After spending Saturday roaming around the hutongs, I headed out to explore Tiananmen Square. A 45 minute train ride later, and I was there. I figured there’d be some good people watching in Tiananmen Square, and I wasn’t wrong. Unfortunately, there’s just not that much to do. It’s a square, it’s really big, there’s a bunch of history, but that’s kind of it. It’s not exactly like China is proud of what happened in 1989, nor do they even acknowledge that anything was amiss. To put the size of Tiananmen Square into perspective, when Mao seized power, one million people stood, on numbered tiles, in the square. It’s huge. And right across the street from the Forbidden City.
Now, I half expected the Forbidden City to be a bit of a misnomer. Sort of like how the Garment District in Cambridge is a store, not a district. I was only half wrong. The place is the size of a city, easily, but it is far from Forbidden.
After walking over a bridge, you headed through a gate into the first open area. Around this area, there was a pretty big huddle of people trying to take the shot of Mao from just the right angle.
Inside the first gate, there was a humungous open area. I’d guess it was 800m by 1200m. A good 10 minute walk from the first gate to the second gate, to buy tickets. Also, this area was packed with tourists, folks selling all kinds of souvenirs, and a base for the guards of the city.
After paying my 60Y for a ticket, I went through a second gate, and into the paid portion of the city.
A friendly reminder to comply with the rules. I had planed to be in non-compliance, but luckily this sternly worded sign changed my mind.
Here’s a little feng shui for you. All of the major gates face south. Also, each court yard has a major gate (opening south, middle picture) and two smaller gates (1st and 3rd picture above). This layout helps balance things, and keeps your focus. It’s also repeated over and over again throughout the city.
There is a moat around parts of the city, and some of it runs into a stream/river that cuts through part of the city.
First up, the China gallery.
Humidity controlled, with written descriptions in Mandarin and English, the China gallery was pretty awesome. As I explored deeper into the city, the crowds thinned out a bit.
Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the painting gallery. Now had I not seen that sign about complying with the rules, I may have taken a picture. But I did, and I planned to abide by the rules. The gallery was breathtaking. Calligraphy and painting started out as the same type of art and gradually grew apart. Throughout the gallery, you could see the evolution of each form and the combined form.
You’ve been reading this for maybe 4 minutes, but after the calligraphy gallery I had been at the Forbidden City for nearly 2 hours. Remember, this place was a City.
Forbidden City fun fact – only eunuchs were allowed in the inner sanctum. This practice ensured that all of the Emperor’s consorts, who were pregnant, carried royal blood.
After nearly 5 hours of exploration, the Forbidden City again became forbidden. Closing time was a huge sea of people heading for the main gate.
After existing the Forbidden City, I headed over to Tiananmen Square. While standing around, watching people, I was approached by a woman. Now, I trust all of like 6 people, so anytime anyone approaches me, I’m immediately on guard. I figure there is a scheme or I’ll leave with no kidneys or no keys, or something equally awful.
In China, when you’re a goofy looking bald white guy, people want to take your picture. It’s kind of like being a celebrity, just without that annoying dude from Paris. So this woman practically tosses her baby at me, smiles, and points at her camera. When I nod, she giggles with delight and snaps the picture. Of course, I make a face like I’m going to eat the baby’s head, which just draws more laughs.
The moral of the story? The Forbidden City is big, Tiananmen Square is big, and some people like to take pictures of goofy white guys pretending to eat their babies. On tap for this weekend – possibly Richard III staring Kevin Spacey and I’ll probably do another visit to the Forbidden City.
Till then, safe travels!