We have finished lunch and are now on the bus heading for the Summer Palace.
This morning we visited the Forbidden City. It was much bigger than I expected. The architecture is beautiful and well preserved. I can’t help thinking about how unique Chinese architecture is. You don’t see this stuff anywhere else in the world. (Except for perhaps Japan, but they copied off the Chinese, so that doesn’t count.)
Street vendors were/are everywhere. Some assaulted us as soon as we got off the bus. The gift shops had all kinds of great things that I would like to buy if I had more money and packing space. [Just one carry-on size bag and a backpack for a month.]
At the Forbidden City a couple of Chinese wanted to take pictures with us. They don’t see many foreigners. Eddie says foreigners are to the Chinese what pandas are to foreigners.
Note: Yellow = color of the emperor. The Forbidden City buildings have yellow roofs. Under is green, the color of servants.
Chiang Kai-shek took nearly 3000 relics to Taiwan from the Forbidden City.
The emperor was not allowed to spend more than 1 hour with his empress. Eunuchs would stop him if he took too long. [John said the emperor would have to be Superman to last that long, anyway.]
We have been to the Summer Palace. It has a very big lake that you can probably put the whole Forbidden City in. We took a boat across it. (Ancient rulers would leave the Forbidden City in the summers and head to the Summer Palace to avoid the heat.)
I have heard many languages in China so far, including Chinese, English, French, German, and Spanish. [Later, Japanese, Uygur, Russian, and Tibetan.]
Today is Children’s Day. Tiananmen Square was closed.
We ate Beijing duck tonight at a very big and famous restaurant. It can seat 3000 people. Many foreign leaders have eaten here.
Every meal so far has been served at a table with that rotating thing. Plates and drinking glasses are small. The only utensils provided are chopsticks and a soup spoon.
After, we saw an acrobatics show. It was very good.
Tomorrow, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs.
We just left a jade factory we stopped at on the way to the Great Wall. It was a state-run store: high prices, but also high quality. [At least that is the claim. Later, Wan Ding, who collects jade, examined the pieces we bought and found that some were fakes made of resin.] I conversed with a very nice girl named Du Zhuan. She seemed to be flirting with me. She had gone to disco with a friend the night before, and asked if we do that in the U.S. I bought a ring and a bracelet.
We visited the well-known Badaling section of the Great Wall. It is fantastically huge. I spent an hour climbing to the top before realizing there is no top – it just keeps going. The steps are often uneven – some are up to a half-meter high.
At a small store located on the Great Wall, I bought a hat for 15 yuan and a shirt for 20 yuan. At a later store, I saw the same hat on sale for 150 yuan. [Note: The exchange rate is about 8 yuan = US $1.]
Later we visited the Ming Tombs. It is perhaps 6 stories underground. It is very cool (temperature) in there, but not spooky at all. The construction has high ceilings and arches. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside. [Next time I go there, I will have to sneak a few pictures. Interesting how the Chinese government opened these tombs to show how communism is good: the Ming rulers lived quite extravagantly while the peasants had a hard life.]
We also visited the Sacred Way, or Spiritual Road. It is a path to the Ming Tombs that is guarded by stone animals and warriors.
So far I have had no trouble with the food. Lee says the rotating thing is a “Lazy Susan.” [Correct. Why didn't I know this before?] Tomorrow I will get up early to walk the streets with Mrs. Yu, Derek, Lewis, and Ed. Then the group will go to Tiananmen.
I really enjoyed the walk this morning in some of the back alleys of Beijing. It allowed me to see some real people in their daily lives. I saw, among other things, a farmer’s market. Many people were there selling crops and meat.
I have never felt crowded, as one might except in such a populous city/country. I haven’t been to any super poor area either, though.
I’m starting to realize how little, and also how much Chinese I know.
Early, we visited Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen = "Gateway to Heavenly Peace"). It appeared to be all about Mao to me. There is a restaurant with a big picture of him there, an obelisk with his calligraphy, and his mausoleum.
For lunch we at Thai food and watched Thai dancers. I had a red string tied to my left wrist (on girls, it’s tied to the right wrist). They were for good luck; the longer you keep it on, the more luck you get.
The Temple of Heaven was next. There are many interesting facts about this area. The main building’s three roofs were originally different colors – top: blue, middle: yellow, bottom: green(?). They were redone in one color when the building was rebuilt after the original was destroyed. The area where the emperor would change clothes before going to pray was also interesting.
After dinner we went to the Peking Opera. It was even more difficult to understand than U.S. Opera (even some of the native Chinese don’t understand what they’re saying). There was very strange music played throughout; the Chinese seem to like dissonant sounds. This one woman had a very annoying high-pitched voice. [Later, I found out that this is normal for women in Beijing Opera.] The costumes were wonderful.
These past three days, we have been led by our tour guide, who we affectionately call “Fast Eddie.” He speaks very good English. I found it very funny when he was explaining tones and was saying how shi can mean 10, to do, is, or “shit.” There’s just something funny about hearing a person curse in a language other than their own.
We have also been taped by a girl named Xiao Mei. She made very good videos and photos of us traveling (she is paid by commission). I bought only the still photos. She must have been making a decent living, because she was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt.
I’m sure I will miss them both.
It has been a wonderful three days in Beijing.
Note: Beijing's weather is about as hot as Baton Rouge's. It seems drier, though, and polluted by American standards. Eddie called Beijing “China’s New York,” because there are many different types of people here.
I have not had much trouble adjusting to the time zone.