Day 17 - Beijing Day 1

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Relax. I remember that, isn't that something we did a few years ago? Yesterday? The weekend? Seems so long ago.

Breakfast turned out to be quite good in the basement. It is a buffet style breakfast but they have a good assortment of local (Chinese) food on offer. Yes, they do have the eggs, bacon…did not see toast…coffee, milk, cereal, etc. I gave all of this a miss (well, had to have some orange juice) and helped myself to the local (ish) food: spring rolls, fried rice, noodles, interesting salads (meat?), and some interesting pastries for dessert. A number of metal warmers all along the far wall of the restaurant hold two dishes each. Opening each was a bit of a surprise as the description (in English as well as Chinese) was not always very accurate…I think mixed up as well…

Jacky met us only a few minutes late in the front lobby of the hotel. He seems to be determined to give us all sorts of statistics and details that we forget a minute after he has said them – Ok: Beijing is big, got that. Lots of people, check. I sort of nod and pay attention while mother does not even pretend.

We headed off to our first destination of the day: The biggest single attraction in Beijing (see, I was listening!) – The Forbidden City. Our hotel is located on the north side of the complex which is actually the end that the emperor actually lived in. Most of the tourists enter from the south just north of Tienanmen Square (under the not-quite-smiling portrait of Mao) so entering as we did from the north was a very good thing. Passing through the pedestrian underpass to the entrance the first thing that we noticed (quick as we are) is that a lot of the area is being refurbished for the Olympics (see, listening again!). The north gate (the “Gate of Devine Might”) has a large scaffold structure covered with plastic hiding it away. I am sure it is very impressive but all we saw was a very big plastic box…Jacky worried about the tickets (quite expensive) as mother and I wandered in opposite directions to look at the moat that surrounds the palace. Dark green and very wide is the water right up to the small stone wall surrounding of the red walls of the palace itself. These walls are not very tall but gosh are they impressive stretching into the distance on either side ending in corner tower complexes.

Forbidden City Gate

Through the north gate immediately in front of us was another gate leading (eventually) to the heart of the palace structure. Jacky gave us a number of choices as to what we could see or do here but we had decided on the interesting (he assured us) visit to an exhibit on the treasures of the palace. Given our limited time we felt this would be good with his commentary. This area of the palace is where the concubines used to be housed but is now a series of rooms with various artifacts in display cabinets. Jacky's heart was with one particular massive piece of jade that has been carved to show a mountain scene. The piece of jade is taller than I am and weighs an awful lot. Incredible. He used the word “exquisite” but I am not sure it is that: Impressive, incredible, yes but not I would call a work of meticulous craftsmanship.

Jade Sculpture

There were a number of pieces of unimaginable value here as well. Mother and I were also very much enjoying the buildings themselves. There are small buildings here, there and everywhere in the area of the palace where the museum is. Jacky told us that the small animal carvings on the corners of every roof indicate the relative importance of the building: The more animals, the more important. Additionally, in front of many of these buildings are two lions: One representing the emperor (with an orb under his paw) and another representing the empress (with a child under her paw – mother liked that one so ended up taking lots of pictures of female lions). The two lions are common to see in front of Chinese buildings both here and throughout the world. The small courtyards between the buildings now paved with stone used to be gardens with the remains of the ornamental rocks still in place. The imperial red is throughout and we were told that this colour could not be used by any other building in China making the whole complex stand out from the plain colours in the city buildings all around.


Once we left the museum area we entered into the impressive courtyards of the palace and, the crowds of tourists.

Nine Dragon Screen

Passing through the Gate of Imperial Supremacy the nine dragon screen was an impressive ending to the museum as we turned to the right to pass through the Gate of Good Fortune into the courtyard between the Gate of Heavenly Purity (leading to the emperor's quarters to the north) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. Right in the middle of the steps up to the hall which is straight through the middle of the entire Forbidden City is where the emperor would have passed over on his Sudan chair carried by his retainers. It was on this line that it was forbidden for anyone but the emperor to walk. There are these wonderful carved dragons on this line leading to many of the buildings. Even now these carvings are off-limits to tourists who can look but not touch.

Dragon Carving

Many of the larger buildings we are not allowed to go in but can look inside with a typical scene being a mannequin of the emperor sitting on a thrown inside of the largely empty (though very impressive) space.

