Friday, 7 June 2013

Beijing - April 2013

Our plane was late leaving and we landed even later than expected. I was so thankful that I had booked an airport hotel for the first night as it would have been terrible trying to get to our hotel in central Beijing at 11.30 at night. We asked one of the staff at the airport where we needed to go to get to the hotel. We were taken to the hotel shuttle bus and she promptly asked us for money. ‘What for?’ I asked. She kept saying, ‘Give me money.’ The bus driver said I did the right thing not giving her anything. It was her job to help passengers. The bus quickly took us to the hotel and we were so glad to enter our room and sink into our beds, after having a cup of tea of course.
Next morning we leisurely got up had our shower and a very nice breakfast before we headed of into the fray again.
Back at the airport we found the express train into the city and with a couple of changes on the subway trains we arrived at the station close to our hotel. The worst thing about negotiating transport when you arrive somewhere is luggage. Even with a smallish bag it can be difficult when you have to go up and down stairs without an escalator.
We arrived at the subway station close to our hotel, and then we had to negotiate a pedestrian subway. I was reading the map and turning around to my companion and then tripped on the very tiny step leading down to it. Note there are many tiny steps at entrances to subways, be alert. I eventually stood up but had a very sore and swollen knee.
The hotel was about a block away from Tiananmen Square. We checked in then decided to go to the Temple of Heaven. I had been here many years ago but for my friend it was the first time so I was seeing it afresh. It was a Taoist temple and was built from 1406 to 1420. It was renovated in the 18th century under Qianlong Emperor. The circular   building is a stunning sight and is on a marble stone base. There are beautiful carvings of dragons in the marble in the centre of two sets of stairs. The temple is surrounded by pavilions and beautiful gardens home to a variety of birds. Walking through a long pavilion to the temple groups of Chinese were playing cards, talking and knitting. A real meeting place for many.
Temple of Heaven

We spent a number of hours walking around and looking at the points of interest. We left and wandered into a building across the road, which consisted of many floors of merchandise. As always when faced with a monster amount of goods it becomes completely overwhelming. We both bought a pair of leather gloves and a few other odds and ends. We were very tired and hungry. We couldn’t find much of interest to eat there and decided to go back to the hotel and eat. Bad choice.  The food was absolutely terrible. I refused to eat one dish, it was disgusting and I wasn’t going to pay for it. It took a lot of persuading to get to take the cost off the bill. 
The following morning was the day of the art exhibition, the reason for the trip. It was in the afternoon which gave us time to go to the Forbidden City in the morning. As we were relatively early the line for entry wasn’t too long. The Forbidden City is enormous and too big to see in one day, let alone a morning. It is the world’s largest palace complex and is surrounded by a 52 metre moat.  We decided to see a cross section as it is easy to become overwhelmed and then everything just becomes a blur. You couldn’t enter a lot of the buildings just view the room decorated with the various trappings. It is often difficult to see much at times when large numbers of people huddle
Inside the Forbidden City
around the doorway. It also houses numerous rare treasurers and curiosities, like the clock room in which there are numerous old clocks, mainly European many given as gifts from European delegates to the Emperor. The various mechanical displays were fascinating, though quite ugly.

Typical Gargoyle in Forbidden City

It was the imperial palace for 24 emperors. It was forbidden to enter the complex without permission from the Emperor and was a ceremonial and political centre. Nothing has changed as today’s Chinese leaders have their own ‘Forbidden City’ a compound at Zhongnanhai.
Over the years since the founding of the PRC damage and neglect had taken its toll but during the madness of the Cultural Revolution further destruction was prevented by Zhou Enlai when he sent an army battalion to guard it.
Even just seeing a small section of the Forbidden City you get the sense of the size and the former grandeur of the palace.
Then it was off to the art show.