A main purpose of this blog is to externalize my memory before it fades, and while I intended to do that for my trip to China in the previous post on the hotel I stayed it, it just got too long. In any case, these are the places I went around Beijing, and what I thought of them!
The Forbidden City
One of the first places I went was, of course, the Forbidden City (now called the Palace Museum):
This helped enormously in understanding the scores of Chinese Kung Fu movies set in the time when this was the palace of the emperor and his consorts, in which one or more Kung Fu masters go charging through a succession of palaces and staircases, en route to the emperor (or empress) themselves. Now I fully grasp the setting, and boy, if you’re going to fight a Kung Fu master, there’s no better time to do it than after they’ve spent all their energy sprinting from the south gates to the northern end! If those sequences were shot in a single unedited cut (like the O-Ren Ishi entrance sequence near the end of Kill Bill 1), the palace entrance scenes would eat up a good chunk of the entire movie!
The scale and scope of the Forbidden City is truly quite incredible; there are apparently thousands of rooms, and while after a while they do all start to look the same, there’s intricate work on almost anything you look carefully at. Since I just went in and walked and walked without a guide or a map, I never got that clear a sense of how big the place was until I was looking at it afterwards from the hillside:
I’m sure I missed much of what the palace has to offer, but it was still quite an amazing thing to see. Each small area or even object within the palace seems to have its own story, and while some of these are printed on plaques outside the bigger buildings, the tour guides would often be going through a much longer explanation – usually in Chinese, because domestic tours vastly outnumbered any foreign ones. The plaques themselves were often quite interesting, because many of the fairly large halls would have names like “Hall of Ultimate Wisdom”, then have a story of sorts, and then conclude by saying “this palace was used as the residence for the emperors concubines”. Somehow, the assigned names didn’t always seem to match the actual usage!
I’m sure it would be quite interesting to hear all the full explanations, because some explanations had all the tour members trying to touch the object, whereas others, like this picture below, had elaborate explanations of how it was not good for the emperor to sit on his throne and face a wall (even at great distance), so they put a block of jade there – but decided that it was necessary for him to still see through the jade, hence a hole in the middle:
For some strange reason, I actually like the above photo (though you’d have to click it for a larger version to see any detail).
This is a small park on a hillside just north of the Forbidden City, which is where I took the picture above from a higher vantage point. There’s a series of 5 pavilions on the top of the hill, which provide a really nice view of Beijing – except for the fact that even on a good day, it’s smoggy enough that visibility is somewhat limited.
The defining thing about Jingshan Park, however, seems to be highlighted in this sign:
A pavillion, a garden, a restaurant… and The Spot Where Emperor Chongzhen Hanged Himself. Not to be missed! (It’s just a tree, if you’re wondering).
Continuing on my walk, the next thing that looked interesting – since I wasn’t following a map or trying to go anywhere in particular – was Beihai Park, which is just beside Jingshan Park on the northwest side of the Forbidden City. It’s basically a big loop around a lake/river, with a temple atop a small island in the middle of the river, and a fairly peaceful trail to walk around. Lots of people were out in pedal boats, just enjoying the nice weather we had that day. Perhaps the most memorable thing for me was the Wall of Nine Dragons. I originally mis-captioned the picture as the Wall of Seven Dragons; Wen later mentioned that there’s actually supposed to be a Wall of Nine Dragons in Beihai Park that perhaps I missed, so I went back and actually counted the number of dragons in the picture… and yup, it’s nine:
I’m still not any good at B&W conversions, but hey, keep trying right? After Beihai Park, I’d been walking for about 6.5 hours and figured I should walk back to the hotel – which is when this happened. Still, a nice day with lots of sights!
Temple of Heaven
I already mentioned the Temple of Heaven, where I (and a dozen other people) took pictures of people doing their wedding shots, but there was lots more to see there. The main attraction was a series of three actual temples laid out from North to South; the northmost one is where the bridal couples were hanging out, and looked like this:
Amazingly, it looks deserted from this angle, but the bridal groups were on the left side of things, and there is actually a huge crowd of people in the area to the right. As with the Forbidden City, the tourists were overwhelmingly domestic (or at least Chinese). I was quite fortunate to have purchased the right ticket, since you can apparently purchase a grounds pass that doesn’t grant access to the three temples, or a package ticket that does. So if you’re there, buy the more expensive one!
There were quite a few people who just got grounds passes, to enjoy the gardens that surround the temple area. It’s actually quite a serene place in the middle of Beijing, perfect if you need some space for martial arts practice:
Other people were flying kites, hanging out, and even gathering to sing some songs using an archway to provide natural acoustics.
The streets around the hotel were full of contrasts as well; one moment, you’d be in what felt like a true Asian market:
But literally 1-2 minutes later, you can be standing in front of a Hermes store if you feel like blowing $1,000+ on a wallet. It’s a fairly amazing juxtaposition, like the motorbike conversion vs. Rolls Royce dealership I mentioned earlier. I guess that whatever you’re looking for, you’re likely to find it!
That was basically the sightseeing I was able to do on this trip (it was a business trip, after all), but I’m glad I had the opportunity. I used larger images than I usually include, but that’s because there was so much detail in almost everything I saw there that using any smaller size obscures it completely (as always, you can click on the pictures for larger versions). Sorry if you’re on a slower connection or a small screen!