Impressive Spaces

Throughout the palace there are large areas that are cloaked with scaffolding including The Hall of Supreme Harmony which is quite annoying since this is one of the most famous of all of the halls and the most impressive. Even the associated Gate of Supreme Harmony was covered under the plastic. A bit disappointing but meaning that we will have to visit again when the work is done. From what we have seen of the work completed it will be impressive indeed with bright red and gold figuring. The amount of money it must be costing is astronomical. Jacky seems to believe that they will not be able to finish in time for next year's Olympics. I am not sure – They will want to do this for the publicity…

The final massive courtyard between the Meridian Gate and the Gate of Supreme Harmony has five bridges over a small waterway. These bridges are arranged in the same manner as the belt of a high official with the centre bridge reserved, of course, for the emperor and the outer bridges for people of lesser importance (imperial family first then the high officials next). We completed our rather short (but hot) trip of the Forbidden City by passing through the Meridian Gate into where most tourists enter the area: Via the Tian'anmen Gate. The whole area was crawling not only with tourists (western tourists complete with shorts, big hats, dark glasses and big cameras draped around their necks) but also with beggars and souvenir sellers. I was put off by the area immediately and could not really wait to leave it as we pushed our way through the throng.

Chairman Mao

Passing through Tian'anmen Gate with the familiar portrait of Mao (painted anew every few years) on the south face we were faced with the famous Tian'anmen Square said to be the largest public square in the world. Like the Forbidden City it is absolutely huge. We could not even cross the massive road that runs between it and the Tian'anmen Gate – something like 10 lanes in each direction – but we had to go under the road via pedestrian underpasses. There are a LOT of people here and we were stopped briefly by police as we exited the subway. In the middle of the square is the Monument to the People's Heroes which really dominates the whole square. The Great Hall of the People is on one side which is where the government actually sits with the main chamber with other rooms named after each of the Chinese provinces. To the south is The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where Chairman Mao's preserved body is raised from it's refrigerated resting place up into a viewing hall so visitors can file past and look on in reverence (we gave that a miss). The Museum of the Revolution is on the eastern side which has a large count-down clock for the Olympics. The square is being prepared for National Day which is only a short time away (between October 1st and 3rd). They are beginning to build impressive miniature displays of various sites around China.

Tian'anmen Square (Hall of the People)

There are many people around and most of them are Chinese rather than western tourists. From what we saw most of the tourists are Chinese.

We spurned Jacky's attempts at having us sign up for anything in the afternoon. The driver picked us up just outside of the Great Hall of the People on a side street.

Large Roads Near Tian'anmen

We were taken to a pearl factory in the south of the city. Having seen the way that pearls were cultivated in Japan it was interesting to hear how it is done here with quite a different technique. Much of the pearls here are fresh-water but have various colours. Mother managed to spend a bit of money on strands for various gifts during our visit. It really was quite a nice store though we never did get into the expensive area at the far end of the shop…I sat down with Jacky and our driver with a bit of the complementary tea.

Our tour continued with the long drive back the way we had come, back towards the hotel. We knew what we wanted to do in the afternoon, our free time for the day, but we did ask Jacky to take us to a “good restaurant”. We ended up in a tourist restaurant right near where we had started out this morning, just opposite the northern entrance to the Forbidden City. The meal was not too bad with the squid being particularly good but it was not much different than what we have both had in Europe or Canada at Chinese restaurants there. The prices were quite expensive and the only Chinese people were the waiters and waitresses despite the restaurant being full. Jacky left us there which was quite a relief: He is a well meaning guy but a bit overwhelming and we are both anxious to get off an explore a little ourselves at our own pace. I don't need to mention that he told us to be ready “very early” next morning for tomorrow's tour, do I?

The restaurant was actually quite convenient for what we wanted to do this afternoon. We had spotted that not only is the hotel very close to the Forbidden City but it is also very close to a park: Jingshan Park. This is a royal park and has three fantastic shrines at the top of three high hills. A great place to get a view of the city but also of the Forbidden City itself. We were also hoping for a bit of a nice, quiet walk through the park. Paying the small entrance fee (for some reason mother tried to pay in Hong Kong Dollars but the lady reminded her “Renminbi” – RMB which is the Chinese currency which you might know as yuan) we entered the gates into a pleasant quiet park.

Walking Through the Park (SW)

Yes, there were a number of people but the green grass and trees were very welcome after the crowds and concrete of Tian'anmen. We made the rather long walk up the stairs to the top of the hill to the topmost shrine.

Shrine at Jingshan

The two shrines on lesser hills to the east and west have both had their Buddha statues removed by invading soldiers in the 20th century.


We were able to see a bit of the city (I will not mention the smog again here) both to the south over the Forbidden City but also towards the Bell Tower and Drum Towers (of the old city walls) to the north along busy roads.

View over Forbidden City

Bell Tower and Drum Towers (SW)

It is in this park that the last emperor committed suicide – on a tree at the base of the east side of the hill (though the tree is no longer there a plaque marks the spot).

