Hutong (an alleyway with traditional homes) in Beijing
One point three billion sounds like a big number. Heck, when you write out the numbers --- 1,300,000,000 ---- there's a lot of zeroes. Well, we are here to tell you that 1.3 billion is an awful lot of people.
People playing cards and hanging out near Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven
It's not that we saw all 1.3 billion people in China when we were in Beijing but, sometimes, it sure felt like it. Everywhere we went, whether in the middle of the night or the early morning, there were people.
Men fishing near Forbidden City
At lunch time, the men take their shirts off and play cards and fish and, most importantly, smoke. Here, 70% of the male population smoke and the airports give away cigarette lighters when you exit the plane, which makes Dr. Sarah England's attempt to educate the Chinese public about tobacco use all the more impressive. [In general, pack Claritin for a trip to Beijing; the combination of pollution and cigarette smoke wreaked havoc on my lungs.]
Temple of Heaven
On the first morning that the smog cleared, we headed to the parks at the Temple of Heaven. Old women crowded on the bannisters of the outer edges of the temple and played cards. Younger men and women kicked shuttlecocks to each other or played musical instruments in the outer lawns.
Umbrellas at the Temple of Heaven
Masses of Chinese tourists followed the flag-toting tour leaders as the leaders shouted through megaphones or microphones. On sunny days, the Chinese pull out their umbrellas but, on the rainy days, they don't worry about sloshing unprotected through drizzles or downpours. We're still trying to figure that one out.
Temple of Heaven and clock museum at Forbidden Cit y
Despite the sheer masses of humanity, we do not speak to anyone. We walk around the city, surrounded by people, but unable to communicate. Very few people know English; Mandarin, a tonal language, is nearly indecipherable to us and the Chinese do not understand anything we attempt to say in their language because we cannot hear the tones.
We are two in 1.3 billion.