The Steps of Emperors

Our second day (Thursday) was another grand adventure. We didn’t even go that far away from our hotel to experience it! We began our morning at 9:30 with a visit to Tiananmen square. The square sits in front of the national capital building, so there used to be a lot of protests here, but the last one occurred on June 4, 1989. We were here in Beijing on the 30th year anniversary of the events that transpired that day. It’s interesting, because China hasn’t said much about what happened and our guide wouldn’t say, so we aren’t supposed to talk about it. We did some research, though, and if you go online to do some research on your own, you can find answers pretty quickly.

Tiananmen square held the first of many glorious guard towers/gates we visited. This guard tower south of Tiananmen square is the last remaining entrance into the ancient inner city. Anciently, as in many other cultures, the upper class lived within the inner-city wall, while the lower class lived outside. On top of that, when the forbidden city was constructed, only the emperor, his family, concubines, and high-ranking officials were allowed into the walls of the palace. That’s where we went next.

The Forbidden City is absolutely stunning. It is the largest palace structure on earth. It is supposed to have 9,999 rooms to symbolize that the emperor is so close to God (the Godly number is 10,000). The people believed that the emperor was the son of God, so he was treated as such. The palace had 3 massive gates leading from the south side, each with it’s own wall surrounding the palace. Upon passing the 3 walls/gates, you enter a very large courtyard where the business building of the emperor remains. According to our guide, this courtyard was the most important ground in all of Asia for hundreds of years. Lots of immensely important decisions were made here, and the power the emperor had was immeasurable.

After passing the office building and courtyard, we saw the emperor’s palace, then the family house, and a few other buildings leading up to the north. There are literally hundreds of buildings scattered around the walls and courtyards, and it was only opened to the public within the last 100 years. Hence the name, Forbidden City. One of my favorite buildings was built out of rocks pulled from the river. I have some cool pictures I’ll try and post of it. I was very impressed with the attention to detail, the ornate beauty, and the vastness of this incredible palace. If I lived in ancient China, I would have definitely believed that Emperor was the Son of God, based solely on the size of and intensity of his palace.

The only unfortunate thing about our visit to the Forbidden City, was that it began raining by the end. We made a quick exit from the palace and headed to the van. From there, we visited a silk store and got pressured into making some purchases. When we signed up for our activities, we had the option of doing a shopping, and a non-shopping tour. We chose the shopping tour because it was cheaper. When we didn’t want to purchase anything at the silk store, our guide quickly explained that the reason we pay less to do the shopping tour is because the places we visit are government sponsored. The government subsidizes the costs of our trip so that we can use that money to buy things at their stores. It was interesting. Essentially, our guide gave us two options. If we didn’t buy anything, she said we’d have to wait 40 minutes before we could leave, but if we bought ANYTHING, we could leave. In the end, Elle and I bought a little painting and some chopsticks to get out of there. It was really cool to see how all the silk was made, but it wasn’t fun being pressured into buying stuff.

Next, we ate lunch. Yum. We had traditional dumplings of shrimp, lamb, and veggies, and we also shared a yummy soup. Naomi hasn’t used chopsticks before, so it was fun teaching her and watching her slowly get it down.

After lunch, we headed off to try and pull out some cash. We have struggled SO much in trying to pull out money here. For whatever reason, Elle’s cards haven’t worked anywhere internationally and China ATM’s really don’t like my cards, so we had to make a trip to an international bank. I felt SO much better once we were holding cash in our hands. There’s a certain safety in knowing that you have a little cash in case of an emergency.

From the bank, we headed off to the Temple of Heaven. This temple is very unique, because it is round and has 3 tiers. It was interesting, because all of the roofs in the Forbidden City were yellow in color, but these were blue. Sue explained that the yellow colored roofs are reserved exclusively for the emperor and his palaces, but because this was the temple of heaven, the roofs are blue to symbolize the sky. The temple and the buildings around it were gorgeous. Anciently, the emperor would travel from the Forbidden City, to the temple of heaven to pray for the harvest. In more modern times, the emperor would travel down once a year for the harvest and during any natural disaster. The emperor would be forced to fast from meat, alcohol, and his concubines for three days leading up to his visit. Poor emperor.

Upon leaving the temple, we headed to a theater for an acrobatic show. It was super cool! At first, we kind of questioned our decision to go there, because most of the show was performed by kids and teenagers. As the show progressed, it became increasingly impressive and intense. Kids were launching themselves from swings, jumping through hoops, bending their bodies in crazy ways, balancing on ridiculous things while holding stuff, and a clown would come out occasionally with a really annoying whistle. Overall, it was a pretty interesting experience. Elle said of the experience, “I’d like to see Cirque de Soleil try to top that. . . The scary thing is, I know they can.”

Once the show was over, we headed off to the hotel to get ready for bed. We ended up wandering around the city a little bit in search of some markets. We didn’t find any, but we did walk along a park and see some old people dancing. It’s set up a lot like an exercise class. One old person is at the front directing, and the rest attempt to follow. The old people here participate in such activities to stay active with old age. I must say, after seeing some old people in Zambia who didn’t do anything with their days, I can tell that any form of exercise truly helps.

Another great day in China.

Author: Braydan

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