square also lies the mausoleum of Mao and seeing his body in repose complete with the star and the sickle draped coffin with many Chinese laying flowers at the entrance was both a bit like a tourist circus and reverential in seeing the respect the locals still have for their iconic leader.
The lions's share of the sites lie within the city proper served by a very clean and efficient subway system, so visiting the Summer Palace and the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium were easy day trips. The cost of the train ride is 2 Yuans (40 cents) per person and can transport you to pretty much anywhere in Beijing. The focus in China seems to be about educating the public, so inside train stations and on TVs in the subways, there are ads which warn tourists to protect their personal belongings against thefts and also display informative messages in the form of cartoons educating the public to keep the system clean and to respect their surroundings.
The people for such a big city were extremely helpful given our lack of Mandarin and made an effort to explain to us directions and get us going in the right direction. About the pushiest were the old lady beggars, who would often try and grab your hand and would aggressively follow you into giving them money. We got pretty good at spotting them, so would pick up the pace and try and outrun them.