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General observations:

  1. You haven't seen crowds until you've been on the subway in Beijing! 

  2. Pandas are not good spectator animals.

  3. Chinese are great at naming things.  The Hall of Earthly Tranquility, the Pavilion of Reason Enhancement, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. 

The Zoo

We hadn't seen any pandas in China yet - so it was off to the zoo for us! 



It took a long time to get these few action shots!  Mostly the pandas were lying around or engaged with their keepers, so all we saw were backsides! 

Even if they aren't really doing much, though, the pandas are very popular with the locals.  Crowds formed around each of the enclosures with pandas.
Introducing Smokey, the panda.


The Forbidden City


The Forbidden City is the palace built by the Ming Emperor Yung-Lo beginning in 1406.  Access to the palace was forbidden to most, even royal family members and government functionaries were only permitted to enter certain areas.  Only the emperor had access to all parts of the palace.  The last Ch'ing emperor Pu-Yi  abdicated in 1912 at the age of 6.  He was allowed by the new rulers to live out his life in the inner courts of the Forbidden City.  (Though in 1924 he escaped and went to live in Manchuria, which was a Japanese concession, where he took the name Henry.  The Japanese installed him as Emperor, he was captured by the Russians and returned to China in 1950 for trial as a war criminal.  He was pardoned in 1959 and upon his release the last emperor became a gardener in the Bei Hai Park near the Forbidden City.)


In 1914 the outer courts of the palace were turned into the Palace museum and were, for the first time, open to the public.  The rest of the complex was added during the communist era.  Since then it has been meticulously maintained.  There is a lot of history and culture to be absorbed here.  On the way into the Forbidden City, you can rent an audio guide.  It is available in many languages, including Esperanto!  We chose English.




The Forbidden City is a huge place, but unlike other palaces we have visited, this one is a series of smaller, single purpose types of buildings.  Which means when moving from one purpose to the next, the inhabitants had to pass through the outside.  A few thoughts this brings to mind:  Did they have a different pair of shoes or slippers for every building?  What did they do in the winter? 


We entered through the Meridian Gate on the south side of the Forbidden City adjacent to Tiananmen Square.  This was always the "public" entrance. 

We had just crossed over one of the five bridges over the Golden Water when a woman approached us and asked if she could take a picture of her son with ours. 

< Here he is.  (Since Yannis' hair has gotten quite long, people have started guessing that Anika may be a boy, with long hair like his father.  Perhaps it is her boyish clothes or her rebellious nature?  More likely, it would be extremely offensive to call a boy a girl!)

The most important buildings and courts are along the central North-south axis. They all face south to honor the sun.  We passed around the Gate of Supreme Harmony, which was covered in scaffolding, to see the most important building in the Forbidden City - the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  You can tell it is the most important, because the buildings have a visual ranking system - the number of animals at the roof corners.  The more animals, the more important the building.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony was 11. 


There are two smaller buildings on the east and west of the courtyard facing the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  The one on the west side has my favorite name:  The Pavilion of Reason Enhancement. 

^The Hall of Supreme Harmony


The Hall of Supreme Harmony is where the Emperor met with his government functionaries.  As he lived at the back of the complex, to get here he first passed through The Gate of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Earthly Tranquility and the Hall of Preserving Harmony.  


The Gate of Heavenly Purity marks the boundary of the inner court, which was reserved strictly for family - the Emperor, Empress and concubines, of which there were many!  (In fact the last Empress Dowager - Cixi - came to the palace as a low ranking concubine.  She was the most powerful person in the palace at the end of the dynasty.  Her son was chosen to be the next emperor by his father, as the Empress had no sons.  When he died without children, she chose the next emperor: her nephew, whom she adopted, a child for whom she acted as regent.  When he came of age and chose no longer to do her bidding, he was ousted and she chose another distant imperial relative as emperor: the 3 year old Pu Yi, whose demise we heard about above!)


>  The Hall of Earthly Tranquility with the Hall of Preserving Harmony behind it.


<   The Hall of Preserving Harmony










<   We enjoyed the fact that the Hall of Earthly Tranquility was brought to us by American Express!  Click on the photo to see an enlargement.


















Passing through the Gate of Heavenly Purity to come to a Hall used as a throne room and bridal chamber.  ^

Behind this hall, still on the north-south axis, but now at the very back of the Forbidden City, is the Imperial Garden.  It has some interesting features.  We liked the trees that were pruned to take on the shape of an arch.  I believe they were attempting to take on the shape of a Chinese character that looks a little bit like a lambda: λ, which means man.  There are four of these on the four sides of a shrine. 


^ The Hill of Accumulated Elegance.

Also in the inner court were 26 separate halls, one representing each province in the land.  It is in these halls that the Empress and the various concubines lived.  By the time we reached the back of the Forbidden City we were too tired to tour each of these, so we just visited the courtyard commanded by Cixi, the last Empress Dowager. 

  < The Gate House on the northwest side of the Forbidden City, and the ice filled moat. 


Jade Island, Bei Hai Park


This park is immediately northwest of the Forbidden City.  It is where is it rumored that Pu-Yi worked as a gardener. 



The Subway

It's a popular way to get around town because it is fast, easy and very inexpensive (just over $1 US total for the 4 of us each way)

(this image is from rush hour on Friday as we returned from the zoo)             And the cars were just as jammed on this Sunday afternoon.



Around Town

  The new concert hall.  You pass underneath the moat to enter! It was all cordoned off when we were there, because the building behind it is where the People's Congress was meeting. 

^  What is this sign forbidding? 

The sign above the door means Man and Door - Entrance.

Oh look - Ikea! 

< Chinese fast food

Kite flying - it was amazingly difficult to find an open area near the Forbidden City, so we improvised.  Unfortunately, swirling winds amongst skyscrapers can result in a tangled mess.  But it was fun, and we now travel with them looking for open areas.



The Great Wall

    Getting up to the Wall        

The Great Wall of China is a 4,160 mile long wall built across the erstwhile northern border of China.  It is Shih Huang-ti, the first emperor of a united China, who is credited with connecting a number of existing defensive walls into what we now call The Great Wall in the 3rd century BCE!  Though some of the wall segments were originally built as far back as the 7th century!  The wall is built along the crests and ridges of mountains, for the best defensive position.  With such a huge wall, you can really only visit a part of it.  We visited Mutianyu, a part that has been restored, originally in the 1300s, and then again more recently.  There are other sections that are in ruins, for the archeology buffs, but it would be harder to get feel for what it must have been like in its heyday.

Nothing like a family stroll, picnic and, of course, kite flying on the Great Wall. 

The winds were a bit tricky - calm most of the time, then swirling, twisting gusts as the wind came up the hills.  But we were eventually successful, and it was pretty cool.


After many exhausting hours going up and down the mountains on the wall, we returned to the car park on this great slide! 



The 2008 Olympics




There were oh so many things still to see in Beijing, but our time was up.  From here we flew back to Hong Kong, and this time we stayed there to have a bit of a see. 


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Last modified: 06/13/08