This was taken looking out from the Forbidden City entrance. I like how the soldier is lined up with both the flag, the monument and Mao's tomb
We left the Forbidden City through the same south entrance we came in, and walked through the tunnel back to Tiananmen Square. We stopped to get some sodas from a vending truck that was parked there. At the soda truck, a Chinese teenager poked me in the arm. At first, I thought he was trying to sell me something, but he was making hand motions to suggest "camera" or "photo", and pointed at his two friends. I assumed he was asking me to take a picture of the 3 of them...but when I offered, he said, "no, no", pointed at me, and smiled. Lee laughed, and said "I think he wants his picture taken with you, dude!" OH...ok? He stood next to me and smiled, and his friends took a picture of us both. He nodded his thanks, and they went on their way, slapping each other on the back.
Temple at the southern end of Tiananmen Square
The only thing I can think of, is I'm 6'2'', 210 lbs, and must look like a giant to them...I tower over everybody. Maybe he just wanted his picture with a big Westerner? I'm sure I don't look like any Beijing movie stars!
While we were still in the square, I wanted to get some souvenir kites for Tyler and his 3 half-sisters. I had asked some Westerners who were carrying kites, what they had paid for them. They said they paid 5 RMB for two! This morning, the vendors were trying to sell them to me for 40 RMB each... well, now I knew what I could really get them for! I asked a vendor with a bag of them how much, and sure enough, he said 40 RMB each. Nope! I'll offer you 20 RMB .
We walked to the Temple of Heaven...should have taken a cab!
of them. No, can't do that, he said. "Why not?" I asked...I just met a girl who bought 2 for 5 RMB! I'm offering double that! You should give me 4 for 10!" To emphasize my point, I pulled out a 20 note and waved it in front of him. At this point, an older woman (the kite pimp?) walked over to see what was going on. I told her my offer, of 20 RMB for 4 kites, and she had a good laugh. "They are 40 each! she reiterated. "OK, no problem" I said..."I'll just go find the guy selling them for 2 for 5RMB" and I put the 20 note back in my pocket and started to walk away... She stopped me, looked at the teenager with the bag, and said "ok, give it to him" I gave the 20 and took the 4 kites, for half the price of one.
Walking through the deteriorated neighborhoods off the main road
..but still twice what the other girl paid! After that we walked south, headed for the Temple of Heaven.
We decided to walk rather than take a cab, because it didn't seem too far away on the map. But, it seemed like it took forever to get there! We walked down the main road for awhile, then took a shortcut down some lessor roads, heading southeast towards the temple. We walked through some really deteriorating neighborhoods! Not in an "unsafe" way however (we never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in any Chinese neighborhoods...not even when I was walking around by myself at 4:30 am) Rather, these neighborhoods had buildings that were actually crumbling and falling apart! There were houses and stores going about business as usual, but every other lot was full of rubble, and every other building seemed to be partly if not completely collapsed.
One of the many crumbled buildings we saw, walking to the Temple of Heaven
At first, we thought it must be part of Beijing's "renovations" for the Olympics...but while we saw much destruction, there was no construction! Although building face-lifts and scaffolding was a common sight along the main roads, it was quite a different story a few blocks into the regular neighborhoods. We continued on our way, and eventually popped out onto one of the main roads again.
According to the map, we should almost be there..but all we see is a large wall across the street, that goes as far as we could see. The park must be on the other side, how to get in? We had to walk another mile or so to get to the temple entrance, by that time I had a large blister on my foot. I was starting to lag behind the other guys, partly from the blister, but mainly because I kept stopping to take pictures! There were dozens of bicycles parked outside the temple, and none of them were locked! Can't do that in New York! We bought our tickets to get in, I also purchased a map and guide to the grounds.
The North Celestial Gate
There was some confusion about what tickets to get, apparently there were different charges based on where you wanted to go. I'm always for the all-access pass, but the guys decided that a grounds-only pass was good enough. This meant we couldn't actually go inside the temples themselves, just walk around them...but at this point with my sore feet I didn't care too much. Now, in retrospect, I regret that we didn't get to go in! We had come in through the North Gate, so after we purchased our tickets, we entered the grounds through the North Celestial Gate.
