A Travellerspoint blog

April 2015

Forbidden City

sunny -4 °C

Final day in China, and time for Forbidden City. It had been so close yet so far all this time. First we needed a double order of Taiwanese breakfast sandwiches that we ate on the steps outside the subway. If we brought them inside, the announcements would conveniently become bilingual just long enough to ream us out for eating in there.

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When we got off the subway, there seemed to be a ton more security guards than usual. Lots of bag scans and metal detectors to go through just to get near the building. The lines themselves took ten minutes or so and we hadn't even entered the gates. We wondered if it was always this intense. The Irish flag was flying alongside the Chinese today, we later noticed so that may have been a factor.

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Forbidden City was quite large. We passed two whole halls of the outer court before the ticket counter appeared. The complex was designed and built from 1406-1420 for the Emperor and Empress along with their many concubines and attendants. It served as such during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Some halls were used to conduct meetings, others for celebrations. I had rented an audio guide and it urged me to look up at the statues on the roofs which served as guardians. The more there were, the more important the building was. The highest number of guardians was eleven.

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We visited the Hall of Supreme Harmony, used for ceremonies, like the lunar New Year, Winter Solstice, birthdays and enthronement of a new emperor. The hall was built in the 15th century then rebuilt in the 17th. Inside there was a dragon throne. We also visited the Hall of Central Harmony, a few times since my audio guide stopped working properly and I had to get it fixed. Here the Emperor would rehearse speeches, rest and meet with close ministers. The last large Hall of Preserving Harmony had less pillars than the others and could be used for banquets and dances. Later it was used for imperial ceremonies.

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Outside each hall were large copper vats that were used to put out fires. We also came across a large stone carving that ascended between the staircases. They transported the stone from the suburbs of Beijing by sprinkling water on the road to create an ice path.

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We passed through a few more halls before making it to the Imperial Garden. Large rocks transported from southern China upon request, dominated the landscaping in a good way. They had a pavilion on either side. It seemed like the most relaxing area in the extremely large and cold complex.

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Along both sides of the gates were buildings: palaces for the Empress and the concubines selected young and for their beauty. Some who had sons even had a shot at becoming royalty later on in life. Many of the rooms were still set up from the last Empress's 50th birthday party some years ago. Ornaments and furniture were on display behind glass. On the Eastern side, the buildings had been converted into museums housing bronze, jade and ceramic displays.

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Chilled once again, we tried to find the exit but were forbidden from going the logical route that would lead to the subway. We finally understood the name in today's context. We went around, past the imposing walls and moat again except in another direction. There was no logical reason that we could see as to why people needed to walk around the massive complex in the cold other than to encourage the sales of tickets for the little electric car to the exit or to corral people past souvenir shops. The added twenty minutes where my face was so dry my lips cracked open again , didn't improve my mood.

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We got turned around in one more dead end in the underground before we made it to Tiananmen Square. As advertised, it was a lot of paved open space with security that felt a bit out of place. People would boldly try to take photos of or with the guards, who seemed unwelcoming at best. I used my zoom lens just the once. But mostly, we stuck to photography of the monument in the middle and the big stone buildings reminiscent of a Soviet style.

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Once we said our goodbyes and packed up our bags, we took the late subway to the airport for our lovely 2 am flight. Despite all our time spent using internet, neither of us had thought to look up which terminal we needed to arrive at to catch an Air Asia flight. We took the third last train to terminal 3 where some international ones departed.

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Luckily for us, a Malaysian couple was struggling to communicate with the security guard just before the subway exit gates. The Chinese woman working was so lost she even asked us if we spoke Mandarin so we could translate her words into English for the couple. Essentially, they wanted to know if he could see her off on her flight and then return to the train to go to terminal 2 for his later flight. We were able to tell him when the last train was running, which axed his plans. Lucky for us again, the couple knew which terminal Air Asia flew out of much better than the woman who actually worked there and hardly understood English. The Malaysian man and us took the train back to terminal 2, where sure enough we could catch our flight.

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The hassles weren't over yet. It wouldn't be China if they were. The Air Asia desk was impossibly slow. They were running a big long-distance jet, yet to check everyone in, they only opened three counters. We stood in line for a full hour just to drop off our checked bags. I suppose they figured we had nothing else to do between 11pm and 2am, but still, a chair would have been nice. At least the smiling Malaysian people reminded me that soon we'd be in a warmer place, if only for the layover, but Thailand was much the same.

Posted by Sarah.M 05:45 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing forbidden taiwanese wrap Comments (0)

Hutongs of Beijing and Lama Temple

semi-overcast -4 °C

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We'd gone into hibernation mode, killing time in the morning in the misguided hope that it would warm up, although it never did. We also had an unhealthy addiction to the Logos game/app that coincidentally amped up our desire to stay inside.

Once we eventually left, we tried out the Taiwanese sandwich shop that my friend recommended. Boy were they good, like little egg or egg and bacon crepes, with a flaky yet oily exterior. They were salty with chili sauce, ketchup and pepper. The vendor even spoke some English so I could be sure mine were meat free. We regretted only buying one to scarf down before the subway ride.

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We came back above ground at Lama Temple, a Tibetan temple that had withstood battles that desecrated other buildings. Originally a residence for Emperor Yong Zheng, Lama Temple was converted into a Lamasery in 1744. Since, it helped to serve as a liaison between China and the Mongol people when relations were healthy.

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By this point, we'd admit that we'd seen a lot of temples, most looking very similar and this one also fit the bill. A unique feature was a giant wooden Buddha statue, so large in fact that they earned a world record (posted in the temple museum) for their statue. They also had the prayer wheels we saw in Sichuan province that were more typical to Tibet.

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Most people visited to pray and bought bundles of incense sticks. There were many sites where they placed the sticks as an offering for each prayer. That incense shop made quite the healthy business. We were pretty cold just wandering around, economically snapping photos when interest topped the desire to have warm hands. The only place to warm up had been the museum with a collection of bronze statues and worship items. Monks stood in the corner, I assumed to supervise, although their phones caught their attention far more than any visitor.

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We found a vegetarian restaurant which was quite far from the temple. It didn't always pay to avoid meat, but the place was nice. It had a health grocery section at the front and then a dining area with several sections. It felt like a tea house out of a kung-fu movie with round windows in the stone walls, dark furniture, an indoor courtyard made to look outdoorsy. We split a kung-pow mock chicken dish that I was a bit sceptical of and I tried some flowery Roselle tea.

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It took a few wrong turns to find our way out of the hutongs and head toward the other hutongs that Lonely Planet recommended. We passed some sweet Christmas decorations like life-sized lobsters wearing Santa hats. Ryan also spotted a few guitar shops that we stopped in to 'warm-up'. Most of the recognizable brand guitars were wrapped in plastic which killed most of the fun for him. There was also a hotdog stand with veggie dogs right near the start of our self-guided tour.

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We opted to do the tour backward based on our location, which was much easier in theory, especially without street names. We started with nice residential hutong alleys that led to the Drum and Bell Towers currently under construction. It was for the best anyway as we would have likely been too cheap to pay the entrance fees.

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Across a busier street, we got a bit more lost trying to decide how far was enough based on the poorly scaled map. Rarely did Lonely Planet produce useful maps in the books themselves. Since our interpretation was that they wanted us to go through someone's yard, we made our own route past vegetable vendors, homes and other one or two story constructions that didn't contribute to the skyline.

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We found a nice little park with a frozen lake that the book forgot. Soon the hutongs got really commercial and trendy as we tried to locate so-and-so's former residence even though it turned out we could only look at the front gate. Our fingertips and cheeks were burning so we went back.

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My friend recommended a nice Chinese restaurant a few streets away from her place for supper so we had a nice feast of lamb wraps, eggplant, a refreshing cucumber dish and fried beans. It was sad to think we'd be saying goodbye soon, felt like yesterday we were having adventures in Thailand together. It was also awesome she put us up and shared her living space for a whole week.

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Posted by Sarah.M 07:44 Archived in China Tagged tower park temple beijing drum lama cold bell frozen hutong closed sandwich taiwanese Comments (0)

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