Tuesday, February 21, 2012
BIG and sprawling was the theme today as we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It is hard not to overlay the image of the soul dissenter standing in front of the Chinese tank in Tiananmen Square during the student demonstration; and today, seeing the sheer size of that area gave me added appreciation for the scale of the event. Chairman Mao’s ginormous portrait hangs prominently at one of the Square and the lineup for people to view his glass encased corpse went on forever. The square was full of people posing for pictures, food carts selling corn on the cob and candied crab apples on a stick and vendors selling mock fur military hats, green Communist caps and flags. The Forbidden City was a series of rust and gold ornate buildings and archways - each leading into a large square and lined with living quarters. Only the king and his family lived in the Forbidden City and apparently, all the living he did was within the walls of this elaborate compound as he was forbidden to leave. Now all of those Chinese food restaurants back home that looked like temples make sense.
We hopped in a taxi and drove out to the Summer Palace – a completely artificial resort complete with manmade lake – that one of the last king’s gave his mother for her 60th birthday. Again – the complex semed to go on forever – endless archways and covered corridors – all intricately painted and carved. We climbed the million steps (who was counting??) to the utmost temple –like building at the highest peak to take in the vistas and get a better idea of the size of what I referred to as the king’s cottage. When I go to touristy spots I find my fascination in watching the people around me – how they respond, what they look like … Soon the sun sunk lower in the sky and cast a golden light that translated the wispy tendrils of the willow trees and the elaborate waterfront walkway into some beautiful shot. I am grateful that we have our Chinese friend to negotiate the language and cultural barrier for us, as it has made it easier on some level. On another, we don’t have complete freedom and choice of where we go; he is anxious to show us the highlights and I admit that as we sped past the dingy, crowded back streets of old Beijing today, I yearned to stop and walk these neighbourhoods, and duck into the mostly dark, windowless shops and see what goods they sold. I have little interest in the modern, emerging China that reeks of capitalism and smacks of home; it is almost impossible to get a sense of what working class China experiences.
I am struggling with the constant smell of cigarette smoke and the heavy haze of air pollution. It is making hubby and sick with headaches and slight nausea. We agreed that if we were ever to spend extended time here, we would wear the masks that many wear to filter the particulates out of the air. Our hotel room has an ashtray and the room has trace odour of smoke. All I can say is that the travel sized bottle of Febreeze is coming in very handy!
When we got back to the room at 5 pm and finally relaxed, neither of us could be roused to leave for dinner. We crashed and by 7:15 pm we were turning in for the night. When I got up to brush my teeth (after my cat nap), I summoned enough energy to write this post – but as soon as I am done, I am off to bed! Too early really for us to acclimatize but – I am too tired to care.
Tomorrow we head to the Great Wall. And the adventure will continue.