I stayed up too late last night, and as a result I found it difficult to get up at six this morning. When I finally got up, I found that I was late for breakfast. We grabbed some snacks and hurried to the bus, where we stealthily ate as we were driven to our first destination. Our first stop was Jing Mountain, which is more like a hill than a mountain, but as the Emperor used it for some things, and hill is not an imperial-sounding title, it was called a mountain. In any case, it was still high enough that one had a nice view of the Forbidden City from the top. Before we climbed up though, we were led around the surrounding area. The hill is artificial – the material making up the hill came from the moats surrounding the Forbidden City. Another name is “Coal Hill”
The first thing we looked at was a very old tree that had a younger tree growing inside it. I was remarkable enough to warrant one photo. Next we were led into a small room that had some photos on the wall. It also had an old map of the Forbidden City, which was the only interesting thing in the room. After about two minutes, a woman came into the room and began droning on about Feng Shui. Honestly, she must have talked for over an hour. I’m sure it would have been very interesting, but as I could only understand every fourth word or so, I didn’t find it to be so. I managed to politely stand still for about forty minutes, but couldn’t help fidgeting for the final twenty. When she finally stopped talking we were led into an adjoining room. I was unsurprised to find that it was a shop. She talked about how great their goods were for some time, then allowed us to browse. Yvonne bought a nice jade pendant for herself, and one for her Father. As seems to be the tradition, we were left in the shop for quite some time. Yvonne tells me that the guides get a small cut of whatever the guests buy. Fair enough, the guide was very good at her job.
Walking towards the base of the hill we passed a sign informing us that the spot where the Emperor hanged himself was ahead. “How uplifting” I thought. The hill wasn’t too steep, and climbing it was no problem. Half-way up I stopped to take some photos. The rail preventing morons from accidentally killing themselves was quite high, stopping me from getting a good photo. The pagoda in the center of the area had a ring of seats within it. The seats were about foot off the ground, and I could see that standing on one would afford me a better view. I decided to do this, and jumped up onto the seat. This was wrong. Although there are no signs, standing on the seat is against the rules, and all of the people around me instantly beckoned me to get down, with extremely disapproving stares. Needless to say, I jumped down quickly. After this, I thought that the area wasn’t so good for photos anyway, and continued up the hill.
The top was much better, and I took a few photos of the Forbidden City. It really is vast.
When we had had our fill of viewing the Palace through the eternal “fog”, we went to some place nearby and were taken on a short bicycle tour. The bikes could carry three people, the driver and two passengers. Our driver was very nice, so we gave him 10å…ƒ. We first went to the nearby river, which was frozen solid. The guide talked about something for awhile, then we took photos. During the photo time he asked me if I understood him. I said that I did if he spoke slowly, and he was impressed. He told me that the river is called a sea because the Emperor is a dragon, and dragons need to go to the sea from time to time. I nodded and said “Ahh.” Surprising how little talking one has to do to keep someone thinking one is interested. After speaking with me for a little longer he announced that it was time to move on. Next stop was an example of what houses were like 100-200 years ago. Rather than a house it was actually a series of one-roomed buildings surrounding a courtyard. In the first building we were given tea, which was good because it was about -2Â°C. The guide talked for awhile, then we were allowed to look in the other buildings. If one desired, one is able to stay in either of the bedrooms, for a price of course. They looked comfortable enough, with heaters in each room and a TV in the master bedroom. My favourite part was the handles on the entrance gates. There was no shop, which was odd.
After the bike rides, we boarded the bus and were driven to the home of the greediest leader of China’s history. Yvonne told me that when the leader died, and outsiders were able to go into the leader’s grounds, they found that the walls were filled with gold. Pretty greedy huh? Whether or not that is true, the grounds are impressive enough. No-where near as huge as the palace, but very big. We were led around for about two hours. Half way through we watched a small performance in the dead leader’s small opera house. The performance was fairly low-grade, and consisted of some dancers, a gymnast, a man singing like a woman, then some hilariously transparent “magic” tricks. The most enjoyable was when the “magician” caused a card to rise “mysteriously” from a deck that was shoved into a cup about a meter from her. I photographed some of the show, pay special attention to the photo of a table. Look around the base of the table and you’ll see a string. That string “coincidentally” moved each time the card did… Afterwards we had a good laugh about it. At least, I think the rest of the group was laughing about that. After the show, surprise surprise, we were led to a shop. The shop was right next to the large pond that can be seen in some of the photos, which smelled very bad.
