Monday, November 21, 2011

The Temple of Heaven - Not as close as we thought.

When we first got to our hotel in Beijing, we got this cute little map to show us where things were:

Our hotel was actually called the Holiday Inn - Temple of Heaven. And if you see there at the bottom center of the map, you see our hotel, and then you see the temple of heaven like one block away, right?


We found out this map is crazily condensed. If you see one block on this map, in real life, it's like 30 blocks away. So funny. Beijing is ENORMOUS. Enormous.

So, after we ate some halfway decent Chinese food, off we went to the Temple of Heaven. We never got a really good shot of it, so I got this picture from online:

It is so. dang. pretty. The Temple of Heaven is where the emperor would go to offer sacrifices each winter, and to pray for a good harvest each spring. They had this little rule that the sacrifices had to be killed and prepared at least 200 steps away from the altar, and they wanted to keep the weather from damaging the sacrifices in any way, so they built this thing called the Long Corridor to link the preparation areas to the temple:

I was so amazed. Each beam in this hugely long corridor was painted so beautifully:

I love the blues in the corridor and on the temple itself:

The tour guide said that they made the temple of heaven mainly blue to signify heaven. Red signifies earth, which is why the Forbidden City was all red. Also, in feng shui, heaven is round and earth is square, so temples and pagodas are round, but gates and living areas for earthlings are square.

Again, we couldn't go inside, which is a shame, because from what we could see, it was truly spectacular:

This is called the North Sky Gate:

They have these little spouts to get rid of water when it rains (and when it rains, in this area of China at least, it POURS. It's crazy. I've never seen anything like it. So it's really smart of them to have lots of things to help disperse the water). I think they're so cool:

Yes, Ben was there. :)

I tried to snap at least one pic of him at each place we went. He was our main photographer, which is a good thing. I'm a terrible photographer.

Poor Gagey kept falling asleep like this:

I wish he would have just put his head down in front of him, where it was shady and comfortable. Maybe my hair was tickling him. His little head was exposed to the sun. I felt bad. But he didn't get sunburned. We learned living in this area that the pollution is so heavy, and the altitude is lower than where we're from, so we didn't really ever get sunburned. It was nice not having to slather everyone with sunscreen every day.

This gal took a picture of our family, and then was looking to see how it turned out:

So funny.

After we explored the temple for awhile, our hyper tour guide actually let us play in the adjoining park. Maybe because we had spent like five minutes at each attraction in the morning, we were ahead of schedule? Haha!

So in this park, there are eight really large boulders. Seven of them are carved to resemble mountains. Here's the story. In the Ming dynasty, each emperor was supposed to go to Mount Taishan to pray for his people. It was a hard climb, and one of the emperors got sick of it, so he had his artisans craft 7 boulders to look like little mountains. They represent the seven peaks of Taishan, and apparently, they look just like the seven peaks. So he would just walk to the park and pray there to save the trip to the actual mountain.

Now, like I said, there are actually eight boulders. The Qing Dynasty overthrew the Ming Dynasty. The Qings were Manchurian, and there are eight ethnic Manchurian groups. So one of the Qing emperors decided to add one more boulder to make eight, and to have them represent, not the peaks of Mt. Taishan, but the eight ethnic groups of the Manchurians.

Micah was pissed about something:

He's always pissed about something.

This lady was selling these pretty twirly things. I can't remember what they're called:

So she would kind of dance around with them. It was cool.

We had to wait in the parking lot for a few minutes while our tour guide looked for our bus, and Ben snapped a cute picture of a little Chinese girl. I think it's a great photo:

Friday, November 18, 2011

As it turns out...

So here's something that was interesting about our tour group - I think it was sponsored by certain businesses. Because here we were, running through Tiananmen Square, sprinting through the Forbidden City. And then we were scheduled to go to some Chinese Ancient Medicine Clinic place, and dude. We were there for like 2 hours. And there was plenty of opportunity to buy all of these Chinese herbs there, you know what I'm saying? The same goes with later that day, when we went to a pearl market, and then the next day, when we went to the jade-carving market. I think they pay for the tours if the tour guides make sure there is plenty of time for the tourists to buy stuff there. Funny.

