I haven't seen that much of it, but I am amazed by what I find, and at times, amused by my amazement.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Second Post from China - The Forbidden City

Originally sent as an email almost seven years ago (How is it possible that so much time has passed?) The pictures have been reworked with Corel Paint Shop Pro.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Today was my second day off since I have been here and the first day off that I have had a camera. Rather than buy another one here (electronic items that are not made in China are more expensive here than in other countries due to import taxes) I borrowed a Sony Cybershot from one of the other electricians working here.  Even though my Sony was lost, I still had a new 128k memory stick and it fit in this camera.

Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square

My goal for the day was the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. These two Beijing landmarks are across the street from each other and are only five subway stops away from my apartment. I waited until the sun cleared the smog and the day was as bright as it was going to get. A few minutes after getting on the subway I was getting off at the Tiananmen East station, one of the largest stations on the line. Climbing the broad staircase to street level brought me right out in front of the entrance to the Forbidden City. Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) is famous for the 30 foot tall portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs over it.

Standing in the middle of the middle of the center...

Once inside, I soon picked up a guide who offered to give a personal guided tour for 200 Yuan ($16). He usually guided tour groups, but January was a slow season for tourist and I offered him 150 Yuan. We settled on 180. We spent over two hours going through the different palaces and halls and he provided many insights that I would never have seen if I had been on my own.

I had heard pictures couldn't be taken inside the Forbidden City; however that only applied to certain rooms displaying museum pieces, such as the hall of pottery and the hall of paintings. Once inside, I realized just how large the City is. The first large area is only the outermost courtyard. Through the next gate and across another long square gets one to the Meridian Gate. Through this gate and one enters the actual inner grounds. Three large buildings are passed in succession, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. These were all the administration and political offices of the Emperor. Behind these buildings, were three more, the living quarters of the Emperor; the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union (where wedding ceremonies were held) and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (the bedroom where the Emperor, Empresses and concubines slept.) The only men allowed here were the eunuchs. Behind all of this are the Imperial Gardens and finally the soldiers' quarters and the Gate of the Divine Warrior, the back gate. In all, the Forbidden City is said to have 999 ½ rooms, the 1000th room being in heaven.  The guide took a picture of me standing in the exact middle of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was considered to be the middle of China, and China was called the Middle Kingdom, or the center of the Earth. Therefore, I was standing in the middle of the middle of the center of the Earth. An impressive spot!

In the Imperial Gardens

After leaving my guide at the back gate and wandering on my own back to the front, I headed across the street via a pedestrian tunnel to Tiananmen Square.  I stopped in the middle of the square to take a 360 degree panorama. Here I was approached by a student who wanted to practice English. This is very common here. I have been approached a few times, usually on the way to or home from work. This young man was a law student who was getting ready to take his certification test. His professor was with him and said that John (sure are a lot of Johns in the world!) was an honor student, had won a scholarship to attend law school and had won a trip to America the year before (three days in Chicago). I said I desired to see some of the older parts of Beijing. We left the Square and headed a few blocks away, down narrow streets to Dazhalan Xijie, a shopping district where most of the buildings were four and five hundred years old. We went into a shop that was proud to be the place where Mao always came to get his shoes made.

Street scenes near Dazhalan Xijie

In the back of the same shop we sat for a tea ceremonyand tasted several teas. I ended up buying a very good Oolong that is grown in a small area in southern China, is harvested entirely by hand and is known for its taste and color.

Tea tasting with Deng Yong (John)

Down another street and we went into a pharmacy that displayed among other things, many kinds of ginseng root. There was ginseng from all over the world.  There were several from the US that cost about a dollar a gram. There were also three ginseng roots from a forest in northern China that were extremely rare and took 100 years to grow. They were priced at 18,600 Yuan or $2250.00! I didn't buy one of those.

Temple of Heaven

Leaving the professor, who had other things to do, John and I walked to Tiantan Park, about twenty minutes away, and the location of the Temple of Heaven. The Emperor made a once a year trip to the Temple of Heaven to pray for good rains and a successful harvest. John kept me well supplied with facts about what we were seeing and he got plenty of chance to practice his English. On the way back we detoured through several more alleys and hutong. We finally stopped at a small restaurant in an alley where he had eaten as a child, and had Peking duck and Chinese beer. The restaurant, he said, was famous for its pork (Chairman Mao's favorite dish) and everyone who ate there was served a bowl with their meal. The pork had an almost barbequed taste and was very delicious.

It was dark by the time we were done at the restaurant and after exchanging phone numbers and E-mail addresses he got on a bus and I got back on the subway.  We had made tentative plans to go to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs next Friday. In all I took 76 pictures and though the day was overcast and the smog was laying in, I'm sure there are probably one or two good shots. I'll get some posted soon.


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