No, we're definitely not in Chicago anymore. I say that for two reasons:
1) People in Chicago spent Saturday trying to dig out from a huge winter storm that had closed schools and snarled traffic the day before. We enjoyed another clear -- though bitterly cold -- day of sightseeing.
2) That's not Mayor Daley in the painting.
This portrait of Chairman Mao is above the entrance to the Forbidden City. Our guide said the huge painting is completely redone each year so that it doesn't suffer from being exposed to the elements day after day. The original artist has died, so his son has inherited that job.
The Forbidden City is across the street from Tianamen Square, where we began our adventures Saturday. It's an incredibly large public square filled with people admiring the monuments or aggressively trying to sell tourists a stocking cap or a Chairman Mao wristwatch. Chinese people visiting Beijing from all over this enormous country will spend hours in long lines to get into a building where they will slowly file past the body of Chairman Mao, still on display in a crystal coffin.
We crossed the street instead to tour the Forbidden City, once off limits to commoners like ourselves. The place is huge: We went through several gates and admired several elaborate buildings before our guide had us wait for him to get our tickets to actually go inside! Many of the buildings were under scaffolding being renovated in time for the 2008 Olympic games. We didn't have the time nor the weather to do the place justice, but we gave it our best. Then we thawed out in a lovely restaurant where beautiful young women served us a traditional Chinese lunch.
After lunch we went to the silk factory, where we learned all about how the cocoons of silk worms are turned into beautiful silk cloth. We followed that up with a rickshaw tour of a "hutong" or traditional old Chinese neighborhood of homes on small alleyways. We even were privileged to go inside the home of a typical Chinese family and learn about how they live. We finished up our sightseeing by going to the top of an ancient bell and drum tower to view this amazing city.
We went to a pearl market and then finished the day with a wonderful meal of Beijing Duck.
The heavy tourist part of our adventure has ended; tomorrow morning we head off for the provinces where our daughters await us.
Anne and Alex will travel to Fujian province to receive their twin daughters, Ava and Ana. Our guide Peter will accompany them and help them through the adoption process (here he appears to be telling them that the twins are thataway).
The other 10 families will go to Hunan province (birthplace of Chairman Mao) to meet our "Ba" babies. For now, our daughters share the same surname because they were all under the care of the same orphanage, the Yueyang County Social Welfare Institute. They will end the week with new names and families, but hopefully they will continue to enjoy a sisterhood through the friendships of their parents, who have climbed walls and steep staircaseses together, eaten and laughed together and shivered in solidarity as we educated ourselves about this beautiful country that is giving each of us a precious gift.
Tomorrow we fly to Changsha and get settled in our room. Then, on Monday, we meet Ba Shu Ting. We'll send news and photos as soon as we can.