When we rolled in last night, the pollution meter was registering 250, unhealthy for all living organisms. The air felt gritty, my throat scratchy and my eyes itchy. Oh-oh, I thought, this might not be good. This morning, the sky was still overcast and dreary but the forecast was okay. Headed over to the local Starbuck’s and when we came out, it had started to rain. Just at the point I thought, “Where is an umbrella lady?” one appeared and Geoff bought two, without bargaining. 40 kuai for 2 6 kuai umbrellas. A local then bought one from her for 15 kuai (about $3). Geoff called her on the rip-off and demanded she give him 10 kuai. Good luck. You might as well ask for a bank roll. No chance that was going to happen, but she did offer him a lovely plastic rain cape. While she was helping someone else, he picked up another umbrella from her box and held it in his hand while demanding a refund. She refused so we walked off with 3 crappy umbrellas. She had the last laugh, however, because when the skies opened up, Geoff’s umbrella leaked.
It rained heavily all morning. We carried on to the Forbidden City, a 10 minute walk from our hotel, and joined the throngs trying to avoid the worst of the puddles. We finally just waded through–we moved faster that way–and took on the new challenge of avoiding umbrella spokes in the eyes. The good news was that fewer people were out, but This Is China and fewer still means lots! Our photos will give you the flavour of the day. For starters, a couple we met while in Guilin said that you really didn’t have to go in, just climb the pagoda at the north end of the property and you could see the whole thing. The photo below gives you an idea of how much we would have seen from there today.
What to say about The Forbidden City? Built between 1406 and 1420 by one of the Ming emperors, it is a sprawling place of various sized halls and meeting rooms (Ed. note – 980 buildings and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft).). Presumably there were also living quarters but we saw only part of one of these. It stands in quite a vast area–800 meters square, I believe–divided by a series of massive gates that acted as defenses for the Emperor and his family (and concubines). The Qing Dynasty followed the Ming and they too lived in the city. If you remember the movie, The Last Empire of the Sun, the Qing child-emperor was so frightened during his swearing-in ceremony that his father told him, portentously, not to worry, “it would be over soon.” Sure enough, in 1911, the last of the Qing Emperors was conquered during a military uprising. Sadly, the conquerors completely pillaged the palace and very few of the priceless artifacts remain. Consequently, the place is largely empty, which gives one the sense that it is nothing more than a series of gates, empty rooms and halls., but it surely was much much more.
(Ed. note: Our friends Dave and Joan Mickie lived in Europe for awhile and talked about the ABC tours – “Another Bloody Church”. This is the ABCEH tour “Another Bloody Chinese Empty Hall”)
We chose to visit an exhibit of clocks while we were there and before you laugh at the Chinese for their overly decorated froo-froo tastes, bear in mind that a number of the clocks in our pictures were actually made in England and France. Admittedly, the Chinese did take clock-making to a new level of hideousness by making it into “entertainment” with moving characters, waterfalls and numerous animals and oddities running amok on the clock bases. Apparently there wasn’t a lot to do in the Forbidden City.
Wisely, visitors are directed to enter the City at the south gate and exit by the North, so the last thing one sees is the beautiful but small garden. As Geoff pointed out, there is a veritable dearth of greenery in the whole vast complex. Outside of the garden, there was nothing growing, not even in pots. I like to think that there were plants when Emperors lived there, but some pragmatist decided that cement blocks were easier to keep up.
(Ed. note: Just how big is this place? To give you an idea, on the right is the map of the Forbidden City. The yellow square is the courtyard in the photo. From where I took the picture on the left to the opposite corner is 400-500 yards. Maybe this gives you a small idea.)
Once we exited, our plan was to skirt our way back around the City and visit Tiananmen Square but then after 25 minutes of walking, we decided to catch a cab and go to Houtai, a bar and restaurant area built around the shores of 3 small lakes. Because it was still very wet and raining off and on, the place was nearly deserted. We found a spot to have lunch, which we thoroughly enjoyed along with 2 cold pi jiou (beer). These were the most expensive we have had in China–38 kuai each!!! Just over $6–outrageous! They cost as much as our entire lunch of chicken skewers, fried egg rice, green grassy stuff and a Beijing specialty, ground beef in a bun. Yummy! Geoff didn’t like it because the buns were seemingly whole wheat. Sigh. Some things will never change. (Ed. note: NO FAIR!! I loved the greens (honestly) which Terry called grass!!)
(Ed.note: After lunch we wandered for a while and then took a forty minute “rickshaw” ride – the guy pulled us on a bike, not by running. Bit of a rip-off I thought. Anyway, after the ride we, walked for awhile and saw some of the sights.
Terry really wanted her picture take with this guy.
Next came a bar which has not only ripped off a bad tv show, but couldn’t even spell it correctly. Look closely.
Mal, you would be in agreement and in heaven, I assume.
Just before we reached Tiananmen Square we came up some stairs from the underground passageway. This poor girl could hardly get up the last two stairs. As Terry said, when she started out this morning, she was sure wearing these was a good idea. Maybe not so much. Her boyfriend was in running shoes.)
Finally, Tiananmen Square. Many of you may remember, as I did, the fellow who stood in front of the tanks bearing down on a student demonstration in the square. You will remember incorrectly, as I did, the event did not happen in the square but on Chang An Avenue somewhere along the way to the square where the protest was happening. The square itself is not very imposing–it’s just a square, a giant 800 square meter square with a monument to “The People” in its centre. They have done some nice things with plants which I was interested in so Geoff chose the moment to ham it up with some Chinese girls having their pictures taken.(Ed. note: Again NO FAIR – they both wanted their picture taken with who they thought was George Clooney!)
Tomorrow, we go to The Great Wall and The Summer Palace.