Monday, November 23, 2015

My Days in Beijing - Day Three

This day was a very long day.  Lots of walking, lots of people and lots of sunshine, which doesn't serve someone dealing with the autoimmune disease, lupus, very well.  Too much sun, even in all its glory, can be vicious to a lupus warrior.

Same routine.  Gerry and I enjoyed an early morning breakfast at the Seasonal Tastes restaurant. I'm really missing the tuna sushi that I enjoyed two days ago.  The restaurant didn't put out the same dishes as the day before in some of the food stations.  That tuna sushi was the yummiest.  I'm sure there's a proper name for that sushi.  I don't know it, I just eat it.
We finally met the rest of our tour director's group.  I was sure they'd like Angie as much as I did. Our group filled a bus.  There are other Viking groups that filled buses, and I'm thinking, "Wow, Viking truly has a hold in the tourism market in China."  

We drove around Beijing the previous evening for some night views of the sites.  Seeing Tiananmen Square in the daylight was very impressive, more so than at night.  Angie said we had to be at the square early in the morning to avoid the crowds, but crowds were already there.  The square looked very festive with giant floral and plant arrangements everywhere.  The square was the center of a huge celebration in the city just days before, on September 3rd.  To reduce air pollution, the government ordered factories and many businesses to close beginning in August.  The Chinese Victory Day Parade was held to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Victory of Japan Day stemming from World War II.  The commemoration was the first high-profile military parade held to celebrate an occasion other than the National Day of the People's Republic of China.  Over 12,000 troops of the People's Liberation Army participated in the parade, in addition to over 1,000 troops from 17 different countries. 
The Padre at the  Tiananmen Tower, Gate of Heavenly Peace.
The square was swarming with tourists and photographers hoping to make money taking group shots.  Angie gathered us together, our picture was taken, then we received our photo packaged in a very nice book later that evening.  That's when we paid for the photo.

I brought my little travel buddy with me on this trip.  He's Padre, the Globetrotting Gnome. Sometimes, he comes with us on our travels, other times, it's so hectic at home that I forget to pack him.  OR when I do bring him on a trip, he sometimes has to stay at the hotel or the bus because, honestly, it's a lot of work to bring him to every single tourist site.  When he comes out to sightsee, I have to be careful how I pack him in my day bag.  He's broken his arm numerous times and it takes a while to glue his arm back on. It's also difficult to hold him straight up while I attempt a one-handed camera shot of him and his awesome background.  I was approached three times that morning about Padre.  One lady asked if I was in the Amazing Race, one of my favorite reality TV shows. The other two wanted to know the story about the Padre.  They all thought it was a cute idea and that I should send the photos to the San Diego Padres.  I have plans to do that once I watermark all of the photos.  I've also thought about setting up an Instagram account for him.  In due time.

Before I share photos of other important buildings and structures in Tiananmen Square,   We all know that it's rare for a large population of the Chinese people, more specifically those who come from the countryside and are touring the big cities, to see someone quite different from them in appearance.  They become excited to see a tall, white person, and if they have blonde hair and are very pretty, as Angie said, the Chinese are all over that western person taking photos, or sneakily sidling up to the westerner and posing for photos, whether the westerner knows it or not.  The country folk will take quick photo shots, or politely ask to have a photo taken.  It was fascinating to watch the interactions.  Two worlds coming together.  Beautiful, if you ask me!
Quianmen Gate, once an entrance into the ancient Forbidden City, is now a museum.  Climb to the top and get a fantastic view over the archery tower and Tiananmen Square.  Walk through the tunnel and enter the pedestrian area where there are a plethora of souvenir shops and restaurants.  We weren't sure if the building was shrouded in morning haze or smog.  My asthma wasn't acting up so I assumed haze.
The Monument to People's Heroes commemorates the people's heroes in modern Chinese history.   In the background is the National Museum of China.  It was built on the basis of the former Museum of Chinese History and the former Museum of Chinese Revolution, being the most inclusive museum of time-honored Chinese culture and history in the country.

The Great Hall of the People is where the National People's Congress is held and also where state leaders hold diplomatic meetings and the masses stage political activities.

Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen Tower).  Above the archway hangs a large portrait of Maozedong.  On the east and west sides of the portrait are giant placards.  The left one reads "Long Live the People's Republic of China" while the right one reads "Long Live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples." 

