Starting at the center: Tiananmen Square

An old Chinese shop (left); Wuyutai tea house (right); Tram at the Gate of Tiananmen Square (below).

讀萬卷書不如行萬里路 is a Chinese proverb that means traveling 10,000 miles is better than reading 10,000 scrolls. I’ve perhaps read thousands of pages about China, so I was extremely delighted when I finally got to do the journey of 10,000 miles last summer.
I started at Beijing, China’s capital. At the heart of the city is Tiananmen Square
(天安門廣場), the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The square is poised at the center of Beijing’s impressive road network and subway system which are patterned after a set of concentric circles (環).

As I got closer to Tiananmen, my pace quickened, and I became quite excited and emotional. From afar, I could see the framed picture of China’s most powerful man in history. Before my Beijing trip, Mao Zedong was just a character I read and saw in books, his many exploits and feats in China learned through my college professors.

At last, I was only meters away from this revered historical figure. It wasn’t fanaticism, but a surreal sense of being on the same ground that had witnessed history as it unfolded, with a sense of deep regard for a nation that has transformed so much because of a visionary who not only changed his nation, but perhaps even the world. I took several photos and videos of myself while at Tiananmen.

Around Tiananmen Square is the Front Gate (前門), with many lanes and alleys filled with bargain finds. I had a leisurely walk, punctuated with selfie poses around this picturesque market. I was so engrossed that I didn’t realize I had been strolling around the square for hours, entertained by the sight and delicious smells of roasting Peking ducks, tables filled with yogurt in ceramic bottles, traditional Chinese costumes on discounted prices, bronze installations of Chinese craftsmanship, tea shops, bookstores, and rows of buildings that looked like they came straight out of the Chinese movies.

By the time I reached the back alleys where local residents spend their leisure time, I had a couple of vacuum-packed Peking ducks, sipped some really sour yogurt and returned the bottle to get my RMB1 deposit back, bought two pairs of children’s red bib and shorts with an 福 fu (blessing) print, ate some pork dumplings, and enjoyed the best green tea ice cream from the century-old Wuyutai (吳裕泰) tea house.

I went to Tiananmen Square on the afternoon I arrived in Beijing. I went back the morning before I left the city. I wanted it to be my first glance of Beijing and my last impression of a city that I had always wanted to go to and finally did.

Of course, Beijing is more than just Tiananmen Square, but it’s where we start when we view a city, and just like in all things, we start at the center. So far, this is my favorite place in China but as I move outwards and discover more about the wonders of China, I know more will be added to the list.