Published: April 27th 2008April 27th 2008
Not many visual clues for the extraordinary historic events that took place here.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day. Breakfast was eggs and bacon for Jack and yummy Chinese noodles and fruit for me. The coffee was high-test even by Starbucks standards. Our guide, Newman, was in the lobby promptly at 9. He is 38, friendly and knowledgeable and has been a guide for 10 years. Our driver is Mr. Pan (???) who doesn’t speak English and is “shy”. First stop is Tiananmen Square which is a big square with numerous groups of Chinese tourists. Each group wears unique colored baseball caps and is led by a guide with a flag and a megaphone. In the middle of the square is a roped off area which a group of people literally scrubbing the pavement to prepare for the Olympics. One building has a huge portrait of Mao with slogans promoting strength for China and international harmony. Beyond this there isn’t much to see. The Forbidden City is adjacent to Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City is staggering in both the beauty and the scale. You pass from one part of the City to another through imposing gates and move to areas with increasingly restrictive access. The most restrictive area was reserved for
Cake is from Newman, our guide, and the rats are because we were born in the year of the rat
the Emperor, the Empress, the concubines, the children and the Eunuchs. Newman is very good explaining the symbolism of all the art work including pointing out all the ”happy clouds” which it turns out are everywhere signifying longevity. A small group of Chinese soldiers were drilling in the Forbidden City. They look like skinny teens which if fact is what they are. We ended up in the private gardens of the Emperor with large pieces of a special volcanic rock that tower over us. This rock is required for a garden to be a true Chinese garden. The Forbidden City Museum had only recently been opened to the public and is being refurbished (as are many things) for the Olympics. To raise money for the construction the museum is selling redundant pieces. After looking around for a while we splurged and purchased jade dragon. It is very cool and a real piece of China. While we are there the nephew of the last Emperor arrived to create calligraphy messages for tourist that want to make a donation He is 83 and has been doing calligraphy since he was 4. He has fared better than the Emperor who ended up in
prison at the end of his life.
It was already 1 pm so we headed for lunch and then on to the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was built in 1750, destroyed by foreigners and rebuilt in 1880 for the sole enjoyment of the Empress Cixi who lived from 1889 to 1908. She was a greedy, self-centered ruler and many of her decisions set the stage for China’s downfall in the first half of the 20th century, but she really know how to balance opulence and beauty. Jack stayed near the entrance to take pictures and Newman and I walked along the shore. There is the longest covered walkway in the world that is decorated with more than 8,000 individual, unique paintings. We then took a dragon boat across the lake to meet Jack at the exit. The view from the boat is of her castle at the top of a mountain. The gardens were opened to the public in 1922. If I lived in Beijing I would love to spend summer afternoons there, especially since summers in Beijing are very hot and according to Newman the lake keeps the area cool.
We stopped at a pearl store that Newman
It's hard to capture either the grandeur of this place.
recommended. I purchased a lovely necklace for Jess and one for me. It was clearly a store that is 100% for tourists. We didn’t do a very good job of bargaining, but I like what we got so I guess that’s the most important thing. While we were in the store it rained and the car was covered with gunk from pollution. I hadn’t really noticed it even though I had been expecting it.
We still have an hour until dinner so we stop at the Houtong for a bicycle rickshaw tour. The housing here is up to 400 years old and while it was once for the very affluent it is now mostly inhabited by poorer people. During the revolution, the land and buildings were confiscated by the government which now owns most of the property. Most of the residents rent from the government. Everywhere you look there is construction to prepare for the Olympics. For the tour we have a bicycle peddler and a guide who follows along on his own bike. Unlike Japan, people lock their bikes here, even when their bikes look 25 years old. Michael, our guide, explains how you can tell the wealth and
Each building had a single specific use, for example where the Emperor received gifts or met with Administrators
status of the person who owned the home when it was built hundreds of years ago. The signs are the number of beams, the number of steps and if the threshold is covered in metal. There are bicycle rickshaws filled with tourists everywhere and the occasional resident looks thoroughly bored with all of us. We stop at a property that had undergone a lot of renovation and had been reclaimed by the family that had owned it prior to the revolution. Most of the family members had recently moved out and the son of the owner still lived there to manage the tours. The only thing spontaneous about the visit was when the owner explained that the older family members like us generally lived in the north rooms and I chided him that our mothers were still alive and that we aren’t old. We all had a good laugh. In the courtyard an older family member was writing names in animal calligraphy and we had him write out Audrey. I think it will look cool framed and it was very cool to watch him create it. The whole process, including drying it with a hair dryer took less than 5
Jack at one of the many gates
The Forbidden City is like the nested Russian dolls. When you think there you are at the core, there is another level.
