Tiananmen Square - Forbidden City - Temple of Heaven - Summer Palace = 27 December 2013
For our final full day in China, we had decided to do a day tour and met our guide at 8am, and jumped on the bus where there was already an American family of five. They were all really lovely, and we were grateful to have other English speaking people to swap stories with.
Our tour guide, William, spoke excellent English and told us our first stop would be Tiananmen Square. We pulled up and jumped out of the bus and William showed the huge square in front of the entrance to the Forbidden City, which in the past had fit over one million people for a past event.
William then went onto talk about Tiananmen Square in 1989. When referring to the event, he kept saying ‘the student attacks’ and then he would check himself, and saying ‘the student protests’, reminding us that our version of what happened differs from the Chinese version:
We turned around and walked over the bridges (the river underneath was partially frozen, because it was so cold), under the massive red archways that had a huge portrait of Chairman Mao, and into the first part of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
Once through the first gate, we came into another huge courtyard area, and through another set of arches. William showed us that there were nine huge golden knobs vertically and horizontally, which was the lucky number for the Emperor.
There were beautiful statues of male and female dragons guarding the entrance to some buildings. The female holds a baby dragon under its paw, showing that the empress will bear the child, and the male holds a globe under its paw, showing that the emperor rules the world.
Further along we saw huge caldrons, and William explained that these were once covered in gold but when the French and English had invaded in the early 20th century and had sacked the city, they had taken their sword blades and scraped all of the gold off.
William also pointed out the edges of the rooves of the buildings, showing the little statues along the edges of the eaves, and explained that they are like stars for a soldiers lapel – the more statues the more important the building.
We had walked through the entire Forbidden City and came to the man-made mountain at the other side, which was made from the dirt, hand dug out of the canal by commoners, which is part of the feng shui for the City.
After the Forbidden City, we jumped back in the bus and went to a silk shop, which had a demonstration on how the silk is pulled out of the cocoons:
She showed how it takes eight cocoons to pull together one string of silk for weaving. She also explained that the Chinese will eat the pupae out of the cocoon. She broke one open and jokingly asked if anyone wanted to taste it - Justin put his hand up, and then gulped down the dark, cashew-sized pupae. He said it tasted like a peanut (gross). While we were at the silk shop, he bought a pillow filled with Chinese silk - he is so excited:
After the silk shop it was onto the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The common people were not allowed to even enter the Temple, only the Emperor. These Chinese Emperors were not about doing things on the cheap - this huge temple complex was only used ONCE A YEAR.
We jumped back in the bus for the longer drive to the Summer Palace, which is to the north of Beijing. On the way, William told us various bits of information about China, and Beijing. One of the topics was 'The top five scams'. As he went through them, Justin and I realised that our two cons were in there. William said that last summer, an older English couple had been scammed with the rickshaw ride like we had, but that when they were taken into the back streets, there were menacing men standing around, and the couple had ended up handing over 1000 yuan (ie $185 Australian dollars). I guess because it was so cold the day we were there the menacing men were staying warm indoors.
William also warned us about buying fakes in China, saying that it has been found that some of the plastics used in these are made from recycled MEDICAL WASTE, and that the dyes used in the t-shirts are made using mercury which is 50 times the safe limit for humans. Lesson = don't buy fake stuff in China.
After a drive, we arrived at the amazing, beautiful Summer Palace. This Palace was built for the royal family to spend (you guessed it) summer at. It overlooks a man-made lake, and although we were there in winter, you could see how wonderful it would be during the warmer months. The royal family jumped into a boat at the Forbidden City, and were rowed down to this golden gate at the Summer Palace (they couldn't possibly be expected to ride a horse and risk seeing commoners, or worse, walk):
You can see in the photos that the lake has ice across the top, and it was frozen in places, but not totally.
There were crazy people out walking on the ice and cutting holes in it to go fishing!
Our great tour group:
We were so glad to have a whole day with nice people who spoke English and not get scammed again!
And on the way back to the hotel we passed the Bird's Nest which was pretty cool: