enjoying the holidays
Join Date: Jan 2009
(excerpts from my travel journal for western China; please excuse grammar and such......bad wifi and little chance/time to check it.)
A very nice breakfast, with the chef stir- frying an omelette chopped herbs, tomato and onion. Then by subway to the Tiān ānmén Square Square and the Forbidden City. Ticket is not expensive, 2 yuan (25 cts). It is rush hour, 8 o'clock.
First to the Tiān ānmén Square which is the largest public square of the world (440,000 sq.metres). It is flanked by Soviet- style buildings. In the middle of the square is the symbolic center of China. In his days Mao Zedong viewed the parades here.
There is a lot of police visible, and before walking the square one has to pass bags and selves through a scanner. It is a huge paved place, crowded with groups of Chinese tourists wearing a different colored cap/ hat per group. It is not a place for resting one's legs, as there are no benches and loitering is not welcomed. Well, as it is only some 15 degrees and a fierce cold wind, loitering is the last thing on my mind. I would have liked to see Mao' s tomb and his embalmed remains though, but there is a too long waiting line.
Long before this square is furnished with official buildings ( in the 50ies)as The Great Hall of the people, the Museum of Chinese history, it regularly plays a political role in Chinese history. The most recent is in 1989 the Tiān ānmén Square protests against the government, led by students. They occupy the square, but after seven weeks troops and tanks march in and many civilians are killed. Western governments condemn China and impose economic sanctions and embargoes.
Next to this immense square is the Forbidden City. On it's outer wall a huge portrait of Mao Zedong, where he proclaims the People's Republic in 1949.
The Forbidden City is the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. For almost 500 years, two dynasties, it serves as the home of emperors, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. Build in 1406-1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 720,000 sq.m. It shows traditional Chinese palatial architecture. It is listed by the UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
There are many guides offering their services, but I take an audio tour. And as it says in the travel guide: one can turn an audio guide off at will.
And it is fantastic....glazed ceramic roof creatures as many as ten: dragon, phoenix for harmony/nobility, the lion for ferocity, heavenly horse and seahorse for good fortune and so on. The color of the roof tiles is yellow for imperial, blue-green-black-unglazed for the rest. The major buildings are built on marble terraces....as high as 7 meters ( the Three great Halls). All imperial buildings face south and usually have three sets of staircases.
There are several gates, halls, palaces and pavillions; many of them with poetic names as: The Gate of supreme harmony, Rain and flower pavillion, Palace of heavenly purity, Earthly tranquillity palace or Hall of preserving harmony. In the imperial gardens are ancient cypresses and miniature mountains in water, made of large irregular chunks of limestone....a crucial element in a classical Chinese garden.
It is too much to see in one day, so I stick to the audiotour as much as I can. It is automatically activated when I'm near a certain building and it tells good stories about it all.
The Forbidden city houses many other buildings beside the imperial: living quarters of servants and others, librairies, temples, theatres, ten Buddhist temples, the palace's ceremonial buildings, imperial gardens and the tennis court of the last emperor.
In 1912 the era of the Emperors is past as China becomes an (unstable)republic with Sun Yatsen and the nationalist party, the Kuomintang. The abdicated emperor and his household live in the Forbidden City till 1924. In 1935 Mao Zedong begins his famous Long March on the run from the Kuomintang. In 1949 he proclaims the People's Republic of China, a one-party state. A few years after the power struggle after Mao's death in 1976, the right wing reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping take control. They reform the Chinese economy and de-emphasize the role of Maoist ideology. China opens up to the world, to a degree, in 1978.
Ai, ai, still some shopping to do..... I take a walk along the Qianmen road, with it' s historic buildings (used to be foreign embasies) which houses the luxurous shops now. But the alley behind it, with the typical Chinese food stalls is much more lively, so I take the plunge there to buy some last knick- knacks.
And dinner in the excellent vegetarian testaurant, opposite the Confucius Temple: veg.roasted duck, veg.meatballs, sweet/sour bean curd cubes, veg.roasted pork, veg.steamed fish....I'm going to miss it.
On my way back, the alley where the hotel is, has come into night life: red lightened lampions above the street and everywhere signs of cooking and eating. Never mind the traffic; the occasionally cab, tricycle or bicycle. At the fishplace a dozen or so are chopsticking away at a large platter with fish, also oysters. Never knew one could tackle those slippery things with chopsticks. Improvist barbeque of an oil drum with a metal rack, corncobs steam in a huge pan, red melons on a platter, dumplings stacked in wooden steamers. And tea, lots of tea.
Tomorrow will be my very last day on this exciting journey. I'll try to see some last sights, perhaps the Summer Palace if I can find the time, but a part of the day will be spend travelling. I will be sorry to say goodbye to all wonders of Central Asia and western China, but.........home......!
I enjoyed this journey very much. I loved Central Asia, especially the crossing on the Pamir highway. That was unforgettable; the views, the rough landscape, snow storms and bitter cold. And a close second in China were the Buddhist caves in Dun Huang with the 34 meter high Buddha. And don't forget the Labrang monastery in Xiáhè; that atmosphere with the soft flute and cymbals, the tiny birds chirping in the Muslim quarter of Xian, the terracotta army....
Every part of the journey had it's own wonders.
And the people I gave my tiny ceramic Dutch clogs.....they loved it; to the giggling girls in Tasjkent who practised their English on me, the Uzbek woman in the train with the gold capped teeth, the waiting women at the border Uzbekistan- Khyrgyzia, the children on the Pamir mountains, the driver that drove us along the snowy mountains, the police officer at the lonely outpost near China, the hotel owner in Xiáhè, the young monk in the Labrang monastery, the pregnant girl in the train to Xian, the ancient Chinese man who smiled and bowed at me in Xian's muslim quarter....I remember them all.
I liked sharing my adventures with you and thank you for your kind words along the way. I will be working hard when I get back, but I'll post the pic's of the souvenirs I bought and as soon as I finished my travel journal + photo's, I'll let you know in the ' what's in my cup".
And soon........Bejing- Istanbul- Amsterdam
In my cup: Yasmin tea