minutes. A quick dash to the restaurant for our Peking Duck dinner. They served the duck and I thought, “well this may not be enough” until the other 3 dishes showed up. One thing is certain; we won’t go hungry on this part of the trip. It was about a 30 minute drive to the Beijing Opera. It was not at all what I expected. The performance was the top ranked performance by Frommer's. It was in a theatre in a fancy hotel. We sat at a table and were provided tea and treats including nuts, small spiced fruits that looked like crab apples but had pits, dried dates and sesame cookies. Act I was the equivalent of a vaudeville act of slapstick comedy, Act II was like a circus performance with fabric swirls and Act III was juggling with spears (not really spears but things that were shaped like spears.) I really enjoyed with the clanging music, nasal singing and very strange lyrics. By the time it was over, we were both ready for bed although it was only 8:30. We had told Newman that this was our birthday trip and he surprised us with a birthday cake with
When you have it...flaunt it
mice on it since as he had calculated that we were born in the year of the mouse. Ordinarily, my expectations for a bakery birthday cake would be pretty low. Boy we were surprised at how delicious the cake was.
April 25, 2008
The day was overcast and unbelievably windy so it felt pretty cold. We left at 8 and the drive to the Eastern Qing Tombs took 2-1/2 hours. There is non-stop construction along the roads and it is like driving an obstacle course between the trucks, moped and construction equipment. When we got to the tombs, they were empty. It is a very different experience visiting these sites when you are not surrounded by mobs of tourists and megaphones. The building style was very similar to that of the Forbidden City, but set in a huge forested area the feeling is very different. Despite being plundered by warlords in the early 20th century, several of the tombs remain in tact. First we went to the tomb where Emperor Shunshi was buried with the Empress and 3 concubines in 1661 and close by the tomb of the Empress Cixi. For a 100% make dominated culture, she must have
been one tough cookie to have as much power and money as she did. Both tombs have beautiful Buddhist carvings. On the road to the Emperor’s tomb were large marble statues (10’tall) of lions, elephants, warriors and imaginary beasts that were put there to guard the tombs. After Lunch when the sun came out, we stopped so Jack could use his view camera. He ended up photographing a couple of the statues and then a random local person who stopped to watch. It turned out the person was a profession photographer who took pictures of tourists at the tombs dressed up in costumes. The drive back wasn’t quite as long, but Jack was feeling sick. Newman offered to change our plans and move Kung Fu until the following night so Jack could simply go back to the hotel and rest. They dropped me at the Silk Market. Wow - this was shopping like I had never experienced and it took a while to get used to it. There are 7 floors of stalls that are packed with different types of merchandise on different floors. When I walked down the aisles every vendor calls out “Hey, lady want to buy X”
Nephew of the Last Emperor
Instead of earning a living doing calligraphy, he could have ended up in jail or even worse dead
The moment you stop to look at something they are all over you like a cheap suit pulling out merchandise and with hand held calculators showing your “retail” and the “special price just for you.” My skills improved over time. I was hustled into a jacket (to replace the one I lost) at my first stop. At my last stop to replace a t-shirt I lost, the vendor proposed 385 yen with my price of 180. I told him I had 50 yen and if he wanted to sell it for that price fine, if not I’d look elsewhere. As I walked away he came after me to settle for 50 yen. In between I bought chop stick sets in silk cases for people at work, 30 pairs for $9, necklaces for my sisters, a couple of scarves and a top an pants for me for $30. The cab back to the hotel used my remaining 20 yen. Jack was in the lobby and had been anxious since I was 10 minutes late.
We had dinner at a nearby restaurant and went back to the room to relax, pack and have some more cake. We sent a box full of
Mutianyu Great Wall
You can really see why hundreds of thousands and possibly millions died building the Wall through terraine like this.
souvenirs via DHL to our hotel in Shanghai so we don’t have to carry them for the next week. We still are traveling light, but at least the suitcases close easily.
April 25, 2008
We left the hotel a little after 8:30 for the Great Wall. Progress for the first hour and a half was slow since we were caught in awful traffic heading for an International Car show. Jack is sick and he has been trying to sleep. I’ve been catching up on my bog. I won’t have more to write until after the Great Wall and who knows when we’ll get there.
There are more photos below