Day 5 Beijing

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen SquareWhen we were all ready our first stop of the morning was in Tiananmen Square (Tiān’ānmén GuÇŽngchÇŽng 天安门广场) which literally translates into the ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’. Tiananmen Square is very close to the center of Beijing and separates the city from the Forbidden City that lies beyond.  Many tourists were here crowding the square.  Many of the people were winding through predetermined, roped pathways listening to items of interest in Chinese as they made there way to Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.  The center of the square contains a massive 125 ft high monument, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. On the west side of the Square is the Great Hall of the People which acts as the legislative and parliament building of China with the east side of the Square framed by the National Museum of China. Many policemen and soldiers can be seen patrolling or standing guard by monuments, statues, and entrance-ways to these facilities.  The large portrait of Chairman Mao that hangs above the gate is frequently changed with a new picture so that it always appears in good condition.  It is changed at least once a month and is always replaced on national holidays.  Since Chang’an Avenue, between the gate and the square, is used for parades and other activities, on either side of the gate you can see large grand stands for important observers.

We only spent a little time in the square mostly trying to take some pictures and make our way to the gate and the entrance to the Forbidden City.  We were swarmed by countless street vendors as usual.  Craig managed to get a good deal and bought 7 watches for a cheap price and Sylvia quickly sported a lovely watch with Chairman Mao on its face.  We also stopped to have a group photo taken with the gate in the background.  Our whole group posed together and when the pictures were done they were later mounted in a book and made a nice souvenir of our trip.

Forbidden City

Forbidden CityThen we entered through the gate into the Forbidden City (Gùgōng 故宫).  It was awe inspiring!  Unless you actually set foot inside the Forbidden City it is very difficult to truly appreciate the enormity of it all.  This is where the emperor’s seat of power and all his court resided. The courtyards and halls are massive and seem to stretch forever.  The architecture is beautiful, impressive, and imposing in many regards.  The gardens are beautiful and lush and would be very tranquil if not for the swarming throngs of tourists.  Much of the Forbidden City has been restored.  A few rooms are still on display but have not been restored yet.  The original wood and what is left of the severely faded paint leaves it feeling dilapidated and ill cared for.  I liked those areas best because you could really feel the history and get a sense of how old this structure actually was.  Historically the palace contained 9,999 rooms.  This is a number of significance because it was one number less than 10,000 which was a common number used to express the idea of eternity.  In the modern era, however, the Forbidden City is a public museum hosing thousands of artifacts.  You could easily spend a couple of weeks in the Forbidden City alone if you wanted to see every part of it.  We saw only a small part by comparison and it still took us several hours to make it through to the end.

After the 2008 Olympics, tourism has been expanding and there were thousands of people here.  We tried to stay in the less crowded sections and wander through various parts of the museums as well as the courtyards.

On the way out we began walking to our bus and as usual were assaulted by vendors.  Most vendors move on when I tell them in Chinese “bù yào xiè xie,” which means “I don’t want that, thank you.”  But one persistent vendor thought I was just playing hardball with him.  He offered me one large tour book of the Forbidden City for 100 Yuan.  I said I was not interested and walked on.  He then offered two large books instead.  I declined again.  Since I only knew the one polite way of saying no thanks, I could not tell him that I really had no interest at all in what he was selling no matter how good of a deal so he kept offering me more and more.  Eventually after 5 blocks of walking with me he got to offering me four large tour books and two small ones for 100 Yuan.  I told him no again.  He finally cursed me telling me that he hoped I would die and stormed off.

Happy Family Restaurant

For lunch we went to a local restaurant instead of one of the more popular tourist places.  The Happy Family Restaurant (Fú Jiā Lóu 福家樓) is known as a shouting restaurant.  When ever you need anything you just shout out to any waiter or waitress passing by and someone will bring you what you asked for.  We were the only foreigners in the restaurant so the other patrons found us very interesting.  Most of our group was caught up in the experience and happy shouted out for things in their horribly broken Chinese, but we all had a lot of fun.  The food here was the best yet have a great local flavor.  When we left we decided to take a group photo out front.  Some of the workers and the owner of the restaurant came out and posed for some pictures with us.

Panda Garden

Sleeping PandaAfter lunch we went to the Panda Garden.  Here we saw a few species of local birds, some monkeys, the red panda, and some of the more well known pandas.  The place itself was not very large and did not take us long to make our way through.  Most of the larger pandas were napping in the afternoon but we did watch some of the younger ones eat, nap, and roughhouse with one another.  After a brief stop through the information center and gift shop we were ready to be on our way again.

Tea House

Next we went to a tea house where we learned about different types of teas and what they could help you with in your body’s physical health.  We went through a small tea ceremony where they took the time to properly prepare each of the types of teas so that we could taste them.  The quality of the tea was very good.  The also demonstrated some of their picture changing teacups and other novelties.  One such novelty was for testing water temperature.  Tea water should generally be above 95°.  To test the water the lady produced a small clay figure of a naked little boy.  As she was talking she poured the hot water over the figure who began to ‘pee’.  This is how you knew that the water was hot enough.  The figure soaks in water absorbing it and then releases it when the warm water causes the clay to expand letting air back in.  We were all quite surprised as the stream of water shot down the whole length of the table from this little figure and we all began laughing.  Afterward we were directed through the store to purchase tea, magic cups, and other items.  I purchased some Oolong Ginseng tea because it was quite good and I have never found it locally.  It was a little more expensive than I would have liked but not too unreasonable.  They would not negotiate here being a tourist attraction.  On the way out we made out way through more street vendors that descended upon us, back to our bus and off to dinner.

Kung Fu Legend

After dinner we to see a kung fu show. The story, “Kung Fu Legend,” is a story of the monk Chun Yi and how he was sent away by his mother to train at the temple, how his power grew and he was tempted to stray from the path of Buddhism, how he overcame his demons with the help of his brother monks and how he eventually became the abbot of the Shaolin Temple.  The production value was absolutely amazing!  The stage props and how quickly they were able to make scene changes was impressive.  The choreography was very well done and the wu shu, dancing, and acrobatics very very good.  The whole production was very flashy and fun.  They showcased many of the popular wushu shaolin animal styles, weapon styles, and feats of Qigong.  When the show had completed, and inspired by the actors and dancers great athleticism, I really wanted to go and train.  Unfortunately, however, I was very tired from the days activities and I had yet to pack for our journey the next day.

We returned to the hotel and I packed everything up in preparation for tomorrow and then shaved my head.  In the morning we are headed to Zhengzhou by train then Dengfeng by bus to reach the Tagou Academy outside of the Shaolin Temple.  Already I am very excited at finally getting to the part of the trip that I am most looking forward to.

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