Beijing, Day 3

Today is our final tour day, and I must say, I am glad. I will write more about my feelings about taking an escorted tour when I write my trip summary, but for now, suffice it to say that I am tired. Our final day will be spent visiting some local sights in Beijing: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, a freshwater pearl factory (oh, joy), and the Summer Palace. There is also a farewell dinner tonight where Beijing Duck will be served, but Clayton and I will be skipping this since we have to be up at 5 am to get to the airport. If we were heading directly home, we would probably go because we could get caught up on sleep on the airplane, but this is just the beginning of our trip and so we want to make sure we stay well-rested.

I am sure you remember the famous (infamous?) photo taken of Tiananmen Square during the 1989 student protests. Did you know that it was actually not taken in the square at all? We passed by the street where it all actually occurred; the photo was taken by a resident of the Beijing Hotel. Not too surprisingly, the government lied to the local people regarding the incident. According to them, only 300 students were killed. In actuality, the number of deaths and missing student was in the thousands. Some students were jailed. The government has never given an accurate account.

As we approached Tiananmen Square, we got a little nervous. Not only were there multiple tour buses lining the streets, thousands of people were lined up in the square itself. I was really hoping that we would not be joining that line! It turns out that they were lining up to visit Mao’s tomb. Even though Mao wasn’t that great of a guy, he is still a hero to the Chinese and so people visit his tomb out of respect. Just like Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi and Lenin in Moscow, Mao has been preserved so that he can be displayed daily. Mao is chilled every night underground in a big refrigerator and then raised up in his crystal casket for people to view. Mao actually wanted to be cremated. This is unusual for Chinese; they prefer burial because they want to be able to go intact into the afterlife. Mao also made a law that all Communist party members must be cremated. There are 80 million party members; they do get cremated though Mao did not. Mao is considered to be God-like to the Chinese. His infamous red book is considered to be like the Bible to the people here.

We spent some time in the square taking photos. In addition to Mao’s Mausoleum, there is a monument to Chinese heroes, the Congress Hall, the National Museum, and at the very end, Mao’s Gate.

It is a no-no to take pictures of police and military here.That didn’t seem to stop people from doing so! There is a flag raising and lowering ceremony at sunrise and sunset daily.

Across the street from Tiananmen Square is the Forbidden City. This is another extremely busy tourist attraction; there was quite a line of people waiting to get in. Fortunately, Rose knew a shortcut – through a park. She told us that if we went through the main entrance, it would take about an hour just for everyone in our group to use the toilet before touring. No one uses the park entrance and so we would be able to quickly use the toilets, tour the park, and then enter through the side gate. This would’ve worked great, but there was only one western toilet in the “happy room”. A Chinese girl saw us coming and dashed in front of the group. She locked herself in the one western toilet stall. Passive-aggressive much? Finally Rose came in and pounded on the door and yelled at her in Chinese. She took her sweet time leaving. Rude people exist everywhere, I guess.

After our potty break, we strolled through the park. In many public parks in China, there is a matchmaking corner, and a bird corner. People bring their birds to the park to give them exercise (the birds, not the owners!). They will bring up to 5 cages and swing the cages back and forth. Apparently, birds are lazy creatures and like to just hang out on their perches. By swinging the cages, they are forced off the perch. The cages are covered during their exercise, but when they reach the bird corner, the owner removes the cover so the birds can socialize with each other.

Since most people live in very small apartments small pets are popular. Birds, fish, and crickets are common pets. Yes, you read that correctly! Did you know that cricket fighting is a thing in China? Who knew?!

The trees in this park are all labeled with their ages. Rose gave us information about the local flora and fauna as we walked through.

It was now time to enter the Forbidden City, along with 70,000 to 100,000 of our closest friends. This is an incredibly popular tourist attraction and so is extremely crowded (like virtually every tourist attraction we visited). Back in the day, if you tried to enter the Forbidden City without a proper invitation, you would be executed. Times have changed, and so we entered through the gate that the Emperor himself used. I felt so special!

