Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Being a Tourist Part II: After Dark

We ventured out one night in Beijing to see what happens after dark on Wangfujing Street. Usually nothing good happens after a certain time at night, and Beijing is no different. We chose to avoid trouble and had a good time.

About $4 gets you a taste. Pictures are free...if you're quick.

Mom pretended she didn't want to shop, but then she saw this alley and Dad's wallet came out.

If you don't like the price, walk away. They got the same stuff next door.
This was her first taste of bargaining, and she did pretty good but maybe left some money on the table. By the end of their visit she had it all figured out though. After she had her fill of China souvenirs, we found a street specializing in street food. They had everything from scorpion on a stick to simple dumplings. Truly something for everyone, but we were all stuffed full of Beijing duck from earlier in the night.

Near the hotel was a church, and in front of that church everyone was gathered doing everything. There was a choir singing hymns, a soloist singing opera, ballroom dancers and some hooligans practicing their break dancing. Unfortunately, none of those pictures turned out due to low light. You'll just have to use your imagination about a place where those things are all happening in close quarters.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Being a Tourist Part I: First Stop Beijing

We have been in China for over a year and had yet to do much touring outside of Suzhou, so when our first visitors arrived we crammed as much site-seeing in as we could.  Our adventure started out on the high-speed train to Beijing.

China is crowded. You have to catch a ride anyway you can.

Our first stop in Beijing was The Windy Forbidden City. If you are looking to read a plethora of interesting facts you may be disappointed to know I, Shayne, have decide to write this post and I am not always the best listener. The way I remember it our tour guide spent most of her time talking about the Emperor's concubines, so you may want to set your expectations low in regards to how much you are going to learn about this imperial palace built by the Han Dynasty. No.  Qing? No that wasn't it either. Qin? Ming. It was definitely the Ming Dynasty (I barely made it through US history, I have no idea how the Chinese do it).

The Palace was pretty impressive. We came no where near viewing the entire site. Our guide suggested spending two to three days there if you want to see it all. The complex is made up of 980 buildings and 8,886 rooms. Though if you ask the emperor he believed there to be 9,999 rooms. Shh....don't tell.

The view of the first courtyard after entering through the south gate.

Most of the roofs were painted gold. We were told the original paint was made with actual gold. Fancy.

The Palace consisted of multiple courtyards. In the centers were structures that each served a specific function. Some of these include a building for conducting business and ceremonies, the Emperor's living quarters, the Empress's living quarters (Evidently they are only friendly once a month to make babies, otherwise the Emperor is all about his concubines. Interesting, no?), the Empress's birthday building and, of course, the living quarters of the concubines. The courtyards were surrounded by much smaller rooms that were used for various officers for conducting daily life.

I'm on a moat.
 All around the courtyard were these huge vats. They were used to collect rain water.  The rain water could then be used to douse any fires in the all wood palace.

In one ear. Out the other.
The Palace had an interesting drainage system. These dragons each had a spout. The water would pour out, seep into the ground, and hopefully help keep the moat full.

The Empress and her iPad.

This didn't have to do with the concubines, so I can't remember much other than I believe we were told it was carved from one solid piece of stone.

There is no evidence Clif attended this outing according all the pictures we he took. Oops.
 Important people liked odd numbers. In many places you will find these little animals on the roofs. If there are nine, the person living inside must be important. However, the number ten was used only for the divine.


These lions were also guarding important buildings. We were told if they had five toes they were guarding an important person. These have four toes and also the ears are turned down. If I recall correctly, the turned down ears had to do with them being in front of structure for the Empress. It made them less furious. 

Restored and beautiful.

A view of the outer structure.

There were many kinds of incenses burners. There were large ones burned during ceremonies and smaller ones, which I am assuming were more for every day use. Interest fact: sometimes a concubine might try to add poison to an incenses burner like pictured below in an attempt to kill another concubine.

What I also found interesting that the last man chosen to be Emperor during the Qing Dynasty was actually a three year old boy. The guide told us at his coronation he was escorted by his father. The young boy was frightened by the noise of the ceremony and crying unconsolably. His father was over heard telling him not to worry because it would all be over soon. Ironically, that was true. Four years after he became ruler the Qing Dynasty was over thrown. I am also pretty sure she told us this story because M may have been have a little fit in the baby-backpack.

The Gerke's meeting the last living nephew of the last emperor. He now sells his calligraphy to benefit the City, they bought one like you see hanging in the rear.

The final time I will mention them, we were also told each night the emperor would choose which concubine to spend the night with. His eunuch would then go to retrieve her. She would be required to take off all her clothes and be covered with a sheet. She would then be escorted to the emperor and he would know that she was not hiding any sort of weapon that could be used to kill him.

After our tour ended we walked back through the City only to realize what a maze of buildings we had not seen, including a four star bathroom.  It is truly an impressive site.

Stay tuned for more Beijing adventure!