Beijing came on the heels of a one month music tour through Hong Kong and the Mainland. It was 2004. A generous grant from the Freeman Foundation sent 30 music students on the adventure of a lifetime. We shared our craft with a prep school in Wuhan and lit up the map from Shanghai to Xi’an, from the Great Wall to the Li River.
And here we landed, in the ancient city of Beijing. And like I would eventually discover, ancient cities which still operate offer a mix of historical majesty and bright hope. Only three years earlier, the People’s Republic learned of their successful bid for the 2008 olympics. Work had just begun. We explored the forbidden city and endured the eternal line, which spun through Tiananmen Square and through the embalmed tomb of General Mao. Across the street from this great landmark, I found two strings of gorgeous pearls and brought them home for my loved ones. You gotta love great finds. Our journey ended in the Temple of Heaven, where the Emperor for centuries invoked the gods on behalf of the dynasty. Magnificent. A must see!
On my final day, I gathered the courage to wander alone (a skill every great wander must learn). I hailed a taxi outside the hotel lobby and told him to take me to the government. I wanted a tour of the great communist capitol hill. I arrived, paid the driver with Yuan, and emerged to see a giant gated building with armed guards at every block. Setting my stereotypes aside, I approached a guard and inquired about tours. He responded in Chinese. He hailed a fellow guard who, I learned, spoke amazing English. I was disappointed that the leaders were in session and the tours cancelled. Yet, this young 18 year old Chinese boy in dress and this 22 year old American boy engaged in one unforgettable conversation. We spoke of our dreams and hopes. I asked what he thought about his government. He asked about mine. We shared a common love for justice and a vision of world living at peace. It was a moment of hope and possibility, and for a suspended slice of time, two young citizens of the Two World Powers stood and talked like brothers.
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