Seeing the places of dreams

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
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Flag of China  ,
Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gazing through the smog that has permanently settled on the city one can barely make out the structures that have made Beijing so famous. But if you look closely there they are - the red walls and golden roofs of the Forbidden City, the huge open expanse that is Tiannamen Square, and the massive columned building that houses the waxy remains of Mao himself. Outside the city, like a breath of fresh air, is the awe-inspiring Great Wall flying like a dragon over the mountaintops of the surrounding countryside. Going to these famous, overwhelmingly unique places I couldn't help but experience that surreal feeling of walking through a dream. And in reality, I was. Beijing was created and re-created over and over based on dreams of glory and greatness. Even as we marvel at the size of the Great Wall and the grandness of the Forbidden City erected by dreams of the past, highrise hotels are shooting up all over the city in preparation for the 2008 Olympics - the beginnings of dreams for the 'new China'.

My whole time with Mom in Beijing was also like a dream. Upon arriving in the city, we found ourselves upgraded to a suite with a balcany overlooking a splendid courtyard in an absolutely fabulous hotel just blocks from the Forbidden City. The next five days we pampered ourselves by ordering room service, treated our sore feet to foot massages, and listened to live classical music while playing canasta on the balcany in the evenings. This was far from the backpacker huts I had formerly been used to, and I savored every moment sleeping in a comfortable bed and eating chocolate while Mom kicked my butt in cards. And then to see the city...

Our first full day in Beijing we made the journey out to the Great Wall at Mutianyu where the mobs of tourists were nowhere in sight. Alternately walking, climbing, and resting along the wall, it was still impossible to take it all in. Here we were on a tiny part of the wall and it still stretched much much farther than the eye could see, scaling mountain peaks and dipping into valleys. How could anyone have thought to do this? How was it actually done? What genius and what madness! And what beauty! After making the climb as far as tourists could officially go, we stopped and just contemplated the great dragon that flew out from the tower we stood upon. Then, leaving Mom standing in awe, I moved beyond the 'no tourists allowed' sign and made my way along a path overgrown with brush and crumbling at places. When I reached a second tower, my breath was taken away. There, falling away from where I stood was an incredible valley with tiny villages situated along the river. Above me rose a mountain range that I was amazed to see still carried the wall on its backbone. This, for me, was the real wall, the wall that I had dreamed about. I went back to get Mom, and despite her fear of heights, she too managed enjoy the splendor...and then quickly got down. The Great Wall, no matter whether it was successful in the end, is a place of dreams. Magnificance.

Just the name, 'The Forbidden City', gives me chills and awakens my imagination. How can a whole city be forbidden? What makes it so amazing that the eyes of common people were not allowed to look into it? What greatness and what evil was contained within these walls? Walking through the high gates, beyond the red walls, I wondered at how much intrigue must have taken place here. I wondered at the hugeness and richness of it all. Mom and I spent six hours wandering around the marvelous temples, gardens, courtyards, and palaces. What was life like here? To be hidden away from the world in a fairytale land, what must the real world have been like when it all ended? How jarring and scary and...freeing. Even though it was raining and the Great Hall that is the greatest of the buildings was being renovated and Mom's audio guide wasn't working, the wealth and artistry and beauty of it was all still so amazing. The dreamland that survived so much and yet was its own destruction, is no longer a forbidden mystery, but it is still an awesome experience to enter its walls...to be taken up in its dream.

Then there was the vastness of Mao's Tiannamen Square fulfilling Mao's wish to diminish the individual in favor of a group identity. It was here that he looked upon his soldiers, the people of China, and saw his dream society being built. It was here the the dreams of students who wanted freedom from conformity were obliterated. Dreams were created and destroyed here. And yet, on a nice day dreams of happiness are still created as children fly kites and the elderly read newspapers. While the secret police watching the area still keep alive the dreams of Mao, the dreams for a new China are becoming stronger.

As I celebrated an early birthday with dinner at the Red Capital Club, eating Mao's favorite dish and a truly scrumptious meal with a name out of a fairytale, dreams collided. There were my dreams of the future, the dreams of those who built the house in the hudong, the dreams of the old Empress, those of Mao, and of the restaurant owners trying to bring together multiple worlds. It was a delight, an experience, and a great way to celebrate my 23rd. In a dreamland.

The next night, after eating the mandatory Peking duck, I said goodbye to Mom and Asia and boarded the train with dreams of Siberia, the Kremlin, and the streets of St Petersburg. Dreams. Dreams of what's to come next...
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Comments

dadofdivaboots
dadofdivaboots on

I'm dreaming of a ...
Lacey
Great theme for you splendidly written piece! I know that you are now in Florence (as we talked today on the phone) but your descriptions from way back in China are so wonderful. How does it feel to be thinking back to another continent from several weeks and thousands of miles ago?
Love
Dad

ado27
ado27 on

Elequent Prose
You're such a wonderful writer, Lacey. I greatly enjoy reading about your travels. Enjoy Russia! I know I loved St. Petersburg and Moscow was a spectacle to be savored. Beware of the Russian Vodka. It's slightly more effective, if you know what I mean! Love ya!
~Paul

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