Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back to Beijing - The Forbidden City

It’s been a while since I did any real adventuring. (Unless you include trying the carrot dumplings at the local wet market yesterday. Cos that shit was intense.) I think just over a month has passed since the Xinjiang trip, and I won’t be doing much else hardcore until Phuket in January. I pass these days with class (university in China means classes 5 days a week) and a lot of reading and writing and eating. The weather is officially freezing here in Jinan, and snickers are cheap so I get to do a lot of winter-time thinking.

It was during one particular bout of such thinking, that I remembered I hadn’t written a lot about my time in Beijing. It was university holidays for July and August, and my mum came on a much-needed visit to China. Much-needed by me, that is. Only silly people don’t admit that sometimes you just need your mum. Anyways, we had a long time together and did lots of wonderful things, but because I went to North Korea for a while in the middle there, I didn’t write a lot about what we actually did in Beijing. There was the cooking classes and The Summer Palace, but I want to take you now to The Forbidden City.

Let us begin with a little background. Not too much, because I think if you wanted the history of the place you would probably reed a little deeper about it anyway, but some of the brief (and juicy) stuff is necessary to appreciate the place. It was officially completed in 1420, and for about 500 years it was totally off-limits to the public. During that time, this centre of China’s mini-world saw two dynasties (the Ming and Qing) and a total of 24 separate rulers.

The biggest and bestest most impressive building is The Hall of Supreme Harmony which was used for ceremonial occasions of all sorts, and it’s the home to the dragon throne. The western and eastern sides are the former living quarters and also libraries, temples, theatres, gardens and tennis courts. Nowadays, these areas and small buildings are filled with exhibits of jewelry and clocks and weapons and photography and etcetera. 

The juiciest story of the place is about a well. The Well of Concubine Zhen is famous because this one time, the infamous Cixi (she was a mad crazy bitch) threw a disliked concubine down there to drown. It doesn't look that great, I mean the place has a lot of wells and they don't know for sure which one it is, but the're all just holes in the ground. Cool story though.

Enough with the actual facts now, my general impression is that I like the place. I like the fact that no matter how well-funded and fancy it is, there is still grass growing on the roofs. I like the fact that no matter how many thousands of people there are visiting, it’s so damn big that you can always find a quiet spot. I like the fact that the number of everything (studs on doors(9 x 9 = 81), little figures on rooftops (only odd numbers), bridges across the mini-river(5) ) has great significance. 

The gardens are lovely, and the whole place actually makes for a wonderful getaway from bustling inner-city Beijing. There are always birds and the trees are incredible and old because they’re all protected. The Forbidden City employs hundreds of locals, and a lot of them seem to kind of just sit in the shade and watch the goings-on. There will be an old lady sweeping dust from one side of a courtyard to another, all day long, without much result. There will be a locked gate through which you can still see a slice of the ongoing corridor on the other side, after which there is an open gate and finally a man just sitting on a seat outside a rundown shed kind of thing. It really is its own mini-city. You could be on the east side and have no idea what the heck was going on around the west side.

 A lot of the mini exhibits are covered in dust and yucky kids’ fingerprint smudges, but if you can see through the glass the artifacts are breathtaking. My favourite was the collection of clocks. It was insane! I’m serious! There were, like, hundreds of clocks – and all of them with gold and silver and jewels and stuff! There were massive ones and tiny ones, and ones that moved something every second and ones that had figures painting calligraphy. My favourite was the one that had a working, moving model of the solar system. Dude. So incredible. If I ever get so rich that I can afford a fancy clock, I’m going to demand that it features to-scale replicas of the planets of our immediate universe. Depending on how rich exactly that is, I have decided the planets will be made of colour-matched precious stones (eg. emerald for Earth and big fat ruby for Mercury and a champagne diamond for the sun etc etc.)

There is a lot, lot more that can be said about The Forbidden City. However, if you're going to go to China, there is no way you wouldn't go to Beijing and then there is no way you wouldn't go to the Forbidden city anyways. The DK Eyewitness and Lonely Planet guides for China are where I get most of my information from, and if you have any specific questiong feel free to comment/email me, but I think these pictures say a lot. They certainly jogged my memory.

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