Jetlagged, disoriented, confused, and culturally overstimulated are the three main adjectives that describe our first day in China.  (For earlier post, click here:  East versus West:  My First Bout with Chinese Culture Shock).

We walked the entire day and night, absorbing everything we could of this brilliant, unique city and I captured all my thoughts of my first day in China on film.

So without further ado, here they are, a hodge-podge of pictures taken throughout our first chaotic, marathon day in China.

First thing after breakfast, we walked the short distance to Beijing’s premier walking street, Wangfujing.  It wasn’t too crowded….yet.  But there was plenty of eye candy!

The sun was desperately trying to come out.  Yet the thick blanket of smog made it difficult.  This was the sunniest day we had in Beijing.  Note:  China is noted for having several of the most polluted cities in the world.  I’m not sure where Beijing fares on the list, yet I wouldn’t want to see the cities that are worse off.   Obviously their incredible rise and development as one of the world’s economic powerhouses has come with a price.  A big one.

Plenty of nick knacks to buy….all of course “Made in China”.

If you are hungry, there is also stall after stall of street food available.  These things below are extremely popular.  Kind of like a Chinese lollipop.  I tried to find out exactly what the red glossy ones are.  I heard they are candied calabash on a stick.  I decided to pass.

Freshly cut sea cucumbers are also quite popular.

Little Chinese fast-food joints with happy hour beer to flush it down. 

We entered our first touristy shop which was loaded with Chinese gifts.  Bin after bin of cheap, Chinese trinkets await the weary tourist.  Sales ladies also eagerly await their prey, ready to pounce on the next unsuspecting tourist and offer you a deal.

We meandered around the shop marveling at all the strange things for sale.  Being easy prey, we wondered over to the Chinese stamps to take a look.

Here we met “Daniel” (the Chinese all pick a Western name) who was the store’s one and only Grand Master Seal Carver.  Before we knew it, we were convinced into buying a stamp for my son Max. 

Max was born in 2004, the year of the Monkey.  Apparently this means he is clever, witty, happy and smart.  Hmmm…this guy seems to be on to something.   Daniel looks up Max’s name and translates it into Chinese characters which is carved gently on the bottom of the stamp.   According to Daniel, carving your name in Chinese is good luck. 

All in all, we were out fifty bucks.  Yep, we were had but oh well.  The memories!

Next it was time for some comparison shopping.  Here is a picture of my dad walking out of a leather store.  I tried to capture the thirty sales associates, all dressed in matching pink outfits, yet it was impossible.  I was in too much of a hurry to get out of there!  Talk about capitalism in the making.

At the end of the shopping street, tucked away behind a corner we found the real treat….our first introduction to Chinese street food.  Here a lion statue flanks the entrance to the market.  Lions are everywhere in China as they are symbols of power and protection.  There is always a male lion on the east and a female on the west side (given the east side of a building is the most important.  It is the direction of the rising sun).

This is the section of town where I first encountered the live scorpions on a stick.  

Lunch time…scorpions, sea horses, beatles and bugs plus any fresh, raw meat grilled to perfection.

For dessert, you can try these sugary treats…

After the walking street, I had a case of “Peking knees” and decided to take a short break…

Lunch was at no other than the “Red Lantern” which was across the street from our hotel and known for its Peking Duck. 

Thankfully the menu was translated into English and included pictures (a big thank you for me!  It talked me out of ordering several things!

After lunch, it was time for more walking.  We headed the short couple of blocks past our hotel to the center of Beijing:  Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City is surrounded by a huge moat that in my opinion was not that clean.  But it didn’t stop the fisherman from trying to catch their lunch.

I loved this view of the backs of the old Beijing homes reflecting on the murky water.

Again, I was distressed that it was so smoggy as it was annoying on my lungs and also for my camera.  It was hard to capture the true beauty of the massive complex of ancient buildings which make up the Forbidden City.

Yet another lion, the symbol of ancient dynastic China.

I could not stop marveling and snapping pictures of the exquisite Chinese architecture.  It was so intricately detailed and beautiful.

I was mesmerized by the glory of the Forbidden City and could hardly wait until we had time to check it out in full.   That would be saved for another day.

We got lost many times throughout the day.  Beijing is not that hard of a city to navigate yet we were tired and in a new, foreign land with oddly named streets and monuments to our western eyes.

We continued wandering until we unexpectedly came upon the entrance of Jingshan park, one of the premier parks in Beijing that offers a panoramic view of the Forbidden City from above.

We followed the hordes of people up the steep steps and arrived on top of the hill to be stunned to see the entire 800+ buildings of the Forbidden City laying before us.  Unfortunately as we climbed up, the thick layer of smog intensified giving the Forbidden City a forbidden, ghostly and surreal look.  I can only imagine what it would have looked like on a clear day (is that possible?).

Oh…the pollution (which the Chinese liked to call fog).  What a pity! I was so sad that none of my pictures turned out.  Yet this is the reality. 

For ten bucks, you could dress up as a Chinese empress or emperor…yet it felt a little too cheesy for me. 

The Buddhist temple on top was a delight to my weary eyes. 

The happy Buddha…

By five o’clock, we were back at the hotel for a quick happy hour and then off for our next adventure:  Dinner. 

We grabbed a cab and ended up on a wild goose chase all throughout the lights of Beijing.

We finally reached our destination, Ghost Street, an hour later. The brightly lit red lanterns were everywhere, just as the guide book had promised.  Yet the throng of people and endless amount of Chinese restaurants seemed to overwhelm us and make me want to hide.

Finally, we found a restaurant to rest our tired feet and were treated to live Chinese music.  What a way to ring in our first day in China!

Stay tuned….next post will be about my favorite subject:  Food!


  1. I hate to say it, but you were grossly over-charged for the stamp. We bought the same things, carved on the spot on the street in Hanoi for less than $1. We have a number of them, carved to order.

    Great photos!


  2. Too bad when you took the picture of Forbidden City from the park tye pollution was unbelievably high. However I think the foggy-look makes the whole complex seems to be located on a mountain. By the way, did you eat the scorpion?

  3. I know! I was so incredibly disappointed for the “smog”! What is it like in your country? Are the skies clear? I would think so. I guess we take for granted the nice fresh air. I have lived in Chicago and Paris, much bigger cities than Minneapolis, which still felt ok. yet China felt so different. As for the scorpions….no WAY! I think I’m getting fickle in my relatively old age (ha ha). I must say I get grossed out by odd food. I can embrace a new place easily but the food is another thing.

    1. The air in Jakarta is much worse than in Paris (largely because of Jakarta’s notorious traffic jam), but it hasn’t (hopefully won’t) got as worse as in Beijing.

  4. Wow, looking at the pollution in your photos makes me short of breath!
    This was such a fun pictorial. Do you know if the random critters on sticks are actually a big thing among the locals, or is it partially set up for the sake of tourists? That is all kinds of crazy.

  5. Why anyone would want a plate of food “in the shape of a squirrel” is beyond my comprehension! Great photos, and I share your disappointment regarding the smog – I can only imagine how beautiful the Forbidden City would be without it.

  6. Thanks for the tour of Beijing through your eyes on your first day in China! It’s a long time since I was in China so your photos bring back memories of what it was like there.
    A great series of photos and yes shame about the smog but it makes the photos atmospheric!
    Looking forward to the next post!

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