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.


Emily Empey said...

OH wow! that was so fascinating to read! I love it! Btw Will and I LOVE our Foo Dogs! thanks a ton for bringing them home for us :)

Anonymous said...

Wow!! You know so much about chinese history. If I moved there I don't know that I would care to learn about it. It's interesting though. I'm glad you were able to tour there even if it had to be really fast!:)
BTW I LOVE that shirt you're wearing! Did you buy it there in China? I swear I've seen them at walmart or somewhere.

Camille said...

Kar - Thanks for sharing. It brings back memories of when I was there....except, wow - it was CROWDED when you were there. My brother,dad and I were the ONLY ones there in most of the courtyards (except for people begging) when we went...and I know this sounds weird, but I do remember going into some of the buildings. It was over 10 years ago - so maybe they let you back then? I specifically remember going into the one where they slept. I remember seeing the beds - platforms. And the garden at the end was my FAVORITE! It was sooo beautiful.

Patty said...

You look really thin and pretty. There are a ton of people there. I would have been worried about getting lost. That's me: The Worry Warter. China is like a different universe.

Angela said...

I've had fun reading through your posts. What a wonderful adventure. I am sure the home schooling would do me in too! You look great- just glowing!

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