My tendency has been to forge through life, swiftly, do everything, don’t allow a stone unturned. Say yes! Let’s go, let’s do it. Influenced by my partner, Jim, my new philosophy is stop and smell the flowers. While home in Murphys these past weeks, an unfinished travel journal of my trip to China in 2006, nudged me. Jim says this summer promises to be slower paced,so I think I’ll go back to China.
I traveled with my friend, Michal Houston. After a long flight, we landed in Shanghai tired and weary only to be shuffled to another plane that took us to Beijing. Our assigned room had one bed instead of two as requested. Her name spelling, Michal translated as Michael. Exhausted, we tumbled into bed and straightened it out the next day.
Beijing was in the middle of changing from a Socialist/Market Economy to a Capitalist Economy back in 2006. Beijing is a modern city of only thirteen million people. I say only seriously because Chinese Cities can be, and are, much larger than this home to International Government, political, and financial centers of China. You find modern condos and 200-year-old homes side by side. Sixty per cent of the people in Beijing work for the government, kind of like Washington D.C.
Tiananmen Square is so huge it dwarfs any mall we have in the U.S. Soldiers on guard are always visible. And, surprising to us, we saw “modern” Chinese tourists; older people visiting their own iconic places and young people with cell phones in their ears. This is the infamous spot where protests during National day 1989 led to the deaths of students and gave China a black eye over their aggressive policies. The poster of Chairman Mau in the background looks small. In reality it stands about twenty-five feet high. We have a group photo taken here and get our first taste of the new capitalism with vendors selling post cards and junky trinkets. Some of them starve on the new system and intrude, shove things under your nose, begging you to buy their trinkets and post cards.
One side of the square is this lovely government building and gardens, always statues and memorials from every preceding dynasty that governed China except maybe the Mongolians. Chairman Mau tore down the old city walls and opened things up with a ring road inhabited more and more by modern cars but still madly outnumbered by eight million bicycles on the roads, the most common form of transportation in Beijing.
We move on the Forbidden City where we see soldiers congregated in the square and their boots lined up outside of their barracks which were built in 1406 and finished in 1420. The Palace has 9,999 1/2 rooms. Nine is the supreme number. So, there are nine gates, each gate is nine by nine and has nine knobs. You can extrapolate that process through out the Imperial Grounds and Palace. It has served Eleven Emperors.
The “building” is actually one of the nine gates we pass through to reach the palace. The emperor has a resting place inside the gate where he emerged to address his people. He stood on a stair high above them. This complex is a series of high gates, (stairs up stairs down) and open space between them.
The walls here are made from 15 thicknesses of bricks to avoid tunneling into the Imperial Grounds. There are 18 water pots around the grounds one for each of the 18 provinces. (Notice the multiple of nine.)
One side of the palace wall is made up of four panels of huge tiled dragons, approximately twenty feet tall. Among the palace antiquities, marvelous gold, huge jade carvings, a gold Buddha, marvelous crystal, precious jewelry and marvelous treasures. I’m unsure why no pictures inside the palace. We may not have been allowed flash photography inside. At one place we passed the shrine (inside) devoted to one of the Emperor’s favorite concubine. She was forced to jump into a well by the eunuchs of the jealous empress. Inside the court-yard we had a Starbucks coffee and cookies. The Starbucks was protested by Chinese activists and removed after our visit.
These Chinese lions, one with his left foot on the ball, the other with his right foot on the ball have some significance in their stance which I’ve since forgotten. But, what I do remember is there are no lions native to China and Chinese illustrators drew what a lion looked like from verbal descriptions of those brave explorers from “olden” times. Thus lions have fierceness, clawed feet, a mane and a ferocious face that much resembles a dog.
We went on to visit a couple of grouchy, lethargic Panda bears at a very seedy looking facility and then do not wonder much why there are only 1,000 of them left in captivity and the wild. The Chinese were not very conscious of environmental concerns in 2006. We finished our day with a famous Peking duck dinner. (More tomorrow.)