BEIJING — The traffic in Beijing is truly world-class, the cab ride from the airport to our hotel took about the same amount of time as it did to fly from Shanghai to Beijing. We found ourselves well located; just one subway stop away from Tiananmen Square. Our primary reason for stopping in Beijing was to visit with our good friends, Julia and Peiyu, and to meet Sheila, the niece of one of my associates. 
I first met Julia and Peiyu in 2008 when I was here for the China Building Waterproofing Expo. Julia was the translator provided by the China National Waterproof Building Materials Association, which organized the event. Sheila is an ex-pat living in Beijing, working with Beijing high-school students and guiding them through the application process for universities in the United States. Peiyu works for the research arm of State Grid, the Chinese company that controls electric power transmission throughout most of the country. According to Peiyu, his company employs about a million people, making it the third-largest employer in China. Julia is a translator with the state-run television enterprise, CTV. 
It was just a brief stay, and it seemed that we spent most of our time eating. That ran the gamut between the hole-in-the-wall noodle joint we found on our own, to a memorable traditional "hot pot" dinner with Julia and Peiyu, to a trendy Peking Duck restaurant with Sheila. We did manage to work in stops in the Forbidden City and a hike up the Great Wall. 
The first time I visited the Forbidden City was in 2004 with an NRCA-sponsored study tour in China. At that time, many of the roofs were being refurbished as part of the preparations for the 2008 Olympics. The effort paid off as the main buildings of the palace are in great shape, considering their age.
The roofing lesson on our trip to Beijing was all about clay tile and how important roofing is in the history of this country over the millennia. Most of the roofing in the Forbidden City is glazed clay tile in the traditional gold color, indicative of the importance of the buildings. This was, after all, the emperors' palace. 
The gold color is not the only distinctive feature about the roofs of the Forbidden City. The hips of the primary buildings are adorned with figures of the emperor and all manners of animals, from the real to the imagined. The more figures, the more important the structure is. 
While there are many other architectural features that make the buildings in the Forbidden City intriguing, the distinctive gold roofs are the first thing you notice. It’s the roofs that are protecting the rest of the structures from the elements, allowing them to survive for hundreds of years. 
I’m returning home with a new perspective on the world and its inhabitants. China is so incredibly different from the U.S.; and so much the same. For those of us in the roofing and "building waterproofing" business, we are blessed to share one thing that is the same world-wide: the basic human need for shelter.