Dave Sohigian

7Apr/090

Day 2 in Beijing: Forbidden City

(click on any of the picture in this post to expand to a larger view)

Read this sentence about the Forbidden City:

"Construction began in 1406, lasted 15 years, and required more than a million workers."

(from the wikipedia listing)

So what canĀ  15 Million Man Years accomplish? Something pretty big, that's for sure.

Waking up this morning was not a problem, but getting back to sleep (at 3 AM) was difficult. I took Leo, Robert's dog, out for a walk at 8 AM and discovered that the elevators in his place go to -1 an -2:

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By 10 AM we were ready to head out for the day. We started with an "American Breakfast" at a new restaurant near his home. The last time I had a breakfast with that name was in Thailand, and it was pretty miserable. But this was much more pleasant. I particularly liked the small bowl of corn flakes with the tiny spoon. My daughter, Anna, would have loved it.

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We took the subway to the Forbidden City, which lies in the heart of Beijing. The trains are fast and clean, although can be crowded at rush hour.

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First stop: Tiananmen Square, famous as the site of the 1989 protests and subsequent massacre. The Square is large, flat, and for the most part, featureless. It is meant as a massive gathering place for government ceremonies, much like Red Square in Russia. It lies just south of the Forbidden City. We took the obligatory tourist picture in front of the flagpole (you can see the entrance to the Forbidden City in the background).

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Making our way to the Forbidden City, we passed through the outer wall via the Tiananmen Gate. The massive doors have rivet on them. Touching the rivets supposedly gives good luck, but I am not sure how many you are supposed to touch. I tried just a couple:

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The scale of the Forbidden City is just enormous. It reminded me of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but MUCH bigger (and less ornate). The scale was similar to the ruins of Karnak - almost too big to really comprehend.

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As we made our way towards the inner gate, we decided we should have a guide to show us around the rest of the monument. We found "Sunny", a local student who sidelines by giving tours of various tourist sites. She spoke English very well (and French too, from what she said) and knew the Forbidden City history in great detail.

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More doors, more structure, more plazas. The palace seems to go on forever, with different ceremonial areas and structures at every turn. There are many interesting details, such as the lionĀ  handles on these enormous copper bowls.

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The bowls themselves were used to store water for fire-fighting. Since much of the structure is made of wood, there was constant concern about fires.

Inside of most of the main structures were throne rooms, used by the Emperor and other dignataries to manage affairs of state.

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This enormous lion guarded the entrance to the concubines section of the palace.

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The Emperors were attended by a vast number of concubines, up to 1000 of them in some cases. The size of the palace is mainly required to accommodate the concubines, their servants and the many government officials that lived there as well.

There are many artifacts held in the museums around the palace. Some are truly exquisite:

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Before I left, Meta and I wondered what the major historical religion in China was, whether Buddhist or something else. According to what I have now read, much of the structure and artifacts in the Forbidden City are focused around "Taoism". You can read about it here:

I like the first two lines of the Tao Te Ching, the major text of Taoism:

"The Way that can be described is not the true Way."
"The Name that can be named is not the constant Name."

Here's one other cool fact about China. Up until the early 1900's they had a system of examinations that (theoretically) allowed anyone who passed to be granted lucrative jobs with the government (more on it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_examination). It's an interesting cultural bias that suggests that all people should be judged on merit rather than family ties or other measures.

We made our way further into the inner portion of the city, and some of the spaces became smaller and (relatively) more intimate:

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Many of the parts of the Forbidden City have been repainted and restored in recent years (particularly leading up to the Beijing Olympics). Evidence of the continuing work was still visible, such as these ceiling paintings, some of which are bright and colorful, and others faded with time:

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Another amazing feature of the Forbidden City is all the carved stone. Much of it is weathered with time, and many people touching it as they walk by, but some has been protected and retains it's original detail.

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One particularly amazing example was this stairway, carved from a single block of stone:

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After the Forbidden City we made the trip back to Robert's place via subway (cost: $0.30). On Tuesdays and Thursdays he has someone who comes in to make dinner, so we relaxed to a nice meal and watched a movie (Watchmen, very disappointing). Then it was off to bed for the night. Tomorrow will be a slower day, just making our way around the city.

If you made it this far you are probably Meta or my Mom. If you are dying to see more, you can see a complete slideshow of all the photos I took yesterday below.

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