The picture of Mao, the meeting place
Beware, parts of this journal entry are disgusting.
Our plan for the day was to meet our friends underneath Mao's picture in front of the Forbidden Palace and tour the palace together.
Brian and I arrived a few mintues early and quickly realized that meeting up was not going to be as easy as we imagined. There were thousands of people everywhere. We found a spot where we were almost alone and easily seen and waited and watched tour after tour of Chinese enter the palace grounds. Eventually we all found each other and we crossed the bridge to enter the Forbidden Palace.
The map of the palace grounds is misleading because it appears to be one square block, when in reality is is at least 10 square blocks. It is a huge complex of palaces, temples, gardens and other buildings.
One of the five bridges in the outer courtyard of the Forbidden Palace
We were inside the complex for over an hour looking at stuff and we were not even in the inner courtyard yet. There were people everywhere and I soon realized that the Chinese have some very bad habits. First, they spit everywhere. I mean everywhere, all the time. If you are standing next to them, they will spit on your shoes. They all spit, men, women, old and young and it is foul and disgusting. I don't think I object to this just because I am American. In Singapore you can go to prison for spitting in public. In China it is part of life. They don't seem to ever swallow, they just spit everything out on the sidewalk. With people spitting all around you, you begin to feel as if they are spitting on you. In Denver, spitting on someone is a felony offense because of the risk of spreading disease.
The Chinese don't seem to be as worried about fluids, and if you have to use a Chinese toilet you truly understand this. The toilet is built into the ground, with a foot pad on each side and you are supposed to squat and go. I cannot squat as low as is necessary to use this toilet without making a mess, so I tried to just hold it. They don't put toilet paper down the toilet because their sewer system cannot handle it, so there is a trash can for that purpose. The result is the worst stench you can imagine. I discovered that the toilet marked as disabled is actually a western-style toilet, so when all else failed I would use that one. Of course it always had a line of white people outside of it! :)
The next bad habit is pushing. Chinese people will push you out of their way, whether you are actually in their way or not.
A temple in the gardens
Even if you are standing in line, even if you are heading into the bathroom stall, or next in line to view an exhibit, they will simply shove you aside and take your place. All of the guidebooks were adamant that it is very bad form to show anger in public or to yell and lose your temper. When people are spitting and shoving you it is extremely difficult not to lose your temper. As Americans, we view these two things as extremely rude, and it is difficult not to speak out when it happens.
At one point Suzy clenched her teeth and said "If one more person pushes me, I am going to punch them." She quickly noticed that a circle of space had opened up around her. I'm not sure if punching is allowed, but threatening to punch worked for a bit. :)
Despite the frustrations of Chinese habits, the Forbidden Palace is worth seeing.
The animals on the corner protect the buildings, the more animals the more important the building, this one has 5, so it is of medium importance
It contains the palaces and history of the last several dynasties in China, including the Ming and Qing. We purchased the self-guided audio tour which provided fascinating stories about the lives of the emperors, their wives and concubines. There was a great deal of intrigue among the royal families and we all commented that the stories would make good soap operas as they contained jealousy, power, murder and mayhem. One empress was very jealous of the concubines and she would monitor them and if one fell pregnant she would send them away for an abortion. One concubine was sent away, but the nurse had sympathy for her and did not abort her baby, instead telling the empress that she had a tumor. The concubine bore a son and hid him. Five years later the emperor still had not had a son and he was very sad, so his eunich told him about the concubine's son.
One of the temples in the Forbidden Palace
The emperor was very happy to meet his son, but the empress found out and drowned the concubine in the well. The eunich felt so guilty that he killed himself. The son went on to become the next emperor. We learned a lot about the history leading up to the communist revolution and the transfer of power in China throughout the centuries. The most beautiful part of the palace grounds is the palace garden which contained huge rock sculptures, flower gardens, beautiful trees and had a very zen peaceful feel to it. One of the craziest moments was when we ran into our Scottish friends. Last night they were unable to join all of us for dinner because their tour of the Great Wall got back so late. They were leaving this afternoon, but decided they had time to see the Forbidden Palace before going to the airport.
View from the top of Beijing
In this massive city, in the biggest of attractions and among thousands and thousands of people, we ran right into them and were able to have a brief reunion, it was great! :) We spent more than 4 hours touring the Forbidden Palace and still did not see all of the exhibits and buildings, but by then we were exhausted and a bit fed up with fighting the crowds.
Across the street from the palace is a large park, with a hill in the middle that has a temple at the top. Beijing is completely flat except for this one hill, so it is worth the hike to the top to view the entire city and to see the Forbidden Palace in its entirety. Even though our feet were tired, we all made the hike to the top and enjoyed the views.
Suzy and Brian share a Chinese candied apple
It was a sunny day, so we were able to see for miles.
Next we went to the Pearl Market for some shopping. This is a 4-story complex of stalls where you can buy just about anything. We knew this was our last day to shop and buy gifts for everyone, so we were on a mission. Suzy taught us how to bargain in Shanghai, so we put our skills to use and managed to get several great deals. When you really get into the spirit of bargaining you forget that you are arguing about paying $2 vs $1 and you have to laugh at yourself. :) I got 24 pairs of chopsticks in individual silk pouches for $1.25. Brian got three t-shirts for less than $10.
One of the other bad habits we discovered in Beijing is the attitude of the taxi drivers.
Fried scorpion anyone?
Leaving the Forbidden Palace, the Pearl Market and the night market, we found it extremely difficult to get a cab. There were dozens of cabs lined up, ready to go, but none of them would drive us. Each time we would get in, show the driver where we wanted to go, argue over a price vs. the meter, insist on the meter, only to be thrown back out of the cab. When we were tired after a long day, and hungry for dinner, this made us feel very desperate at times. When we finally got a good cab driver, who utilized the meter, we would tip generously. How is Beijing going to effectively host the world in 8 months for the Olympics, when getting a cab is so difficult and when the people are so pushy and rude? I would warn anyone who is traveling for the Olympics to be prepared!
After our shopping spree we headed back to the night market, with the plan to get dinner and check out the night stalls.
Sun setting over the Temple of Heaven
Our group consisted of 3 couples and it is always interesting when you have a group mentality. While searching for a restaurant a man approached and convinced us to go to his sezchaun restaurant. As soon as we entered the restaurant, each of us individually noticed aspects of the restaurant that made us want to leave. However, none of us said anything because we did not want to be difficult and since nobody said anything we all ended up eating dinner in a restaurant that was not necessarily as clean as we would have liked. The next day we all laughed about it, because if any one of of us would have entered alone, we would not have eaten there. Despite the issues we were able to get a non-smoking room and the food was good. As we were eating the other table in the room filled up with a large group of Chinese. During their meal they became upset with the waitress and began yelling at her and berating her very loudly. She bowed her head and left the room and then we heard her screeching and screaming in the kitchen. We don't know what happened, but we were all upset that the other table yelled at the waitress. When the same group started smoking in our non-smoking room we quickly finished eating, paid our bill and left.
On the alleys along the mall are the famous night market food stalls. The stalls sell every type of food. The food looks pretty fresh and most of it is cooked right in front of you, which always makes it easier to eat. We all stopped to check out the scorpions on a stick that were being grilled, but none of us were brave enough to try them! :) I did take a photo though... :)
After another long day of walking all over Beijing, we decided to head back to the hotel to prepare for our big day tomorrow....the Great Wall! :)