Beijing is an exciting, cosmopolitan city that is vast as it is diverse. There are always a TON of things to do. The five days I spent in Beijing were not enough to scratch the surface of all there is to see and do. ESPECIALLY since I was on a field trip with 130 seventh-graders.
But I’m not complaining. I’m glad that I had the chance to go (and the fact that it was an all-expense paid trip definitely sweetened the deal). We arrived on a Monday to grey skies and hit the ground running.
Our first stop was Tian’anmen Square (which I will probably never succeed in spelling correctly), which is not only the largest square in the world, but is also where the tragic Tian’anmen square massacre took place in 1989. Hundreds of pro-democracy protestors were killed by government troops in the streets surrounding the square. Many Chinese refuse to talk about the incident. China, in case you didn’t remember, is communist, ridiculously so, even today. Censorship is strong, especially when it comes to the internet. In my opinion, this information restriction, as limiting as it is, makes China a very grim place to be. Despite my occasional laments about Hong Kong being too “western”, I am glad that I don’t live in mainland China.
Photo ops at the Square
Solemnity at the square, however, was pretty much a bust with over 100 twelve-year-olds in tow. The didn’t really realize the cultural and historical significance of the events that took place in the square. But maybe that’s a good thing. Ignorance is bliss, no? At any rate, after walking around the square and being heckled by vendors, we set up shop in one of the corners of the square and went about assembling and then flying kites. Kites hold a lot of meaning in Chinese history and culture, and Tiananmen Square is reputed to be one of the best places to fly kites in Beijing, due to its vast area.
This vendor heckled the students endlessly. She was selling panda hats, as you can see…
The cold and blustery winds hindered the kite-making and flying process. The skies soon opened up, and even rain was added to the mix. Many students, unprepared for the cold, huddled along the stone walls that separated the square from the street. Our tour guides passed out thin, plastic rain shields, and soon our groups was dressed identically in vibrant colours, cold, but at least no longer wet.
…And the sight was touching. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so symbolic and so rewarding to a child. Most of the kids have iPods, PS2′s and other high-tech gadgets that they can’t live without and use/play with for the majority of their waking hours. So it was a beautiful thing to see them engaged in something as simple and old-fashioned as flying a kite. And besides that, how cool is it to say that you had the chance to spend an afternoon flying a kite in someplace as epic as Tiananmen Square, the largest plaza in the world?