The International Writers
and My Pseudo Sign Language Skills
says you cant survive in a country where you dont
speak, read and understand the language? I did, for one whole
week! Being an Asian in Beijing was not like going to a slumber
party at the neighbors.
Just as how it is for any other foreigner, the Chinese characters on street
signs all looked like chopsticks glued together to me. I too entered through
exits and had to learn the art of pseudo sign language, pin pointing (facial
expressions included) my way through a McDonalds meal. It was here, in
Beijing where I learned to order food without uttering a single word.
Much has been written and told about the dynasties, the imperial palaces,
and the vast history of this culturally gifted city. But not even the
longest running Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee Kung Fu movies will be enough
to let one truly experience the richness of Beijings heritage.
There is nothing like seeing the intricate details of historic structures
that movie cameras fail to put on film. And nothing beats walking along
the same bricks and fortresses that the emperors and empresses once walked
My cultural journey started in the countrys most famous landmark.
A mammoth structure spanning thousands of meters.
so Great About the Great Wall?
This must have been the reason why I shed so many pounds during
my stay in Beijing. The long walk from the Badaling gate section
of the Great Wall up to the roller coaster-looking cable cars along
some steep brick-covered floors almost made me give up and just
wait in the shuttle. I was so sure that I was the youngest in the
tour group but I was always left behind catching my breath, running
and calling on them to wait up.
Metal creaks echoed around the dark cave-like structure that our
seemingly theme-park-inspired cable car passed through, as it slowly inched
its way up the steep wall. The excitement came to a halt upon reaching
the top. We were all taken aback, silenced by the mammoth structure lining
the mountain ranges like stacks of giant dominoes made of age-old bricks
and stones. Everything that the sun touches and your eyes can gaze
upon here I finally uttered while extending my hand to the right,
is not mine. I continued in an effort to break the ice.
The Badaling section, we were told, was the earliest section to be opened
to tourists among all the parts of the Great Wall. 130 Million tourists
including 370 foreign leaders and famous people have come to climb this
ancient military defense project used to protect the Juyongguan Pass.
The watch towers sitting proudly atop the mountains provided tourists
their well deserved shade after a few meters or so of walking along the
brick-lined walls. This must be the worlds most pictured wall,
I told myself as I watched tourists snap and pose behind, beside and all
around the brick structure.
Descending was much easier as gravity pulled whats left of my weight
and my backpack down the Great Wall. Going back to the shuttle we eagerly
showed each other trinkets that we bough on our way back.
What ever happened to the legendary emperors who ruled this land hundreds
of years ago? That question brought me to my next destination.
Tombs Quality Control
Just like the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Chinese emperors belief in
the afterlife pushed them to build magnificent tombs that now house their
corpses and treasures. During the reign of the Ming Dyanasty, 13 emperors
built palatial buildings and complexes in the Northwestern Suburbs of
Beijing. These complexes were later called Ming Tombs. It is the burial
site of 13 out of 17 emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
The day started with raised eyebrows from the wives in my tour group who
gave their husbands pierced looks, after we were told that not only the
empresses were buried here. A separate site was also reserved for the
The intricately ornamented structures house treasures such as gowns,
costumes, weapons and coins displayed inside glass casings. These stand
witness to how Chinas legendary people lived on Earth. Trailing
behind the group I couldnt help but notice the Chinese characters
carved on the old bricks.
What are those Chinese characters for? I curiously asked the
guide. What he told us silenced the noisy crowd. These, we were
told, are names and the locations of the people who made the bricks. This
made it easier for the emperor to locate the makers who were called and
punished, for every bricks that were poorly made.
A form of quality control in the old times that proved effective considering
how much these structures have withstood the tests of time. A maker would
undoubtedly pour time and effort in every single brick if his life depended
After shopping for silk cloths, plates and trinkets, the black and white
stuffed toys displayed in stores reminded me of why I wanted to see Beijing
so much in the first place.
Zoo: Happy Feet Has Got Nothing on Me
Where can I see a panda? I smilingly asked people around
the hotel. I spent my last days in Beijing embarrassing myself,
asking people where I can see those cute little black and white
furry animals. I finally grab a hold of a map with the address of
the nearest zoo and bugged the receptionist to write it down for
me in Chinese characters.
I excitedly ran to the entrance, map in hand in search of my second most
favourite animal. A clear glass separated tourists from the pandas. Stuffed
toys lined the stores right beside the cage. I honestly couldnt
tell the difference because the pandas looked like giant stuffed
toys moving lazily around.
The Beijing zoo is home to 7,000 creatures of 600 different species including
the giant panda, red-crowned crane and Pere David's deer-all unique to
China. My Happy Feet hysteria then pulled me inside the part of the zoo
where penguins are kept. Swimming around the waters, greeting and happily
entertaining tourists behind the glass-covered aquarium, these famous
little creatures were also a sight to see.
I spent grueling hours hailing a cab to get back to the hotel. My pseudo
sign language skills finally got me a deal with a nice cab driver who
smilingly drove me back. I was brought around the site where constructions
for the 2008 Olympics are being made. One can just smell the excitement
in the air as the locals anticipate the flocking of tourists from all
parts of the globe.
Going around the busy streets of this city, covered from head to toe with
only my eyes and frozen nose poking out the hood of my heavily stuffed
jacket, I realized that Beijing at first glance is just like any Asian
city catching up with the modern times. But not until I started observing
details that it finally dawned to me. Theres more to Beijing than
just the traffic jams, shopping frenzies, and sub-ways packed with chinky-eyed
people. It is a city so willing to open up to the world and to modernity
but is held humbly to the ground by its densely rich cultural heritage.
© A Balita May 10 2007
Anna Loraine Balita is a 23 year-old freelance writer taking up
her masters in Applied Media Studies from De La Salle University in Manila.
Online Portfolio: http://lorainebalita.blogspot.com/
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