Friday, July 30, 2010

Tourism Essentials in Beijing - Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (and shopping at the Pearl Market!)

Since my work was taking me to China and Isaac's graduate school internship was taking him to China, our days in Beijing were our chance to get time together in the midst of weeks apart. AND of course we were sight-seeing. And of course, if you are in Beijing, you HAVE to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City... and the Great Wall. First up, Tiananmen and The Forbidden City....

We arrived via bus, fresh and ready to see the world.

The excitement didn't last too long. It was SUPER hot, it took us 30 minutes to figure out how to just cross the freaking street to get to the square (turns out you can't really cross the street. Must use an underground tunnel AND go through security), and Tiananmen is actually this HUGE empty square with not much in it, so we just walked in the heat radiating off the cement and sweated profusely. And then stood in long longs waiting for tickets to the Forbidden City. And soon this is how I felt:

From china

You can barely see him, but Mao is behind us:
From china

Some guy noted that most of the touristy photos we were all taking wouldn't be notable in the future. The Forbidden city is really old, and likely it'll still be around in the same form for a while longer. On the other hand, dynasties change, and it's quite likely that for our children or grandchildren, the photo of us with Mao will be a piece of a history that has now past...

We finally made it into the Forbidden City:

And we promptly stopped to rest in the shade.
This is me complaining that I'm pregnant and have a growing belly, but it still just looks like a growing belly and no one yet thinks I'm pregnant. Conclusion: I just look like I'm getting fat.

It's okay, I got over it. And now, a month later, I look pregnant. Yay!

First off, what is the Forbidden City? It was the home for the Emperors of China for about 500 years. You could call it a Palace but that's really not accurate, because there are like a bajillion Palaces within the walls, so it really is more like a little Imperial City. It's immense. You walk and walk down the central court and continue to see Palace after ornate Palace and throne room. It takes forever, and that's without even beginning to wander around the sides of the complex into the many smaller buildings and rooms that everyone lived in and actually used.

It was finished in 1420 and has almost 1,000 buildings and almost 8,000,000 square feet of space. Massive, and beautiful, and full of Chinese tourists.

It's ornate and colorful in a very different way that most ancient European buildings.

Funny story about the Forbidden City. I stopped at a restroom and noted a line of Chinese women waiting for stalls, but one stall in the back was being avoided. I took a risk and walked back to it, and turns out it's a Western-style toilet, and it was being avoided because everyone wanted squatty potties. Hey, I'll take that! Skip the line, get the cleanest and most comfortable toilet!

I took this one on my walk back to the entrance:

Have you seen The Last Emperor? It's a fantastic movie that won 9 Oscars. It's about the Last Emperor of China, Puyi. He became Emperor when he was 2 years old, and even at that age was given total control of all of the Eunuchs. Eunuchs were the only males allowed to live in the Palace, by the way, thus ensuring that all pregnancies in the Palace were produced by the Emperor. This is from Wikipedia:

Puyi's upbringing was hardly conducive to the raising of a healthy, well-balanced child. Overnight, he was treated as a god and unable to behave as a child. The adults in his life, save his wet-nurse Wen-Chao, were all strangers, remote, distant, and unable to discipline him. Wherever he went, grown men would kneel to the floor in a ritual kow-tow, averting their eyes until he passed. Soon the young Puyi discovered the absolute power he wielded over the eunuchs, and frequently had them beaten for small transgressions.[4]

I can totally picture some spoiled and confused young boy running away from his frazzled teachers and advisors and finding a bajillion places to hide and play tricks in this massive complex.

Inside the Forbidden City
(this one isn't mine, it's from flikr, click to find the photographer)

Forbidden City

In any case, after traversing a full CITY we were exhausted. And thus Isaac insisted on Starbucks.

And post-Starbucks, he was a happy man.

See, I have some beef with Starbucks. In the US they are a raging monopoly who don't know how to make lattes and serve expensive coffee but are quite comfortable and consistent. Overseas, they serve everything exactly the same AND AT THE SAME PRICES. Which means they are expensive in the US but overseas they are completely EXHORBITANT. But... they survive.... because of people like my husband, who pay for familiarity and are quite happy to do so.

I put up with the prices and hours of card games to pacify my sweet man, who'd just spent two weeks roughing it pretty much alone in rural China and going through culture shock. Inside, though, I was dying to get out and wander the street and go shopping! I did finally get my chance... but I didn't find anything to buy at all. It was all too expensive.

I got my fill of intensive shopping a few days later after Isaac had flown back to the US. The Pearl Market, girls. Five or six floors of knock-offs and souveniers, and lots and lots of jewelry. Particularly pearls. Some of it was awesome. Some of the sellers are brutal bargainers and some are extremely annoying with their pestering insistance that you stop at their stall.

I was mostly a very happy camper with what I found there. This is my failed attempt to photograph myself with the Pearl Market in the background. See the "arket" on the far left? Proof:


Jaimie said...

oooOOOOOooo. Now I must watch that movie. I didn't know it existed until now.

kelleyann said...

I didn't know you were pregnant. Blog reading has NOT been top on my list since Canaan was born, but I'm slowly catching up now. Congrats! Does that put off schooling a while then?