Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Monday, October 22, 2007
The China Chronicles - The Forbidden City
Welcome to the Middle Kingdom. First of all, it's massive. From the moment you enter through Tiananmen Tower you are awed by the sheer scope of the place.

And then, the sheer enormity of the history begins to sink in. Home to 24 emperors and their families over 500 years beginning in 1406. Home to murder, intrigue, secrecy, ritual, opulence, wealth, and a culture vastly different from that of anything outside its gates and towers.

With 800 distinct buildings and 9,000 rooms, it is the world's largest palace complex. Some records indicate it may have had 9,999 rooms - with the number 9 being very auspicious. The digit 9 was seen as a special, magic number, especially for emporers, because it is the highest value ordinal. Also,the word for nine in Chinese, 'jiu', is a homonym for 'long / lengthy'.The number of rooms has a further rationale: because the Forbidden City was on Earth, it was impossible to have 10,000 rooms, which would conflict with the number of rooms in the version found in Heaven because the number 10,000 symbolizes infinity.

Even the massive doorways into each courtyard have nine gold studs across and down to indicate luck and power:


The enormous detail on every temple and every surface is astounding:

Temple detail

Forbidden City roofs

Forbidden City

And at the edge of every single roof detail in the complex, the imperial figures stand proudly. The number of statuettes designated the power of the person living within the building. The number 9 was reserved for the emperor. Only one building has 10 statuettes at each corner (not including the gargoyle guarding the rear and the phoenix in the front). This number symbolizes heaven and is the most holy building:

Roof detail

We got to the main courtyard relatively early, but the crowds were already starting to swell. I was amazed at the number of Chinese tourists. People from backwater regions headed to the "big city" to check things out. They were often retired or elderly, and traveled in groups wearing matching hats or vests so their handlers could keep track of them.

I had stopped in front of one of the more famous temple spots to let my friend get a picture of me, and I suddenly noticed this small Chinese woman standing right next to me, motioning to her friend to make sure I was included in the photo. This would not be the first time I was the subject of a Chinese photo op. Being this tall, with red hair, and a little more ample than most Chinese women - I stand out like a sore thumb.

I motioned to her to ask if she would like to have her photo taken with me, and her face lit up like Christmas and suddenly, she motioned to her whole tour group, and the next thing I knew, I was smothered from my boobs down with a horde of little old Chinese ladies. They were hugging me and pressing in on me like I was their giant child or something. It was hilarious. My friend was laughing so hard she could hardly get the photo. One Chinese lady in the front is beaming and showing the peace sign with her fingers.

Here's a shot of the temple recently known as Starbuck's. It is currently a pricey souvenir shop for museum replicas, but it is soon to be a coffee shop again - albeit run by the Chinese.

The Temple formery known as Starbuck's

There is a wonderful interactive tour of the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palaces on line at the Palace Museum.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony and a few other larger temples were shrouded in scaffolding as Beijing tries to complete as much restoration as possible prior to the Olympics. Walking through the Forbidden City from one end to the other - and at a pretty brisk pace - takes the whole morning.

Afterwards, my friend and I walked north through a hutong neighborhood, and ended up along Ho Hai Lake where we settled lakeside at a Yunnan Restaurant called "South Silk Road". Yunnan food is known for its spiciness


The food was amazing. Ground pork with salted turnips and green chilies, ground pork with tomatoes and green chilies, Yunnan style noodles and chilies, and eggplant stuffed with beef and more chilies - you get the idea. Oh - and to wash it down? Beer. Served in 630 ml bottles, the local Tsing Tao will induce a nap after two. And the cost for all this? Less than about $12.

After our leisurely lunch, we continued walking along the lake....

Next: Ho Hai Lake and Madame Sun Yat Sen's palace.
posted by Broadsheet @ 2:32 PM  
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