We got a really good feeling about China the minute we entered. At the border we were welcomed by the border guard, and by the fact that people actually smile in China.
Our first impressions of Beijing were much better than expected. While there are a lot of people everywhere and there is quite a bit of pollution, it is not as bad as we expected. However, crossing the street is VERY scary. Despite the fact that there are traffic lights at intersections, you can't be guaranteed that the cars, buses and bikes will actually stop. The tactic we've used so far is to wait at a corner until a few locals show up and then follow them across.
Another thing is that we've left the places where we can attempt to blend in with the locals. Anytime you go anywhere touristy, you get asked if you want to buy guidebooks, Olympic paraphanalia, rickshaws rides, etc. What I think is particularly hilarious is that we've been approached a number of times by people who want to take their picture with us. We've even been handed someone's baby so that they could have their baby's picture taken with some gangly foreigners!
We've also had great luck with finding vegetarian food! We've found so many delicious vegetarian restaurants (there a quite a few Buddhist monks in China) that serve a huge variety of delicious food, some of which are very realistic mock meats made of soy and mushrooms. Nevertheless, we are armed with key phrases (I don't eat meat and I am vegetarian) for when we leave the big cities...
Over the past few days we've seen quite a few of the sights as well, including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City (where the Chinese emperors used to live and was closed off from the public until the 1920s), the Temple of Heaven (a park with Buddhist temples), and Beihai Park (a huge park on a lake with an imperial garden and ponds with kai fish). We've also had the opportunity to climb a bit of the Great Wall, which we'll describe in the next post.