Stop 1: Tienamen Square
I’m going to have to come back to Tienamen Square someday, because I really sincerely wanted to wait in line to see Mao’s beautiful face in his glass coffin, but the several hour wait was apparently not on the group schedule. Instead, our group walked around, briefly saw the rest of the sights, and mostly took pictures with very happy Chinese strangers. The beards of several of my co-study-abroaders were particularly in demand.
Stop 2: The Forbidden City
Our guide, Tom, explained to us that if Tienamen Square is the heart of the city of Beijing, then the Forbidden City is it’s brain, because it is where the emperor would live and govern from. He also told us that a while back (I forget which dynasty) a concubine of the emperor managed to gain influence through her relationship and even bring her son to power when the emperor passed. Apparently she ruled through her son for many years, and was referred to as the Dragon Lady for her fierceness. And that is where the term ‘dragon lady’ comes from. (So I made that last bit up, but I think it could be true.)
I loved this part of the tour today – especially the ceramic roof and building tiles used on the emperor’s palace. The spectacular gold glaze of the roofs against the amazingly beautiful blue of the sky (no smog today!) was a harmonious contrast unlike any I’ve seen. Also, I can’t help but think about how I’ve been in the Forbidden City, where Jackie Chan’s imperial guard character in Shanghai Noon glimpses Princess Pei-Pei and carries out his daily exercises with the rest of the guards. !!!
Stop 3: Lunch
We ate lunch today in a family’s home in a hutong. A hutong, as I understand it, is the kind of winding, turning alleyways that Beijing was first constructed of and is somewhat famous for. We took a rickshaw tour through the hutong area before eating, and I marveled at both the tricky biking manuovers of our driver/rider and the small, but beautiful stone houses covered in both vines and laundry lines.
Stop 4: Temple of Heaven
This temple, a round, ornate building, is part of the four main temples in Beijing – dedicated to Heaven, Moon, Earth, and Sun. We entered through a long hallway in which many older citizens were playing cards, Chinese chess, or mahjong. It was quite the party! Again, the beautiful colors of the ceramic tiles entranced me – mostly blue and green this time. There were several different buildings spread out over the compound, each with a purpose ranging from ceremonial/sacrificial to where they store the stone tablet for the ceremony during the rest of the year. A very nice middle-aged Chinese man tried to explain something to me, I think about the clouds above the temple in my pictures, but as he was unwilling to take the time to utilize hand gestures, I didn’t understand.
Stop 4: The Pearl Market
To kill time before dinner, we stopped at one of the largest flea markets/malls in Beijing. Each floor had a different theme, from actual pearls and jewelry in the fancier levels at the top, down to knockoff electronics and multitudes of scarves in the lower levels. Haggling is the norm here, a phenomenon that I am not particularly familiar or comfortable with – it makes me feel bad! I watched Chinese people walking away from prospective deals, shaking their heads and loudly proclaiming that the price was too much – it worked every time.
Stop 5: Dumpling Dinner
We ate at a popular chain restaurant for dinner, which served us 8 different kinds of dumplings, as well as many other dishes. I told myself I was going to eat one of every dumpling, but ending up failing miserably with only 6/8 completed. I was just too full! We also got to watch the dumpling production line through a window to the kitchen – it was reminiscent of the Pike Place Fish Market as wads of dumpling dough whizzed through the air.
Then it was finally back to the hotel and to bed! I opted to shower and sleep rather than going out, which I think is acceptable after a long day with considerable jet lag.
End Day Two.