China - Bejing.

After not having enough time to let my surprise settle, we headed on our first international trip together. We found it amusing that we were newly engaged and this trip would be the longest we had been together consecutively.

Our first stop on our engagement-moon to Thailand was a 14-hr layover in China. A 14-hr COLD layover. We decided to take advantage and cab into the city to see the big sites - The Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square. Going through customs, we met another couple on the same route to Bangkok, who had with the same intentions. We shared a cab for the 45 minutes into the city and shivered our way to Tian'anmen. We first noticed a large group gathering in a line across the square and walked toward the masses. While joking about inadvertently joining some type of protest, we waited to see what the others were waiting for.

My buddy Anton warned us, it'll be cold, but my measly 2 layers wasn't nearly enough. Needless to say, diva mode came quicker than expected. Our appreciation for the infamous square was dampened with every gust of wind so we hoofed it over to a McDonalds for coffee to warm our cockles. Though the warmth of the McDs was welcome, we were in flippin' China; we needed to see as much as possible.

My earring is in my scarf! Stop the photo!

The Forbidden City is this gargantuan palace from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty. Way back to 1368, which is hard to process that something so old is still standing. I also had no idea how huge this place was. All I knew was that Aladdin and Jasmine saw some fireworks perched on top of one of the 980 buildings. Process that - 980 buildings on 179 acres! It was difficult to digest that one ruler needed that much space to reside.

In order to really immerse ourselves into the culture, we took a rickshaw tour from a local. The tour went around the palace's vast walls into the small slum-like neighborhoods. We discovered the old concubine residences from those eras had been turned into, "1-meter by 1-meter family homes". As our kind guide explained, "There are a lot of people that live inside these walls. It can anywhere from a family of three to a family of eight." Eight people living in that small of a space? Questions of, "How is this possible?" starting intertwining with rush of feeling very blessed.

We then stopped at a 12-foot wall that was the edge of a former princesses home. He asked us to step out and look at the bricks; a distinct mark was on each one and he explained that those markings indicated whose family made the bricks. If the bricks cracked, the whole family was killed. My heart sunk. We were staring at a cracked brick. Was that someone's fate looking us in the face? The reality of it all made me uneasy. Cameras were everywhere, and I could feel I was being watched. The population of Beijing is 22 million according to our guide, and I'd believe it. Initially there wasn't a feeling of too many people on the main drags but being in the smaller communities living in 1-meter by 1-meter spaces, the concept wasn't hard to believe.

After looking at the day's snapshots, it was eerily strange that none of my photos from Tienanmen Square had any clarity. We had studied about the importance of the square in a Public Relations course, concerning the tolerance of such photographs by the Chinese government. It felt like hallowed ground. Or maybe the cold giving me jitters intensified my feelings. Either way, I was fortunate to have been and experience a culture that was out of my element.