Dwarfed by the Forbidden City
As we entered the Forbidden City under the watchful gaze of Chairman Mao, we were dwarfed by enormous red doors. The entry ways and doors were so huge I thought about standing on Mike’s shoulder’s and then holding Dek up to see if he could reach. Then I remembered that I was not a gymnast and have always been prone to accidents whenever I try acrobatic stunts, so I settled for just looking up in wonder and amazement. I have a feeling the staff wouldn’t have been too keen on my climbing my way to the top of an ancient door either.
We were also overwhelmed by tour groups, tour leaders handing out business cards for trips to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs, and vendors selling food and souvenirs. One souvenir we had a good giggle over were the panda bear hats. Panda bear gear is everywhere in Beijing and it’s not just for kids. We saw more teens and adults wearing these hats than children. I’m a little sad we didn’t get one. I don’t think I would have looked as cute though.
Staying on the Beaten Path
Once inside the gates the throng spread out. We took the main route straight through the city, stopping at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. Although we could only enter each hall to a certain point, we were able to peak in to see the thrones and other adornments. Each was its own tiny museum.
We kept walking in a straight line and I just kept thinking “wow. Oh my gosh. Wow.” I’m not sure I ever got used to the grandeur of the place. Quickly, we caught up with the throng of travelers in the Imperial Garden. If I had been an emperor, I would have spent all of my time in this space. Built during the Ming Dynasty, there was a hill of rocks that if you were able to go up it, you could view the world outside of the palace, but why would you want to? Even though we were there in the winter, and there were no flowers in bloom, or even leaves on the trees, the layout and buildings was so peaceful. I could have let go of a lot of stress if I lived here for a while.
There was a little tea and snack shop in the garden, so we took a break at a table to have a loaf of coconut bread and green tea. Please don’t think the coconut bread was some amazing exotic treat. It was just white bread with toasted coconut on the top. Dek loved it. The other offerings, microwaved sandwiches, biscuits and cookies, were equally as non-exotic, but it hit the spot and kept us fueled up for the next round of exploring.
Not this Way, the Other Way
We headed out of the Imperial Garden and were quickly intercepted by a tour guide that had been chatting us up earlier about her trips to the Great Wall. She quickly steered us back around explaining that we were about to leave the Forbidden City through the north gate (Gate of the Divine Warrior), something we certainly were not ready to do. We thanked her profusely and started wandering into the Eastern Axis, which was the groupings of buildings and passages that ran along the eastern side of the city. There was also a Western Axis.
When we left the main path through the city, we really lost the other travelers. Each building and courtyard only had a handful of people in it at a time. Some buildings were set up as museums so we could see the ornate jewelry of the empresses and concubines, while others only allowed you to peek into the preserved living quarters. It was easy to get lost, and I did begin to wonder if the original inhabitants spent most of their time back tracking as they searched for their other family members. I certainly would have. Talk about having to leave early to get somewhere.
We stumbled upon what we think was the Water Palace or something to that effect. There was a very large metal structure in the middle of the courtyard.The building was set one level below ground. A gate had been put up so people wouldn’t fall or walk up the planks into the building. Dek had a field day wandering around and I had a heart attack every time he got to close to the edge. Those gates sure didn’t have my 1 year old in mind. During our tour around this building we also met a white cat with the best address in all of Beijing. It looked very well fed and roamed wherever it pleased.
Skipping the Imperial Treasury, we took a quick pit stop for a diaper change, which was uneventful, but then had our first major stumble in our trip. I had put Dek down so I could readjust my bag and I accidentally knocked into him causing him to stumble and whack his face on the stone shelf attached to the restroom. Needless to say, everyone in the Forbidden City heard my little man’s cries. I felt so awful.
I had no ice and Dek quickly got a nice purple line right under his eye. What a mess. He did settle down though, and after many hugs and kisses from both mom and dad we were able to continue on. Happily there was no permanent damage done, I just have a lot of pictures of my son with a black eye.
Drama and major hospital visit averted, we pressed on and started heading back towards the entrance we came in. We weaved our way through what I can only describe as the back alleys of the city. The colors were amazing. Vivid turquoise, red, orange, yellow. I could not help but be impressed by the preservation work that must go into a place of this size.
The Not-So-Perfect Shot and Guardian Animals
Several areas were blocked off. One tower on the west side in particular we could not get to. We kept wandering around as I tried to get the perfect shot of it. Sadly, we found the best place as the sun was setting and it was back lit, so I didn’t exactly get the stellar shot I had been hoping for. But it was still beautiful to see in person.
Besides all of the buildings, we saw huge urns that were regularly filled with water to be on hand in case of fire. Most of the Forbidden City’s buildings were made of wood, so fire was, and still is, a big issue I would image. Phoenix and Dragon sculptures sat atop buildings to protect against lightning. Other animal sculptures around the city included turtles, adult lions holding down a baby cub or a ball, and various birds. All had a slightly other worldly look to them. There were also sundials throughout the city. One other stand alone sculpture that I remember was a giant jade donut/circle right across the way from a snack and souvenir shop that sold Yankee’s paraphernalia. Why? I have no idea, but it was entertaining none-the-less. I guess the Yankees really are everywhere.
Trying to Get Home
We exited the way we came in, through the Meridian gate on the south side. We watched the military drills in the outer courtyard as the city was closing, and we were diverted towards the west end of the exit. This ended up being a problem since we wanted to go east, back to our hotel.
When we got out of the Forbidden City, we noticed that the sidewalk was blocked. There was a military checkpoint set up if you wanted to go through. All traffic had been stopped and we really weren’t sure what was going on. A similar crowd had gathered at the curb on the other side of the street, but people were able to move through Tian’anmen Square, so we walked with the crowd to the underpass, went through another security check point where our bags were scanned and came up into the square.
There was a crowd gathered around a flag pole, and we were later told by a fellow traveler that at the same time each day, traffic is stopped as the Chinese flag is put up and taken down. People crowd around to watch this each day. We simply made our way around the crush, checked out the large video screens that had been set up in the square and then headed back to our hotel.
Dek was exhausted and we were all chilled to the bone at this point. As we were walking, Dek kept signing sleep on Mike’s face. He had been a trooper all day, but it was clear that it was time to go home, feed our bellies and pass out so we would have enough energy for our next day of whirlwind adventures.
Up next: The Winter Palace and Jingshan (Coal Hill) with the best views of the Forbidden City, that is if you are there on a clear day.