Last Emperor Suicide Spot


Walking up and down the hills in Jingshan we were a bit tired so returned to the hotel for a few minutes before venturing out later to visit a street market. Jacky had feigned ignorance of the existence of the market but it was very clear on the information we had that Wangfujing Dajie – a few blocks east of the Forbidden City (and quite near to us) – was awash with shops to visit at night and the nearby Dong'anmen Night Market was where we could find some interesting foods sold in stalls. We were right on both counts though it was a bit of a walk. Distances on maps can be quite deceptive and we ended up walking about half an hour before we got to the shopping area itself. It is just a typical busy street in Beijing but as you head south it changes to be pedestrian only and it is here where it got interesting. Flapping banners line the street with numerous people meandering beneath as they piece their way from shop to shop. The shops on either side of the road are typical department-stores along with cheap souvenirs and other more specialised shops (toys, tea, etc). We wandered through a toy store just to see what was on offer but nothing terribly surprising though things were cheaper than we have seen at home. Odd seeing such familiars as Lego and Barbie throughout. A modern store with escalators and salesman demonstrating the latest crazes (tonight this was a very lightweight remote-controlled helicopter that I have seen in the UK).

A visit to a store whose main floor was devoted to tea and tea implements was quite rewarding with frequent samples. The teapots were amazing and very elegant.

One of the things that is said about our family is that we are always obsessed with food. Unfortunately (fortunately?) this is true. I was anxious to try the Dong'anmen Night Market which I had read and heard a great deal about. This is a street off of Wangfujing one side of which has a very defined and orderly row of stalls.

Night Market

Each stall is the same size and is obviously government regulated with what is for sale and how much it costs clearly on display (using the same signage) for each stall. Yes, in English and Chinese. The crowd here was quite big as we made our way along to see what was on offer. I managed to have some skewered squid that was quickly grilled then dipped into a sauce as well as some octopus and some beef wrapped in a light tortilla-like wrapper. Mother managed to find something as well (as she is trying to be a vegetarian) – a vegetable pastry (lots of nods when we asked to make sure it was vegetable). Of course, there are a few more exotic things on sale here but it appears as though this is largely for the tourists as there were only a few Chinese hanging around those booths. In this case the offering was deep-fried scorpions, ants, cockroaches and something that looked like big maggots.


I was just looking with no real desire to try any but was offered a leg from a scorpion by several attractive ladies obviously enjoying their night out – It tasted like not a lot of anything. I think that people eat this stuff largely for the “bravery” factor involved – “See how brave I am to eat it” – and not much for the taste. Of course, the Chinese are into flavour which explains why it appears that the stalls selling this exotic stuff was not as popular (though it made up for lack of customers with the prices they charged…). I did not see anyone eating the seahorses at another stall though.

Seahorses for Sale

Visiting a silk shop back on the main shopping street mother and I wandered through the reasonably priced (I am told) silk rolls to have a closer look at the clothing to one side. At each of the tables a lady (mostly ladies) was there to serve. I picked up a natural-coloured cotton shirt that is quite pleasant with light embroidery of a dragon on the front while mother purchased some scarves. Purchasing is interesting as you are given a slip from the shop assistant which you take to a small booth at the far side of the store. It is here you pay (they accept Visa, hurray!) and are given another slip to present back to the assistant who then presents you with your purchase. This appears to be the method of purchase in all government-sponsored shops. I did manage to get a bit of a laugh from the staff about my weight as they suggested a larger size…Amazing how well you can communicate without speaking a word of the same language.

Coca-Cola Stand

I was pleased to be able to find another not-quite-so sanitised market in a back alley. Here were a few less “prim and proper” stalls selling much of the same things we had seen at the government-sanctioned market but a bit less formally (and, it seems, slightly cheaper). Walking through the area quickly we were spotted and the cries in English for us to purchase things became too much to bear and we left in disgust. If they had left us alone we would have likely made some purchases. This country has a lot to learn about how to treat tourists. I guess this will come, in time.

We chuckled as we headed back to the hotel – It was well past the 9 PM “curfew” that Jacky had given us – “Do not go out after 9 PM as it is dangerous.” We have always been a bit rebellious. The walk back seemed longer but now, a full day, I need some sleep. Hang on, what is on the television? Some wacky looking martial arts film…

Our Hotel Room

Our beds (quite comfortable)…

The Beds

The toilet and shower facilities are not that bad at all…

Shower and Toilet


Nice LCD television…

TV and Towards Entrance

Not terribly a nice view out the window…

Looking Out the Window

Day 18 - The Great Wall

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