2015 Asia – Beijing Day 2

Being 12 hours off I am afraid the smog appears thicker than what it is!
We are up and at breakfast. Peter takes our order for an omlet somewhat disappointed that we are not trying a Chinese breakfast, tomorrow I promise. The omlet is the best I have had.
Soon we are making our way to the Square and its’ excessive security. We are “greeted” by Chinese Army soldiers dressed in their forest green wool coats, some other serious folks dressed in equally impressive navy uniforms and then there are the men in black with black suit and blue shirts. Everyone is tense. We have to travel through a security check point which makes our TSA look like your best friend. Citizens do not respect space and we are having difficulty keeping up with our guide. No way not to look like a tourist! Finally we clear our way to the Square. It is many acres in size. In the middle is the Monument to the People’s Heroes guarded by the “green” men. This is similar to our tomb of the unknown soldier. To the south is Mao’s mausoleum, folks will be lining up soon to view the body in its refrigerated chamber-we are passing on this treasure. To the East is the National Museum of China which unfortunately is closed today. To the West is the Great Hall of the people. Everything is cold gray granite and concrete soviet union Stalinesque “style” architecture covered with a dreary stinky haze, the only color is the row of red Chinese flags lining the top of the great hall. It seems befitting as a reminder to the 1989 incident where a human being tried to stand up to the dictatorship. The guide said he heard about this but it was before his time a fitting answer. Hopefully his ghost can see the progress the country has made!
We walk North across the Square about a quarter mile to the Forbidden City.
Forbidden City is also referrd to as the Palace Museum, 600 years old or atleast this model-the former one was burned to the ground by Genghis Khan. Its’ 9999 rooms has been the home to 24 emperors. Numbers are very significant throughout the design. Five bridges, five gates, stair ways and the more roof top guardians the more significant the building. Bronze caldrons lite the night and huge incense burners several feet tall elevated the fragrance, water filled moats were a source of fire protection. This is a big tourist destination and the Chinese government is hard pressed to keep this massive complex up. The many building friezes’ are intractely carved and painted wood designs. I am sure the pleasant weather and air purity only lends itself to preseving this vast complex!
James is excited to learn the emperor has 1000 concubines living within the walls. It was a great honor to a family to have their daughter choosen as a concubine-yeah right! Some lived there without ever meeting the emperor. They were served by eunuchs. Later in the day we will learn some of these ladies later elevated themselves to become empresses and great leaders:)
Lunch is a new experience. We walk beyond the North exit of the Forbidden City to a village of grey brick tiny houses several hundred years old. Due to the proximity to the Forbidden City, this area is sought after. The tiny alleyways, which are choked with cars and abandoned old bicycles, lead to small courtyards that serve several houses. Our guide is taking us to the home of an old friend from college who has just opened a small beyond belief new restaurant. We are served a mushroom dish, chicken wings, shrimp and noodles. James was longing for a Big Mac and fries. He couldn’t be further away from that. I visited the kitchen and sort of wished that I hadn’t. I think we were the victims of the good ole boy net work ( Chinese style).
Our last stop for the day is the Summer Palace. As cold as Beijing is today it becomes just as hot in the summer and temperatures of 100 are not impossible. So any Emperor who has a 9999 room palace,would have need for a little summer get away complete with marble boat. The summer palace was a mere 716 acres along a lake, some of the highlights included a hallway with a length of 2388 feet again very highly painted and decorated. Many buildings made up the palace itself as when the emperor and emperess went somewhere you had to take the staff, oh and the concubines at least some of them had to go as well and that meant the eunuchs as well. The marble boat did not float but was for fun and built with funds meant for the modernization of the navy. There were dragon boats for the tourist but not today as it is not yet prime tourist season and it is cold! One of the highlights was two gentlemen paid by the government to do Chinese Caligraphy with water brushes (large brushes some four feet long)on the slate walkways. Now the Chinese language has 40000 characters and most citizens admit they only know about 10000. The gentleman challenged me to give it a try which I did coming close but the symbols have many intricacies which can radically change the meaning of your word.
That night we went to Duc du Chine which is a decade old restaurant famous for its Peking Duck. The whole lacquered bird arrived at the table to much fanfair including a clanging gong and we were shown how to roll the expertly sliced pieces into little “pancakes” with various sauces. The staff was patient with us and the meal was wonderful including the great dressing for the romaine salad and the mango pudding which capped off a long day.