Today’s Itinerary: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Silk Factory.
Despite redefining the term “Balls to the Walls” yesterday, today looks like even more walking and discovery.
There is a main street in Beijing known as Peaceful Avenue. On one side is Tiananmen Square. On the other side is the Forbidden City. It is where Chairman Mao is laid to rest for anyone who wants to visit and remember the good days. There is also the Gate of Heavenly Peace and a National Monument for Heroes. It is said that the square can accommodate 1 million people. Amongst all the tourists and locals walking around, there are also undercover police helping to maintain the peace and making sure no one gets run over by tanks. Chase forgot his cap today and of course it was sunny and I just couldn’t take seeing his bare head uncovered, so we broke down and bought him a cap. Haggle everything. Don’t ever pay the asking price.
By walking toward Peaceful Avenue and through an underground tunnel you are able to access the Forbidden City. This is the last residence of the last Emperor. Everyone knows the number 8 is considered lucky in China and Asia in general. But did you know 9 is considered the Emperor’s number? Lilly also informed us that yellow is the imperial color. I asked her about the movie “The Last Emperor” and she said it was pretty factual, and that movie is the only movie production ever allowed to film inside the City. Looks like someone is going to Blockbuster. The Forbidden City (FC) is vast and can take all day. It’s funny how you know something is called “Forbidden City” but you don’t actually think it’s going to be “city-size”. They even had different departments for the Emperor’s enrichment as well as for all his concubines. The emperor was known to hoard the prettiest ladies. It is thought there were probably 3000 concubines in the city just for him. Of course they had to be educated too because the Emperor wasn’t all about looks. There was something affectionately referred to as CU: Concubine University. I came across a department that seemed appropriate for Chase:
We finished our tour of the FC at the Imperial Garden. At some point, you start feeling like, once you’ve seen 1 pagoda, you’ve seen them all. Then you hit the Imperial Garden and it is truly amazing. Evidently the Emperor had a thing for coral and ordered his minions to collect as much coral as possible and created an entire garden from it:
As we walked out of the FC, Lilly informed us that we would have to walk a few blocks because taxis were forbidden to stop near tourist attractions. This is the government’s way of avoiding traffic jams in these popular tourist spots. When Lilly was able to get a taxi to slow down, he would take one look at us with our foreign clothes and fanny packs and drive off. Evidently, foreigners have a reputation for being too slow getting in and out of taxis. Because the government has cameras all over the place, if they get photographed stopping within a certain radius, they get mailed a hefty fine.
Next stop, Temple of Heaven. Built in 1420, it is the largest temple built without nails or cement. Incredible. This park/temple area was only visited by the Emperor twice a year. He would fast in the palace for 3 days and ask heaven for good harvest. Even though he was always carried around in a jiao by his servants, only at the Temple of Heaven was he expected to walk. The park itself is a favorite place for locals to come and sit, picnic, dance, hang with friends. It’s such a peaceful place.
At this point, we have processed our large breakfast and are ready to eat lunch at the “local” restaurant Lilly has picked for us. This place was supposed to be good for noodles and other dishes. It was typical of local restaurants in that it was loud and bustling. You find a place to sit and order when you are ready. You pay after you order, before the food comes. No cool, wet cloth to wipe your hands either. You normally eat dishes as they come out. They don’t wait for all the dishes to start eating. I have learned, Beijing people like to talk and their food hot. I also learned, sometimes, Beijing people find clothing optional.
Last stop: the Silk Factory. No trip to China would be complete without visiting a silk factory. The lady in the picture was the resident silk expert. She showed us silk production from worm to fabric. I suffer from an intense fear of worms so the experience made me queasy and I found myself averting my eyes a lot. Once we got through the science part, we started the shopping part. Suddenly, I’m feeling better. Cliff picked up a silk duvet for our bed. Convinced that it is better than down filling. I went into the fabric room and found 2 fabrics I fell in love with to re-line some jackets I have at home. All in all, great finds. The silk expert gave Chase his souvenirs:
Another exhausting day over. Day 3 is enjoying the city and walking around on our own.
Until next time…