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This is it- after a 14 hour flight from Chicago, we are in Beijing!  It was a long and tiring trip, but that’s all behind us now, and we were just excited to get going!

When we arrived in the city yesterday, we made that first stop to the local Wal-Mart.  Remember how I said in my first post that I didn't expect it to be that different?  Well, I was wrong.  The Wal-Mart  actually took up the second floor of a shopping mall, for starters.  The store layout wasn't as neat as it's American counterparts either, with a lot of jumble clustering up the area between aisles.  Also, the Chinese are apparently really big on proving that their meat is fresh, so they have chefs loudly cutting up the meat right in front of you before hanging it on hooks for display.  They also had a wide array of large fish swimming around in tanks at the fish counter, kind of like how our grocery stores keep live lobster.  It looked more like an aquarium than part of a grocery store! After picking up several cases of bottled water (tap water in China isn't so friendly to American bellies), we spent the rest of the evening trying to find food before passing out in our hotel, which is located on a Beijing college campus.

Today's events were when things really got started!  This morning we had a Chinese-style breakfast made up mostly of things I don't even know the names of (I found out at lunch that the stuff I had termed rice noodles was actually bamboo) before we took off for our first tourist stop- Tiananmen Square!  One of the largest city squares in the world, the place was incredible.  Huge buildings and memorials lined the area, all of them remarkable to behold.  We even got to see the well-known portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs on the Tiananmen gate.  

In America, we know Tiananmen best because of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a 1989 army troop crackdown on protesters.  But this has been largely kept quiet in China, so I was curious if our tour guide would mention anything about it.  But she just talked about how the Square represented the justice, unity, and strength of China. While we were at the square, we had a lot of China natives come up to us and ask to take pictures with us.  At first we were concerned that they might be trying something, but they were always very friendly and eager to just pose with us.  After a while, it started feeling like we were celebrities on the red carpet!  Our guide told us that a lot of these people were poor and had never seen 'white people' before, so we were like novelties to them.  Whatever the reason, it was fun, and we got some fun pictures!

From there we walked to the Forbidden City, which was once the home of Chinese Emperors and their families.  The place was INCREDIBLE.  There was so much detail in the architecture of the historic buildings.  And since the city had been touched up for the 2008 Olympics, everything still looked polished and grand.  Some of the original gold plaiting on the buildings was even still there, gleaming in the sun.  Walking from the outer to the inner courtyards took about 2 hours, but the buildings looked so amazing that we hardly even noticed!

We ended the trip with a stroll through the Forbidden City's Imperial Garden, which had trees that were over 300 years old, and gigantic stone structures that had originated in South China. By the time we got back on the bus, we were exhausted-  but not too exhausted for some Chinese Islamic food and a walk past the shops just outside of campus.  There were tons of little yogurt smoothie shops that had a ton of flavor's I'd never heard of.  I split a rose and cranberry drink with a friend and was surprised to find actual rose petals at the bottom!  She told me they're apparently good for you, and they tasted great!

When we got back to our hotel, our feet were sore and our low-to-the-ground beds were calling our names.  But we don't want to mess up our new sleep schedules again, and we have a welcome dinner still ahead.   Still, we're having a GREAT time and can't wait to see more!  Especially since tomorrow is our trip to the Great Wall! ~Shannon]]>

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