As we walked down the tree lined walkway, directly in front of us was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. (This was the first place we couldn't actually enter) We walked up to, and around it without going inside.
Walking down the tree lined path to the Hall
We went up a large stone staircase to get close up pictures of the Hall. I asked Lee to take my picture with the Hall behind me, and I had to stand right on the edge of a 40 foot high drop to get it. Lee was waiting for a Chinese couple who were taking pictures behind me to move, but they were taking forever....
I was getting acrophobic waiting at that height, and finally he got tired of waiting for them to leave and just took the picture. We walked back down and we were greeted by fields of waist-high flowers that seemed to go on forever, amongst tall trees. It made a nice shot with the sun behind it, but it looked better in person than the photos.
We meandered about the grounds, making our way towards the West Celestial Gate, where we saw a wedding party being photographed.
It was a 40 foot drop to my right, and the couple to my left just WOULDN'T go away!
I guess this is a perfect park for that! Near there, we wanted to visit "The Beamless Palace" and "The Fasting Palace", but they were closed for renovations. (surprise, surprise!) We walked back to the center of the park and onto the Danbi Bridge, which was crowded with people. We headed down the bridge to the Chengzhen Gate.
Through Chengzhen Gate is the Imperial Vault of Heaven, surrounded by Echo Wall (another place we couldn't actually go in to) Echo Wall, also called "sound spreading wall" is so named because it is made of fine textured bricks from Linqing City in Shandong. If you speak facing north within the walls, the sound will spread around the wall and can be heard at a great distance.
9 Dragon Juniper
That is, if you can ever get in there when there are no other people around! At the Northwest side of Echo Wall is an ancient tree called the 9 Dragon Juniper. The trunk is so uneven it looks like there are nine dragons circling around it, hence the name. Around this area, there were several shops, gift stands, benches, etc. I had lost the guys, who had gotten ahead of me while I took pictures. (that happened a lot) After a trip to the restroom, I found them sitting on some steps behind the Vault. They didn't seem to mind the chance to rest while waiting for me to catch up! We were pretty tired and sore by now from all the walking around, and decided to head back to the hotel. The pool and hot tubs were calling us! We walked through the Triple Gate and down a pathway along the Circular Mound Alter, and exited through the Zhaoheng Gate (South Gate).
Imperial Vault Of Heaven
We were happy to see several cabs waiting outside the exit. No way were we walking back to the hotel! We walked up to the nearest one, and showed him our business card from the hotel. Athough it was written in both English and Chinese, he acted like he had no clue where we wanted to go. So, we left him and went to the next one! The next cabbie shook his head no. So did the next 3! Don't any cabbies want our fare? We walked to the main road and flagged down a cab in the street, showed our card, and he agreed to take us. We hopped in, and wondered, what was up with those other cabs? He started by driving south, even though we knew the hotel was not far north of here.
fields of trees and flowers
He then hopped on the highway and headed east. We figured he was just trying to run up the fare, but we didn't care. We were just happy that we didn't have to walk anymore! After driving east awhile, he looped around and headed north again...then got off the highway and onto the main road again. Now driving West,
we eventually made it back to the hotel, and he dropped us off at the lower entrance. The fare came to 25 RMB, and I paid him, sitting up front. (we would often have one of us pay a fare or bill, then split it 4 ways after) Even with the elongated route he took, the fare still equaled less than $1 US each! Not bad! Try to do THAT in New York City! And tipping isn't even allowed!
We stopped at the front desk to get a recommendation for dinner (we were anxious to try the Peking Duck) and we asked them why so many cabbies had refused us.
Temple Of Heaven
They speculated that The Temple Of Heaven was probably too close to the hotel to be worth it to them! (that would explain why our guy took the long way) Oh, well, no big deal...we made it back all right. We headed upstairs to get our swimsuits, and hit the pool! (and hot tub!)