Next we went to the largest and most well known enamel factory in China, if not the world. Believe it or not, the factory produces enameled things. Vases, bowls, balls, key-rings and more. We were guided around the building, and in some areas were able to see people working on new pieces. The work appeared tedious and repetitive, but the workers were all chatting and working happily. To produce one of the beautiful items that they sell, a worker would first cast a bronze “raw” version, which would be sanded and prepared for enameling. The enameling was done by covering the item in thin strips of metal, defining areas that would be different colours, or simply adding texture. The next step is adding colour, which seems to be in the form of some kind of paste. Then (I imagine, we didn’t see anymore of the process) the items were fired. The end result was very nice, and at the end of the tour we were treated to a half an hour “milling about” session in the factory’s shop.
After having lunch we were driven to the Emperor’s Temple, the place he would go to pray for whatever it is Emperors prayed for – probably not another bedroom, that’s for sure. Its English name is “Temple of Heaven”. I don’t know exactly how big it is, because Wikipedia is blocked in China and I can’t be bothered loading my proxy program, but I do know that my feet were sore after walking its length. We started at the base (bottom of picture) and began walking. First there is the ticket office, which is mandatory, followed by the first of many gates. Each gate building actually has three gates, the central gate was for the Emperor of Heaven, the left for the Emperor, and the right for the court officials – so far as I remember. The central gate was closed. Past the first gate there is a large stone platform set in a large square. It is clearly visible in the picture The platform’s layout has some special meaning, but my Chinese isn’t good enough to know it. Beyond this there is another gate, and through this gate one comes to a circular area. This area is well known because one can stand on one side of the gate, face away from the gate and speak, and another person standing on the other side of the gate can hear. Echoes travel well. Also, there are three places near the middle where echos are also especially good. Three claps at the one closest to the entrance, then up one paving stone for two claps, up one more for one final clap. No one told me why three, two, one, but they did say that my claps were the best. I told them it was because I have had a lot of practice, patting dogs especially hard, but they didn’t understand because I spoke English. Private joke.
Also in the echoes area were two buildings. The one on the right was for the Emperor to change clothes, and I forget the purpose of the other two – Google is your friend here. Through another gate, only to see yet another a short distance ahead. Through this gate was the long road towards the final building. It was really a long road, I’d guess at least a kilometer. For awhile I hummed the “Star Wars” theme, but I couldn’t keep it up the whole way. The other people in the tour group enjoyed what little they got though, I’m sure.
The final building was quite impressive, very big. We wandered around it and were able to look inside. I took a photo, but was later told to delete it by Yvonne. One cannot be given everything for free, you see – if you want to see it all you’ve got to come along. After tiring of the large building, I took some photos of crows flying in the distance. I really like crows, as I imagine you know already. Their call is the best of any bird, and they are all black. When it was time to leave, we left.We then drove to Wangfujian, which is Beijing’s famous shopping street. It is closed to vehicular traffic, but wasn’t very busy. After being in Shanghai for over a month, Wangfujian wasn’t anything to write home about (although I am). Perpendicular to Wangfujian is a street that is famous or its street vendors, who sell food. the food is mostly “things on sticks”, or kebab style, and is much cleaner than what can be found elsewhere in China. I think this is because it is famous. Generally one is cautioned against eating street food, as the sanitation standards are … lacking (I often see proprietors of such stalls washing their utensils in the street). I ate two candied fruit sticks (strawberry, kiwifruit and strawberry), a squid tentacle stick and two lamb sticks. Yvonne ate two lamb sticks, a squid tentacle stick and some lolly sticks. Some stalls sold the most hilarious things, the most extreme being centipedes, or maybe scorpions… You decide. While goggling the scorpions, a western family came up and suggested I try some, to which I replied “After you.”
Food eaten and curiosity satisfied, we went and bought a Peking Duck. We then returned to the bus and were driven back to the hotel. The Peking Duck was very big, and tasty. We couldn’t eat it all and decided to save the rest for the train ride to Shanghai. As there was no refridgerator in the hotel room, I put the duck in a few plastic bags, tied some bags to the bag containing the duck, and tied it so the duck hung outside the window. This ensured that the duck did not go rotten, as the temperature outside was about -2Â°C. Tomorrow we have a few more things to see, then we will take the overnight train again to Shanghai.