So we go in to this Chinese Ancient Medicine Clinic, and they had this dude speak to us about the ancient philosophy of Chinese medicine, and how it's so much better than western medicine, and how western medicine is too invasive, and that Chinese medicine takes more time to take effect but isn't as invasive, etc. etc. etc. I mean, I can see in some cases that it's better to kind of try different things if you don't need surgery, right? And I can also see what he was saying about a lot of western drugs having harmful side effects. Absolutely. But sometimes western drugs save peoples' lives. And sometimes surgery saves peoples' lives. So whatev. It was interesting.

And then they brought in four or five Chinese doctors. And they had interpreters with them. They said that they could tell what each person's health problems were by just feeling their pulse - not by taking blood or anything invasive. Just by feeling the pulse. So they had all of us line up and wait our turn for the doctors to feel our pulse and tell us what was wrong with us. We were at the very end of one line, and at one point, maybe half an hour or 45 minutes into these little consultations, the doctors had some place to go, so they just up and left. Ben and I never got our pulse taken, but oh well. I wasn't heartbroken about it.

From what I could see, they would consult with each tourist, and then give them a long list of herbs that they should buy from the shop downstairs to help with their health problems. Our cute little Indian/Irish friend - I think his name was Aardem - finished up his consultation and came to sit down by us. We asked him what his official diagnosis was. He said, in his little Irish brogue, "Well, as it turns out, I'm prrrrrrrregnant!!!" He's a crackup. Here he is with his wife - they've only been married a few months:

And then it was finally lunch time. Phew. That's right, folks, I've only taken you through half of one day of touring in Beijing.

I was nervous about the food, because well, you know. I haven't had good experiences with the food there. :) But it was actually kind of decent!! It was a little bit like the Americanized Chinese food that we have. There was sweet and sour pork, and normal rice, and then some kind of potato thing, which is fine by me (as long as it doesn't involve sheep's brain's, I'm cool with it), and broccoli, and eggs.

So the kids, Ben, and I were happily wolfing our food down, like, "Hey, this is okay!" Remember, we hadn't had decent food in three months. But our European friends in our group weren't very happy about it. They were like, "Where are the fish and chips? Where are the crepes?" Hahaha! They wanted western food; to them, this was really gross. We were like, "Oh, honey, you have NO IDEA how good this is." Perspective. Aardem and his wife hardly ate a bite.

Sitting at our table in the above picture is a cute little couple from Malta, and then a mother and daughter from Spain. (The waitress is in front of the daughter in that picture. Here, I'll put another picture on so you can see what she looks like.):

She's the blonde. The man from Malta is actually a travel photographer. What a cool way to make a living, eh?? And the daughter from Spain had just arrived in Beijing to study Mandarin for a couple of years. Her mom brought her over and was going to help her get situated with an apartment, etc.

After we ate, off we went to the Temple of Heaven.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Running Through the Forbidden City

Kay. So. The second stop on our whirlwind tour of Beijing was the Forbidden City. It's hard to explain how it's laid out without showing you a picture to kind of give you an idea. It's a series of gates and courtyards, gates and courtyards:

Sorry; crappy copy! I just scanned that out of my Eyewitness Travel book.

So here is what you see when you are ready to go in. I'm not sure what this gate is called - it's not on the above map - it's just the main entranceway:

And here we have a lady taking a picture of our family, there on the right:

It just cracks me up. It's so bizarre being photographed by people who don't know you.

Walking from the main entrance through that first courtyard - we still weren't in the part that you see on that map:

Alright. Here is where we get to the map picture. This is the Meridian Gate, which is where the emperor would review his armies and perform ceremonies marking the start of a new calendar:

Then you're in the first real courtyard. Then you have the second gate - the Gate of Supreme Harmony:

This was used for receiving visitors and for banquets.

It was sunny.

So then you go through that gate. And then you come to the next courtyard and the next building, which is the biggest one - The Hall of Supreme Harmony.

This hall was used for major occasions, like the enthronement of an emperor.

I sooo wish we had had some kind of backpack to carry Micah. Yeah, it would have been crazy-heavy, but dude, he is the slooooooowest walker. Pulling him is like pulling a waterskier. I was the boat, my arm was the rope, Micah was the waterskier:

Our dear, loud little tour guide grabbed Sadie's hand and chugged along, no doubt hoping she could speed us up. Oh that woman... And we couldn't find Sadie's sweatshirt that morning, so she wore mine all that day.