It took quite a while to walk through the outer and then inner courts – this place is enormous! The architecture is very similar throughout. The roof is yellow tile (only thee emperor was allowed to use that color) and the predominant colors used are red and yellow.

Rose told us some information about Pu Yi, the last Emperor who was made emperor of China at 2 1/2 years old. If you have seen the movie, “The Last Emperor”, you will be familiar with Pu Yi. He became emperor in 1908 and reigned until 1911 when the Qing Dynasty ended. After the dynasty ended, he continued to live in the inner court, surrounded by 470 eunuchs, 470 palace maids, the empress, and 7 concubines. He lived here for 13 years and was then kicked out of the palace. He moved to his father’s mansion and then eventually to Tianjin. For a brief time, he was made puppet emperor by the Japanese but was captured and imprisoned by the Red army in 1940. He was eventually returned to China and was given amnesty in 1959 and lived out his life working as a librarian. He died in 1967. He never had children (though he had siblings) so there are no descendants of the emperor in China any longer. More than you wanted to know about Pu Yi, right?

At least they have a nice toilet here!

Remember how I said this palace was enormous? It has 9,999.5 rooms! How can it have half a room? Rooms are denoted by having 4 columns, but there is one room with only 2; therefore, half a room. Why not make it an even 10,000 rooms? Because the Heavenly King has 10,000 rooms, and the emperor is considered a son of the Heavenly King. So, they made it as close to 10,000 as they could.

Not too surprisingly, there is symbolism found everywhere. Dragons are a symbol of the emperor, so obviously dragons are everywhere. The animals found on the roof are sons of the dragon (every dragon has 9 sons). How many animals there are show how important the building is.

We ended in the emperor’s garden. The rocks here are from a special lake and can be used only by the emperor. The walkways were mosaic. Not too surprisingly, the gardens were quite beautiful! As we left, Rose gave us information on concubines. We The eunuchs of the palace would go out and collect potential concubines every 3 years. They had to be between 13 and 16 years old, and of course, beautiful. After being accepted as a concubine, girls were completely cut off from their family. So, families started marrying their daughters off at very young ages to prevent them from being chosen as concubines.

Our next stop was a freshwater pearl shop. Yes, another sales stop. Grrr! Next to the pearl shop was a senior home. These days, many elderly do not want to live with their families, so the government has constructed these apartment buildings for seniors. The good ones cost $1200 US per month; the government sponsored ones from $500 to $600.

Our final stop on our tour (since this was our very last day) was at the 740 acre Imperial Garden. Rose told us about the very wicked dragon ladybug that had the Summer Palace and Imperial Garden constructed. She was a nasty piece of work! Her son was emperor but he was too young to rule, so she became Empress Dowager Cixi. Technically, she could not rule so she sat in a chair behind the emperor with a yellow screen separating them. She became known as the power behind the yellow screen because she told the emperor exactly what to do.

She insisted on having lunches and dinners made up of 153 courses every day. The first course was just for her to smell; the second to look at; the third to actually taste. One single meal was made up of enough food to serve 5,000 people for one month! She liked to fish, so the Eunuchs would hold fish under the surface of the water for her to catch. Amazingly enough she was quite the successful fisherman!

We were given time to walk along the edge of the water. We were supposed to get a dragon boat ride back to our bus but it was not to be; the dragon boats were not running. Instead, we got to walk another half hour in the close to 90 degree heat to get back to our bus.

The traffic back to the hotel was absolutely awful. We were supposed to get back in time to have a little bit of time before heading out for our farewell dinner. We got back much later than we were supposed to so dinner got pushed back even later than it was supposed to be. I doubt the group started their dinner much before 8 pm and it was to be a 2 hour dinner. We were sorry not to have a last dinner with our wonderful tour-mates, but we definitely made the right decision for us.

So, we head to Seoul for 5 days before returning to Beijing to start our next tour – the Trans-Mongolian Railway!