Before arriving in China, I had no idea Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City were physically connected.  Also, all I knew about Tiananmen Square before my visit was the tragic events that unfolded in 1989.  The "June Fourth Incident", as the Chinese government called it, was truly a culmination of other protests against the government that had been building and spreading across the country.  On June 3 - 4, the heavily armed troops marched towards Tiananmen Square opening fire and crushing all who tried to block their tanks and troops. It is estimated that some 7,000 were wounded and 241 killed (including soldiers).  Since the incident, the government has attempted to suppress references to it.  I've included a great pictorial, published by The Atlantic in 2012, of the events that unfolded in the days prior to and during the 6-week demonstration. 


The architect of the Forbidden City, was a Vietnamese architect named Nguyen An, or Juan An, in Chinese.  He was a professional architect in Vietnam when the Ming Dynasty invaded Vietnam in 1407.  Juan An was brought back to China and made a eunuch, which is a man who has been castrated then employed to guard the women's living areas in the imperial palace.
Next stop was the Forbidden City, a palace so grand and so perfect in every sense of the word. Massive red doors with gilded door nails (9 rows across, 9 rows down because 9 is a lucky number for the Chinese) open up to the Imperial palace complex.  In the heart of Beijing, the palace adheres rigidly to the traditional Chinese geomantic practice of feng shui.  If walls could talk, I'd hear tales of opulence beyond my wildest dream, one hundred course meals, and a harem of 9,000 concubines.

As I looked through the Gate of Supreme Harmony (just beyond the red doors),  to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, I imagined the lives of those emperors and their royal families who ruled from their thrones, soldiers and warriors who stood steadfast at their posts ready for battle, civil servants rushing from building to building to get their chores done, the robes of eunuchs gently moved by the breezes, and the concubines who dressed to perfection on a daily basis, hoping to catch the emperor's wandering eye.  Most concubines, you know, never got to fulfill the duties they were recruited for, and they grew old never having spent time with the emperor or seeing life outside the palace walls.  If their ruler died, they were then buried alive with him!  Hence, the name Forbidden Palace, where ordinary citizens weren't allowed to approach the complex during the 500 years of its use, and most palace residents were forbidden to leave.  
Each hall housed ancient art and antiquities.  To see them was a bit of a challenge.  You had to be mindful of all the stairs that took you from here to there.  The crowds were so thick you had to literally push your way to the building, then to the windows to peer in.  I don't say this lightly.  For every five steps I took forward, I was pushed back three steps.  Sick and tired of being shoved around, I decided to push back and hard.  But not to hurt anyone and not to take personally.  In a crowded China, that's just what you do.  You push.  There are no bad intentions.
The Hall of the Center Harmony is behind me.  This is where the emperors came to rest between ceremonies held at the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  There are a multitude of stairs through the complex.  My stumbling journey began here in the Forbidden  City.  I will continue to trip and stumble for the remainder of the trip. 

I was fascinated with these massive cauldrons.  There are 308 total, small and large, on the imperial grounds.  Spread throughout the complex, the cauldrons were used to hold water in the event of fires, and some of the gilded handles were used to hold burning incense.  The Forbidden City is so amazingly beautiful.  So much to see, but you'll just need to go to my Facebook Albums to see the rest of the photos at:

The Imperial Gardens was the last major area to visit, and it was so lovely, I wished it were my own.  Even with the crowds, the gardens maintained its sense of serenity throughout.

The Peking Opera at the Lijuan Theater was a perfect way to end the day.  It is a form of traditional Chinese theater which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics.  Known for its complex storytelling, it is regarded as one of China's cultural treasures.  I've never seen theater like this.  The performances were spectacular, the characters in their beautiful costumes were mesmerizing, and the sets were brilliantly gorgeous.  Breathtaking!  We enjoyed a delicious dinner before and during the show.
The bus ride back to the hotel was ridiculous.  Traffic congestion was terrible!  It felt like it took us an hour to get back to the hotel, which really was suppose to be about a 20 minute ride.  As we sat idle, I'd look out the bus window at all the cyclists and pedestrians navigating the road.  It was a show in itself.  How they manage to cross the big and busy intersections astounds me.

Well, tomorrow is a very big day.  A day I've waited years for.

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