They have these amazing carvings everywhere, even on the handrails by the stairways. Just beautiful:

This was the closest we got to looking inside any of these buildings - this is the inside of the Hall of Supreme Harmony:

I was really hoping to go inside some of these structures. Like, wouldn't it be cool to see where the emperor slept? But everything is cordoned off so you can't even go inside. I asked our tour guide about not being able to go into any of the buildings. She said that it's because they're scared that someone will flick their cigarette butt inside and burn the structure down. All of these structures are just made of wood. She said that they aren't worried about foreigners flicking their cigarette butts, but that it's the Chinese citizens that are the main concern, because they just kind of throw their garbage everywhere and flick their cigarette butts everywhere. I thought that was really interesting.

Fire really must have been a big fear even hundreds of years ago, because they have these huge bronze cauldrons all over the place, which used to be filled with water in case of fire:

There are different walkways and stairways that go through each gate - there was always a walkway and stairway reserved only for the emperor. Not even his wife could walk through the same doorways and stairways as he could. His stairways are really spectacular:

Those are marble carvings. The tour guide told us that they moved them into place by waiting until winter, spraying water along the pathway where they needed to move the huge piece of marble, waiting for it to freeze, and then sliding it along.

This is the Gate of Heavenly Purity, which leads to the inner court, where the emperor and his wife and some concubines slept:

So yeah, this is just the outer stuff that you've seen. I haven't shown you the inner stuff yet. It's really unbelievable how huge the Forbidden City is. And guess how many rooms are in the Forbidden City? 9,999. I guess 9 is a lucky number in China, and the Chinese believed that the God of Heaven had a mansion with one million rooms. The emperors didn't want to outdo the God of Heaven, and they wanted luck, so they had one less room here - 9,999.

And you heard me mention concubines - each emperor had about 3,000 of them. That's right. But he only personally knew about 20 of them. If you were really pretty, you might get a chance at being the emperor's concubine. But you may never meet him in your whole life. But you couldn't marry anyone else or have a relationship with anyone else. The guards assigned to watch over the concubines were all eunichs, to ensure that no hanky-panky went on between guards and concubines. The concubines were the property of the emperor, and that was that.

There are these Chinese Lions all over the place:

I guess foreigners call them "Foo Dogs" - I'm not sure why. They are supposed to keep evil spirits outside of a structure. There are always two, one on each side of an entrance way. The Lion on the left is always the female, and she is holding down a playful cub, because the woman is in charge of The Generations. The male is always on the right, with a ball under his paw:

The ball represents the world. The male is always in charge of the world. I brought some miniature Foo Dogs home for my friend Emily.

Aaaand more people staring at us:

So weird.

So you may have noticed that there were no trees inside the courtyards - I guess each emperor was scared of getting assassinated, so no trees were allowed where he would be, because assassins could easily hide in trees. But once you get past the inner courtyard, there is a lovely Imperial Flower Garden, with lots of very, very old trees:

I kept thinking to myself, "So did the emperor never go into the Imperial Garden???" Maybe just his wives and concubines hung out there. Who knows. Me in the garden:

Can you tell Ben was the photographer that day?? Haha!

They have these beautiful rock formations there in the garden:

When you're leaving the Forbidden City, you can see this big old hill with pagodas on it:

That hill is called Jin Shan Park. The hill was created from the earth that was moved to create the moat that surrounds the Forbidden City. That's a whole lotta dirt.

You can see the moat here, along with one of four arrow towers:

They had one arrow tower at each corner of the Forbidden City.

It truly felt like we were there maybe for one hour? It went by so fast, and we were jogging or speedwalking almost the whole time. It was a killer.

By the time we had gone all the way through, Micah had fallen asleep in my arms. And our tour guide was in a hellfire hurry to get to some Chinese traditional medicine clinic, so we literally ran probably five miles, me with this 30 pound sleeping child in my arms, to the bus. I seriously thought I was going to faint. Sheesh. That lady really needs to simmer down-a.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Five Minutes in Tiananmen Square

We got a fantastic night's sleep in our lovely, sewer-smell-free hotel rooms, and then we got up bright and early the next day for a very, very full day of touring.

