The Imperial Palace (Forbidden City)

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
Trip End Jan 16, 2010

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Today I went with my roomate Jessie from California to Tian'anmen Square and the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City). We walked from our hostel, viewing interesting sights along the way - mainly people selling wares, men working construction without power tools - we saw men chopping concrete with pickaxes - and the big shopping streets selling everything you can imagine.
Unfortunately, one of the most memorable parts of the day was the thick and everpresent air pollution. This has a devastating effect on the ancient stonework, as most of it is intricately carved and wearing away. We were coughing and had scratchy throats even before we made the half hour walk to the historic monuments. We wondered if we should "go Chinese" and buy a few of the surgeon's masks in fashion colors we see hanging from street kiosks. We powered through the smog, as you can see in the pictures the smog blocked our view of the monuments and even large buildings down the street. Gave me a new appreciation for the Clean Air Act! As we crossed the entry bridge under Chairman Mao's portrait in one of the five tunnels to the Forbidden City via Tian'anmen Gate, the Gate of Heavenly Peace - each tunnel with a different purpose, we were rewarded with the fantastic artwork and architecture of China's ancestors. Much of the structures were built during the Ming Dynasty to house the emperors, his staff of pharmacists, wardrobe masters, eunuchs, servants, empresses and concubines, and taken over by the Qing Dynasty, who unlike other takovers did not destroy the previous leaders buildings. However many buildings were burned down and had to be rebuilt. When a building has more beasts on the roof, it is more important. These beasts were to keep away evil spirits as well as to help hold the roof tiles in place. The large brass urns are for extinguishing fires, but the water in them actually had to be warmed by charcoal underneath to keep from freezing in the winter. This "city" took us half the day to walk through, as it encompasses several city blocks. And Beijing's blocks are like no other city I've been to, one block here equals 5-10 in DC! Strolling around the Palace Museum which is The Forbidden City, we are constantly in awe of its immense scale. Our audio guide told us there were some city residents who never left these walls in their entire lives. You can easily see how this is possible. If we didn't follow the instructions, we could easily have gotten lost. This place is just massive. There are endless temples with haunting names like the Palace of Earthly Tranquility and the Temple of Heavenly Purity. There was one building dedicated to food, called the Temple of Lingering Taste, which appealed to me, the notoriously slow eater. I really need a map of the Forbidden City to match my photos against, as it will be impossible to know what's what. I'll have to find a Chinese antiquities scholar to name them all for me. Although it is October, not nearly prime tourist season, there were probably more people at this attraction than anything I've ever visited in my life, including Disney World. I would say Forbidden City is at least as big. People were everywhere, and it is best to accept them as part of the experience. At times it felt as if I was just part of a wave of people, going from one temple to the next. At smaller exhibits it was easier to see the displays, but at the Temples for the Emperor's throne or the Empress' bedroom, there was always a crush of people trying to see what was inside. Outside, people rest their weary feet on the curb. I cannot fathom visiting this palace in the heat and humidity of summer, and am ever so grateful to be here in October. I shouldn't be surprised at the numbers of people here, because with 1.38 billion people, China holds 20% of the world's population. Funny, a good percentage of them seem to be in Beijing at the Forbidden City! To see the museum's web site, go to Later in the day, we cannot see the sun for the pollution. The next day is much better, the skies are clear and blue in the morning and there is a soft breeze which takes the pollution away, at least until dusk when homes start burning coal again. There were some funny moments when we sat down by a tree to rest and two Chinese guys courageously asked to have his photo taken with us. That opened the floodgates. People who were shy before now came up to us to have their photos taken with the Americans. We actually had a line of people waiting to do this, and decided we'd better move out before there was no escape. Fame isn't what it's cracked up to be....

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