Jan 19th
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The China of Today

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The China of Today
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The China of Today
A family's glimpse of the old and new

    Groggily deplaning from an 11 and 1/2  hour Air China flight from San Francisco to Beijing, my husband Eric and I were startled when we saw a video camera scanning our body temperatures. Venturing into a country that hadn’t seen any American tourists in the past eight months, since the outbreak of the SARS virus, I grabbed our 8-year-old daughter’s hand as we Ferry and the Yangtze River.approached the health inspection area. We sighed in relief when we passed inspection and were motioned to proceed to the baggage claim area.
    Since the outbreak of SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome – in February 2003, China’s tourism industry has been decimated.  However, when the World Health Organization declared the virus contained in Beijing and in other Asian cities in July of 2003, we noticed in our daily newspaper incredible travel bargains to China. San Francisco-based China Travel
    Service promoted a great tour package “Historical highlights of China” that offered four-star accommodations, a cruise down the Yangtze River, all meals, knowledgeable and experienced guides, and comfortable motor coaches for less than a round-trip airfare to China. We learned that the Chinese government is subsidizing discounts for some travel packages in order to lure travelers back to a healthy China. So we packed our bags and signed up
for the adventure of our lifetime.
    While waiting for our luggage, we saw colorful banners saying “China Forever” and “Beijing Getting Better and Better.” We soon met our guide Richard Ding from China Travel Services and he escorted us to the center of the city where the four-star Capital Hotel would be our home for the next four days.
    With over 13 million people, Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and the nation’s political and cultural center. Known as the kingdom of bicycles, almost everyone has one.  Grandparents ride bikes on designated paths alongside children and government workers. Cars, trucks and buses take over the roadways causing rush hour to be a nightmare. The government is also gearing up for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. “Green Beijing” is the theme and the Olympic Committee is planting trees throughout the city and trying to solve the traffic and pollution problems.
    The Capital Hotel is just blocks from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.        
    Upon check-in we asked about the heat sensor video camera in the lobby. “We installed a $30,000 camera on the recommendation of the government” explained Jacob Chan, General Manager of the hotel. “During the SARS outbreak we monitored guests twice a day.” Hotel staff disinfects the newly renovated rooms, linens, and common areas daily.
          After a tasty Chinese ten-course dinner at one of the hotel’s seven restaurants, Eric, Lizzy, and I strolled around Tiananmen Square. We saw families sitting outside their apartment buildings on small stools discussing daily events. As we passed by we said “Ni haou” (sounds like knee how) and were greeted back and given a warm smile.
    In Tiananmen Square, which can accommodate a million people, decorated honor guards raise China’s five-star red flag at Lizzy showing off her umbrella.dawn and sundown. Traffic stops on the main road and people gather to watch the flag ceremony. It’s similar to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in London. In the evening, adults and children fly colorful dragon kites high in the darkened sky, while vendors sell postcards, kites and Beijing 2008 hats for, “One dollar, okay?” This is the city to practice your negotiating skills.
    The next morning, as the three of us ate an American and Chinese buffet breakfast of congee (like oatmeal, but made with rice) dragon fruit (like kiwi, but with white skin and small black seeds) and soft rolls, we noticed some thirty Spanish couples with newly adopted Chinese babies. We learned that all the babies were girls from orphanages or settlements around China. China still has a law that allows couples to have only one child. Most couples prefer a son to carry on the family name, which has caused a population of three million more Chinese men than Chinese women in Beijing.
    Couples from around the world come to China to adopt these beautiful girls ranging in age from six months to a year. “We get as many as 40 families a week at our hotel” said Chan.
     After breakfast, we decided to walk back to see Tiananmen Square during the daytime and there we saw thousands of Chinese families lined up in single file to observe the tomb of Chairman Mao. Several left the line to approach us and ask to have their picture taken with our daughter, Lizzy. Some coaxed their kids to hold her hand and practice their English. They seemed fascinated at the sight of an American child.
    Then, we walked to the gates of the Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace. Within its many red painted walls, the Palace has 9,999 rooms (9 is the highest rank in China and the number for longevity). Every room has a threshold of at least 10 inches to keep small ghosts and bad spirits from entering. Dragon sculptures are everywhere for their magical quality in keeping evil away.
    Our next stop was the Summer Palace where in the past centuries, the Emperors retreated to escape the heat. The large man-made, yet picturesque Kunming Lake helps to keep temperatures cooler than in the city. We enjoyed a dragon boat ride around the scenic lake and along the way we saw dark magenta water lilies floating near the Emperor’s solid white marble boat.


Where is the O'Conner family?

When the lakes freeze over, the O'Conner family are having winter fun at this unique hotel. Where is the O'Conner family?
Click here to find out.

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