Thinking of travel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day two of China 2012 tour


The day started of with a great breakfast. It was buffet style, and of course it had a large selection of Chinese food. The hotels in China are catering more and more to the western visitors when it comes to the breakfast menu. During my first visit to China, my breakfast consisted of Conch, a watery rice porridge, fruit, and eggs boiled in tea. Most hotels in China, today, provide a good selection of fruit, fried eggs, toast and of course the preferred beverage of western tourists, coffee. A chef prepared my fried eggs, right on the buffet line. Eggs fried over hard is the way they served them. I think they fried the eggs hard because because we were eating with chopsticks. I think the task of picking up soft fried eggs, would be a bit difficult using the sticks.

Finishing our coffee, and our friendly banter, we gathered our belongings, and climbed aboard our bus, to take us to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden city. My two travellers that arrived early in Beijing, had already visited this site, so they decided to go with Wendy to the Antique Market. As usual the traffic in Beijing was unusually heavy, so the bus driver dropped us on a corner, near the square. We could see that a lot of people moving towards the cross walk that would take us on to the square, so we moved with them. The police were trying to control the streets and crossings, to ensure the people did not just walk where they wanted. We waited patiently, to cross the street. Some people would say we were in line. This would be an understatement. It was a mob.
China, much like the rest of the world, has instituted a strong security, screening procedure. The crowds were growing because everyone had to go through the security check point. The National Holiday celebrations were going to take place the next day, and as such, the authorities closed most of the cross walks. This also attributed to the large crowd waiting to cross the street. The crowd was getting tired of waiting, and the pushing and shoving was gaining momentum. There was no means of control, and oddly there were not that many police around to help manage the people. There was just a small, plastic portable, accordion, fence keeping the people back. When we arrived, at the front of the line, the crowd had become a moving mass that was unstoppable. People started to lose control. The pushing and shoving became stronger. Permission was given for us to cross the street. The crowd as a single entity, and pushed so hard that the fence fell over, and the mob surged forward. I saw two of my travellers get caught up in the surge forward. As I reached to pull one of my group out of the mass, I saw my friend Yukari get caught up in the folding fence. I feared she would be trampled, so I reached far back into the rush of people, and grabbed her arm, just in time to pull her out. It was a hair raising experience.
Sculptures in front of the mauseleum of Mao
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally
Once we crossed the road we had to wait, once again, to go through the security point. Once clear, we relaxed, and our Beijing guide lead us around the square explaining some of the important points. Once on the square I could see a physical presence of security personal preparing for the celebrations that would happen the next day. Beautiful temporary gardens and flowers decorated the square. 
Moving with the crowds.   A lot of people.
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

The Group moved towards the exit of the square that would take us to the gates of the Forbidden City. My foremost concern was to keeping my group together. It would be easy to get lost amongst such a crowd of people. The second main concern was what we would do should anyone need to go to the toilet. My experience from my previous visit to China taught me to ensure that I would be quickly, be able to find a place to relieve myself. I was sure someone in my group would need such a facility.

These soldiers are those who do the flag raising ceremony.  They are barracked in the Forbidden City Compound
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

We were soon at the main gate to enter the Forbidden City. This complex was built in order to keep the Emperor safe within its walls. In reality, it is a city within a city. A large portrait of Mao sits above the first gate, called "The Tianamen, Gate of the Heavenly Peace." If one wanted to experience what it would be like to be one of the Chinese leaders, one could purchase a ticket to climb and look out over Tianamen Square. One could imagine reviewing the troops and waving to thousands of followers that fill the square on the National Holiday., The security will not let anyone close to the edge of the balcony. Nevertheless it is an enjoyable experience. My group did not have the time for this experience, but I have done it and found it worth the fee.

