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PBDA China Partnership 2019: The Many Sides of Being a Tourist

Posted on: March 14, 2019

Thursday, March 14, 7:40 p.m., Beijing

Whether measuring length of day by the traditional standard of hours awake or the less conventional one of breadth of experiences, today was our group’s longest by some distance. Awake with a 4:15 alarm call and on the bus within the hour, we headed from Yangshuo to catch a plane for Beijing.

 

Tienanmen Square

One might expect a typical tourist schedule to include a stop by the receiving hotel for freshening and a bag drop, but traffic and locations being what they are, we had to eat and get right to work following a walking tour of Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City almost immediately upon landing. One should note parenthetically that, over the last few months, our students have covered topics related to some of the places we were planning to visit, including this historically rich, controversial part of Beijing, so it was rather insightful hearing them describe their impressions of the place in that context.  

PBDA Tienanmen Square 2019DSC_5504-2

Comments like “I almost missed it” or “she [the guide] didn’t even say anything about the square” allowed us to follow up our previous conversation with some probing questions about censorship and autocracy. Inevitably, these questions turned the topic to China’s banning various social media platforms, and next thing you know, we’re re-imagining the student protests in the modern day a la, “Arab Spring.”

 

Chairman Mao

In contrast to the omissions, the enormous, annually updated portrait of Chairman Mao hanging on the wall of the Forbidden City drew all sorts of attention, both visually and in the tour presentation. Students had seen the picture before, but seeing it placed on the wall of the Forbidden City opened a few eyes about the purpose of the picture.

PBDA Tienanmen Square 2019DSC_5504-2

 

When the Tourists Become the Attraction

Speaking of attention, the other major post-tour-dinner topic of conversation was the amount of attention our group got from other, mostly Chinese, tourists. Even though the students knew, going in, that they would be centers of attention, it was a completely different matter to be lining up for a group photograph, only to attract a group of six or seven other photographers who didn’t know us. Such reflecting gave them opportunity to think about everything from reasons why that focus is a bigger issue here than it might be in the United States, which, in turn, got our dinner table discussing issues like ethnic diversity and travel itself.  

PBDA Tienanmen Square 2019DSC_5504-2

On a related note, all future history classes at PBDA will be occurring over a platter of Peking Duck.