Our bus tour took us first to Tiananmen Square, a huge open square surrounded by political buildings, with a large portrait of Mao Tse-tung at one end.
A young woman with a tiny yellow flag said, “Follow me,” and disappeared with our group into the teeming crowd of people. They were going to walk a mile to the next attraction – FORBIDDEN CITY. We told Pian, our English-speaking bus driver, that we would have to stay with the bus. There was no way we could keep up with the group.
An official stepped on the bus, and announced to us, “You must stay with your group!” Pian spoke to him in Chinese, and he left. Plan got off the bus, and spoke to a man in uniform, who gave him a piece of paper. Back on the bus, Pian asked, “Have you suffered to come here?” Thinking of the long tiring flights from Hawaii and Japan, we replied, “Yes.” His response was, “You have suffered to come this far, you must suffer some more to see what you came to see.”
He then drove Betty and me on narrow streets marked NO BUSES to the entrance of FORBIDDEN CITY. He pulled in near to the huge gate and parked under a sign, “No Parking.” (We were praying we and Pian would not be arrested.) Plan reassured us that the paper he got from the officer would protect us.
While Betty and I waited in the air conditioned bus for our group, we got acquainted with Pian, and learned some Chinese history and culture. Pian was a “retrenched” English teacher, who could make more money driving bus than teaching, because during the Red Guard Cultural Revolution in 1966-1976, teachers were not favored. His daughter was in college studying a subject she chose because she was more certain of passing the test to get into college. It was not the subject she preferred.
Plan said while he understood each individual word, he was puzzled by a billboard he had read, “LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT”. “Could you explain it to me?” Not only could we explain it — we were living it!
Our group finally arrived an hour later, sweating and sunburned. The young woman with the yellow flag said, “Oh good, you are with the bus. Just stay on until we meet you at the end. FORBIDDEN CITY is a mile long.” Plan winked at us, and we followed the group through the gate.
Up next – an incredible adventure touring Forbidden City!