Inside the Forbidden City.  This photograph gives an idea of size of the City.
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

The lions of China.  This lion is the male because he has the world under his paw.
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

Many believe that this is the main entrance to the City. This is not so. We had to pass through this gate. Then travel along a large, brick paved, square and arrived at the main entrance. Just to the right we could see the army barracks where the soldiers who perform the ceremonial flag raising and lowering events live and practice. Hawkers plied the area trying to sell us souvenirs used the refuse containers as their stands. Most of them were selling illegally, and they would run as soon as any authorities come around. If you stop to purchase anything from these guys, you can barter. Offer one tenth of what they are asking, and you might be able to get the item for around fifty percent of the original price. Be sure you have the right change to use to by what you wish because the vendor may have to run quickly, and if they do, you will be out your change. Also, when they give you any change it is usually old crumpled up bills, they do this knowing that it will take you a long time to count our your change. By the time, you completed your task the hawker would be gone. This happened to two of my gang 
There are Bronze object throughout the City.
When we arrived at the main entrance, called the Meridian Gate we waited until the guide purchased our tickets and passed through the arched entrance touching the brass decorations on the door. They say that it brings good luck to do this. When we came out of the shade of the gate, the largest hall in the Forbidden City greeted us. To get to his building we had to go over a stone bridge that called the "Golden Stream Bridge." The Chinese of time past must have been poets. They have such beautiful names for their historical sites. This is the building is one of three that dot the outer court yard. It is the one that is most seen by the public, It serves as a scene in many Chinese movies with historical themes. The building is called, "The Hall of Supreme Harmony," The famous Dragon located in this building. Chinese, for "Dragon throne". There were also two other building in this area. "The Hall of Central Harmony was one." Our guide explained that this building was where the Emperor would rest prior to reviewing his troops and presiding over grand events. It was also the building where he would practice his speeches before going to the Temple of Heaven to participate in the sacrificial rites. The Hall of Preserving Harmony, where the Emperors held banquets, and greeted delegates, followed. I believed the guide mentioned that this building also served as the center where the imperial examinations took place.

This area was the area for the family and workers in the City.

The next gate to greet us was the gate to the inner palace. This was the area where the emperor, his children, wives and concubines lived. It was a significant complex with many building on each side of the main structures. One of the first buildings was where the Emperor would sleep the next was where he kept his seals. These were valuable items, and thus had to be protected deep within the city. Finally, the last main structure was the Emperor's "Wedding hall." The Emperor used these rooms for his wedding nuptials. The many smaller buildings located on the left and right, were where the Emperor, family, and staff carried out their day to day activities.

The Emperor's Garden accommodation.
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

Once through the inner court building complex entered a peaceful garden with large river stones, flowers, and old trees, beautifully placed to impart calmness. Many trees were two and three hundred years old. After wandering about this beautiful garden, we exited through the back and final gate called the "Gate of Devine Might." and traversed the moat and found our group on a major thoroughfare.

The Moat was considered the first line of defense.
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

We walked along the moat until we arrived at our restaurant; a unique building. A large tree grew right up through the center of the restaurant. We climbed three flights of stairs to our private dining room, sat down and ordered a beer.

After a great lunch amongst the trees, we descended and exited the restaurant to find our bus waiting just outside to take us to Beijing 798 Art District. This area was set aside by the government for the use of the regions contemporary artists. It is a conglomeration of old factories that fabricated electronics. The area has been divided up into small art galleries and studios where wandering art lovers can find unique creations and if one is lucky they will get to meet the artist who is being featured.

One of the many Public Art Installations in the 798 Art District
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally
All in all, there is more to do in this area other that visit the galleries. One can wander the streets and see public art on display.

Some of the galleries gave us a chance to view the latest design objects. Every corner offered something new to tantalize our need see art. When we tired we just sat down at the nearest cafe. Yes,  there are these small out door rest areas where we could sit and regain our strength over a great cup of Joe. 

Anna and Wendy take a break at one of the local cafes
Photo by: Greg Tsontakis-Mally
We finished our visit with a group photograph.   The sun was getting lower in the sky so we hiked back to the 798 entrance and there, waiting for us was, our bus

Our group. 

Photo courtesy of: Greg Tsontakis-Mally

Sadly, we could not find a duck restaurant with space available due to the National holiday crowd but Lili found a take out Duck restaurant and she served us duck along with our hotel meal.
After the supper, I walked about the hotel looking for a SIMM, to use in my IPAD. It was difficult to find what I wanted. I am sure it was due to "lost in translation," but once I found a shops with wifi I used the translator, that came with the IPAD. It worked wonders for understanding. All I had to do was to speak to the IPAD, and it translated it to Mandarin. We are almost there. Nevertheless, I still could not find a SIMM. This task would be a quest, throughout my journey. More on computers and communication later in this blog.