Forbidden City

Beijing is an interesting city. Low and near to the ground with very broad promenade-like streets 6-8 lanes wide, plus bike lanes, plus sidewalks, sprawling across the wide, flat plain on which it sits. The air quality is as bad as reputed, but so far not so bad as the one bad day in Shanghai.

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Tiananmen Square is vast. To call it a square is a misnomer – so large that it is very easy to believe that 1,000,000 people could gather there. All the things we’ve heard about: The Great Hall of the People where the Chinese parliament sits; Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum; the Monument to the Fallen Heroes of the Revolution with Mao’s calligraphy inscribed on the front side; Mao’s portrait on the front gate of the Forbidden City gazing benevolently out over the whole massive expanse. It is like the National Mall in Washington, D.C. You walk and walk and walk and you never really get any closer to the Capitol. Tiananmen isn’t as large, but it feels as large.

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We saw the changing of the guard at the giant national flag at the north end of the Square. Very like any official changing of the guard in the States, but the head guys spent time chatting with one another before completing their relief.

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As we moseyed across the street and entered the Forbidden City at 10:30, we learned that the monument would close at noon. They are working very hard to preserve the great complex from the loving footsteps of millions of visitors, coupled with Beijing’s lousy air. So lately they’re closing early so they have freedom to work on the preservation. A sad blow to us. I’d almost like one more day, just to go back and see the place at my pace.

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I had read a book called “Two Years in the Forbidden City” which was written by one of Dowager Empress Cixi’s ladies in waiting. Some of the writing was about the time spent in the Forbidden City, rather than the Summer or Sea Palaces. I wanted to spend my time there visualizing the scenes related in the book (which took place about 100 years ago). And I remembered the scenes from “The Last Emperor” which took place shortly thereafter that I also wanted to connect to. But I decided I wanted to see as much of the place as I could rather than taking time to fully visualize each location. The place is awesome, the most awesome being the buildings and courtyards that have not yet been restored and retain their ancient paint colors and patina.

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After the guards rushed us out at noon, we crossed another street and entered Jingshan Park, which was in the past also part of the Forbidden City but is now a separate admission charge. The small temple at the highest point of the park offers a spectacular view of the city within its moat and walls. The pavilion that houses the temple also featured in Cixi’s story and I had more time to visualize the prior settings there. But I feel a sense of loss.

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