First stop - Tiananmen Square. Our tour guide that day, a very fast-walking, loud-talking, short Chinese lady (Sadie would unabashedly put her hands over her ears when the lady was talking - she was pretty dang loud), talked to us a little bit about the history of Tiananmen Square while we were on the bus going there. She talked about how huge it is, how it's a great gathering place for the Communist Party's rallies, blah blah blah. She didn't say one word about the Tiananmen Square Protests/Massacre of 1989:

Yeah. Those are tanks. Firing into a crowd of unarmed, peaceful protestors. Those are bodies. You can see The Forbidden City in the background, so that is for sure Tiananmen Square. That's the Tiananmen Square I remember from newscasts back then.

Whenever I've thought of Tiananmen Square since 1989, this has always been the image that comes up in my mind:

That's a lone man, protesting by blocking those tanks in the street. I wasn't very old - only 12 - when this happened, but I very much remember that picture.

Considering that thousands of people died on June 4th of that year - The Chinese call it "The June 4th Incident" - an "incident" - it's a shame that they aren't mentioned when you're touring this historic place.

An American man we met the second day we were touring said that one of his favorite websites is blocked in China because there's a documentary on the website you can play about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. They don't want people to know about it or talk about it, so it's blocked. Neat.

Sorry; having just finished White Swans, I'm kind of fired up about hating Chinese Communism right now. :) I'll get off my soapbox and get on with the touring.

So we parked, and basically ran from the bus to the square - did I tell you that this lady walked FAST? - and then she said, or rather, yelled, "OKAY! YOU GET FIVE MINUTES TO TAKE PICTURE! THEN WE GO TO FORBIDDEN CITY!!!"

Five minutes? What the heck? So we just ran around and took as many as we could. I sure would have liked to spend more time there. Yikes.

Kay, so in this pic, you see a tall tower thingey with a squareish building behind it. That's Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. The portrait you see there a little to the right of the tall tower isn't Chairman Mao, though. That's Sun Yat-Sen - he's the dude that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and founded the Republic of China in 1912:

Can you see the group of people on the left just STARING at Ben?? Hahaha! We thought, since we were going to Beijing, which has so many foreigners, that we wouldn't get as much attention as we had gotten in Baoding. We were kind of looking forward to some apathy. But it was National Week that week, so there were a lot of people from outside of Beijing who had come into Beijing for their vacation, much like my family would, say, go to Washington, D.C. to tour. So we still were being followed/videotaped/touched nonstop by Chinese people from outside of Beijing. Which was unfortunate. The kids were troopers.

There was a dude from Ireland - he was born in India, but raised in Ireland, so he looks totally Indian, but then he has this cute little Irish brogue. Anyways, he was in our tour group, and he said at one point, "You arrrrrrrre being so kind. I think I would be punchin' everrrrrrrryone rrrrrrrrrrrrright now. The poor wee babe [he was referring to Gage] can't get any decent sleep because of everrrrrrrrrrrryone touchin' him." It's true. He would fall asleep in our little carrier, to be woken up with a start when someone squeezed his little chubby leg or rubbed his little cheeks. Poor thing.

Behind Ben and the kiddos is the Museum of the Revolution (don't even get me started on the revolution) and the Museum of Chinese History. Which we didn't get to see:

Can you see those beautiful flowers behind them? The entire city was totally decked out in flowers. It was gorgeous. I don't know if it always looks that pretty everywhere, or if it was just because it was National Week. Everywhere we went, billions of red salvia and yellow marigolds. Just gorgeous. It made me really want to put some salvia in my garden next summer.

So, Tiananmen Square is directly across the street from the Forbidden City. So you can see the entrance to the Forbidden City behind me and the kids here:

The street is wide and busy, though, so there is an underground tunnel thing you take to walk there. And I was so excited to see that street, because when I was taking my Pimsleur lessons to learn Mandarin, that was one of the names I had to learn - it's called Long Peace Street, or "Chung An Jia." So that was fun to me. I can say "Where is Long Peace Street Located??" - "Chung An Jia tsai nar?" The portrait on that entrance gate to the Forbidden City is Chairman Mao.

And then behind us in this picture is called the Great Hall of the People - it's where China's congress meets:

Too soon, our tour guide lady was screaming at us that it was time to go to the Forbidden City, so off we literally ran, down to the tunnel and across the street.
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