|Beautiful day along the canal enroute to Downtown Beijing|
Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world, China. With a population of 21.5 million people, it is the nation's second-largest city, after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. As one of six ancient cities in China, Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions. Today, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year.
The city is marked by its flatness and arid climate. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of Forbidden City) and mountains surround the capital on three sides. Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis and serve as good reference points as one attempts to move about the city. Beyond the ring roads are the most-visited portions of the Great Wall of China.
|Entrance to home of Chinese President (Chairman)|
And yes, there is smog. On a summer’s day with clear blue skies and excellent visibility the pollution levels in Beijing are way above the standards set by the World Health Organization. In winter when coaled fired heating is used and there is no wind or rain to remove the pollution, the levels of pollution measured by the US embassy (the most reliable source) is off the charts and at least 30 to 45 times the recommended safety levels. What is even scarier is Beijing is not the most polluted city in China. It is not even in the top ten of the most polluted cities in China.
Yet we have been SO lucky. It’s been almost beautiful in Beijng! Our guides tell us that the smattering of snow that heralded our arrival the other day, followed by a bit of wind yesterday drove out the “bad stuff” and left us with blue sky. Cold, but blue! That’s not to say that the air can’t be bothersome, but nothing like what some of our students expected (or even hoped for?) Arthur, the guide on Bus One indicated that he had worked very hard to give us APEC BLUE SKIES. (As you recall, the APEC Conference was here a few months ago and all industries were shut down for a few days to clear the air for Obama et all....... :-)
|Beijing Concert Hall, near Forbidden City|
Today, Monday, students have the morning “off.” At 1:00 we gather to head toward lunch and then our rehearsal and final concert in China, at the world famous Beijing Concert Hall. The students don’t know this yet, but I’m bringing in McDonald’s for dinner. Seriously. It kills me to do it, but our timing restrictions are such that it’s the best move for us. Besides, I have to get them to begin to transition back to real life, right?
How did we do? We (THEY) did GREAT. Wonderful crowd, wonderful final concert.
Tomorrow – the GREAT WALL!