China Tour 2013
April 10th – 23rd, 2013

April 11th we all met in the lobby at 8 a.m. to start our day. The first visit was to Tian Anmen Square…full of Chinese people wearing baseball caps in bright colours…always a bit funny to see but also a good way of keeping your group together. I told my group after giggles that I would do the same if they got lost but I would make the colour lime green. No one wears lime green. Or I might make them all wear those little umbrella hats…practical don’t you think? Anyway, with so many people swarming around it makes for a lively visit. This square is huge, about 108 acres and touted as the largest public square in the world. Mao’s Mausoleum is already busy with long lines waiting to see his embalmed body. They will wait in line for more than 2 hours just to see him for seconds.
Then past the square, down an underground walkway under the road and up onto the other side to visit the Forbidden City, or National Palace Museum or Royal Palace. Chairman Mao’s portrait is huge and greets everyone as they walk through the gate. Again many Chinese people and again many hats. You also see all kinds of sticks with flags, stuffed animals, umbrellas or even kites the guides hold so each group knows where their guide is. All kinds of chatter as we wait for our tickets…then our guide arrives with ours and off we go inside another gate…and then we see this large square with a moat and on the other side a very large building, and on it goes, building after building, large and small, each named. This is the public side of the Forbidden City, the side that the people could see if they were invited in…because after all it was called the Forbidden City because the people could not come in. Past this area were the private buildings of the Emperors who lived there….24 ascended the throne since 1406. The last was Pu Yi and he was driven from the Palace in 1924. It was then converted into a museum and opened to the public. What must they have thought of this place when they finally got to see where the Emperor lived with his many concubines. He was the only man as well as all the other men would have been eunuchs.

It is a huge place spread out over 250 acres and filled with thousands and thousands of rooms. Each room is defined by the pillars as is the Chinese custom of designating rooms. There are twelve large palace courtyards and no plantings at all. Seems they were always afraid someone might hide in the shrubs. But thankfully in the private residence there are three beautiful gardens for enjoyment. They are called the Longevity Garden, Kindness and Tranquility Garden and the Imperial Garden. All built for the enjoyment of the imperial family. The one we visited today was the Imperial Garden. The Stonework is magnificent, strong, forceful and interspersed are cypress trees 500 years old, cherry trees and many peonies. It must have been something to see the imperial family walking around admiring how beautiful this garden was and how special it would be in the spring when the buds would open and sprinkle green throughout the garden.

From here we went to a hutong area and had to get off the coach to walk in, hutongs are really just areas where the roads are very narrow. When I first started touring in China I remember carts running up and down these roads carrying black round blocks of coal that they would use to heat their homes and cook with. You don’t see much of that anymore as these areas are modernizing. Plus, and here is the big plus, these areas now have some the most expensive real estate around. Many hutongs were bought by big companies, torn down and then offices or condos were built but the ones still around are very exclusive now and while their outside shells now remain, many have become boutique hotels and fancy restaurants. We ate our lunch in one that had been turned into a restaurant. Looking outside were beautiful gardens that had been here since the original owners. Quiet places of refuge surrounded by walls. It also had a hotel. The families still live in many of them, possibly waiting for the right price? But hopefully they will remain for us to visit and see what it was like to live in these compounds that would hold two or three generations of the family.

After lunch we visited the Beijing Botanic Gardens to see the glass house. Spring is behind here so while the trees are full of buds not many were in bloom as I remembered from the last tour. Forsythia was blooming everywhere with its bright yellow but the cherry trees were just starting to open and show their colours. The glass house was full of tropical plants – it was nice to get in from the chill of the day. Surrounded by tropical plants and orchids in bloom was something to see. They had some parrots as well so that lent a nice feel to the place. It is not a huge glass house but does hold around 3000 plant species and some models of the terracotta warriors for close up shots.
Back to the hotel for a bit of a rest then our dinner which included Peking duck. It was delicious!

Driving around Beijing seems different now, far fewer bikes – there are still lots but not to the extent that there was before. I guess the economy is better and they are switching to cars, adding to another problem. Traffic is quite something but for us, it gave us time to look at the people, the buildings and the landscape. Many workers out pruning the boulevards and getting them in ship shape for spring. The weeping willows are starting to leaf out and their beautiful pale green branches seem magical in this concrete jungle. The magnolias in white and pink are glorious and of course forsythia is everywhere.


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row