Saturday 21st May
Remember we had promised the kids an early start and an early finish today…..well it didn’t quite work out that way but we have promised them (again) a lie in until 8am tomorrow.
We left the hostel at 08.30am and took the subway to Tiananmen Square ( 2 security checks) then from TS we exited under the big banner of Mao and entered the start of what is known as the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1912. It is located in the centre of Beijing and now houses the palace Museum. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government for almost 500 years. It is literally a city within the city surrounded by an 8 metre wall and a 50m moat on 3 sides and covers around 180 acres.
As only 80 thousand tickets are available a day we thought we had better be early…….we had a 10 minute queue to get through security into TS then joined another queue to get into the ticketing area. Although it was a little after 9am thousands had beaten us in. If you do the math of say 70 thousand tickets x 60 yuan (kids and seniors get a discount) it is some serious turnover being achieved 6 days a week. (it’s closed Mondays as are most things around Beijing) Luckily we leave on Monday.
We hired electronic guides which gave out info as you passed by trigger points located in areas of interest. It’s a smart system with a map on it as well. Words cannot describe the amount of people within the walls although they were mainly concentrated to the trail set out on the maps so if you went off to the sides and off the beaten track you had space and few other people around.
Many of the buildings from the emperors days have been turned into museums with other kept as they were however you cannot enter an need to view from doors that are opened. The ceilings and some of the walls are very ornate and spectacular. All the grand halls have names such as the Gate of Divine Harmony or the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (it was anything but). We found a calligraphy exhibition in one hall off to the side and visited the watch and clock museum (which required another entry fee) Children under 1.2 metres go free into most attractions and trains so what we do now is buy tickets for 2 adults and say the kids are under 1.2 metres (they’re over 1.3). In some cases they do measure but so far today they didn’t question but did look (we told them to walk with bent knees).
We spent around 3 hours walking through and did see and learn some wonderful history but after a while it all became much of a muchness and many areas you couldn’t have access to. Some people we have spoken to have spent full days there but our patience for history had run out reasonably earlier so we headed for the exit. The entrance is through the southern end and you exit through the northern end and across the road you have Jingshan park.
Our best moment of the visit came when we approached the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the Emperor and Empress would sit on huge golden thrones. The hall was not able to be entered but given the significance of it you could view the throne and hall through 3 open doors only. It was like trying to get the front row at a concert and a mosh pit combined. The pushing and shoving was incredible with selfie sticks raised and hundreds pushing for a view. This was the only time the efficiency we had become used to moving people was absent and what an experience. Like the locals we pushed, shoved and forced our way to the front. we kept the kids in front of us and this was definitely a new experience for them but they loved it. When we got to the front we were laughing not because we had made it but because of the absurdity of it. After taking the photo of proof we then had to fight, push and shove our way out. Definitely the highlight of the visit.
We guess everyone has their own interests and opinions but for us once leaving we felt a bit flat about the whole experience. We rated it a 5 out of 10 and it never really hit the heights that we had thought it would be but we’ve done it now and got the t-shirt (metaphorically speaking).
Directly across the road you pay another entrance fee and enter Jingshan Park. This is a manmade hill! There is a short climb again up a well formed park and you reach a pagoda containing a large Buddha which overlooks the Forbidden City as well as giving 360 degree views of Beijing, although given the smog levels it means the visibility is limited. The smog level yesterday was at 177 on the scale they use.
An ice cream got the kids to the top and only then can you get the scale of the Forbidden City and how tiny it is with everything else surrounding it. We also had a great view of Beihai Park which is very close to the hostel.
Jingshan park we found out is where the last ruler of the Ming dynasty, committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree in Jingshan in 1644 after Beijing fell to the pheasants rebel forces. We found the tree…..is it 400 years old??? who knows but it was popular.
Our next goal was to find a bank of China branch as that is the only bank that seems to accept NZ$. We were down to our last 100 yuan and directions from locals were it was just down the road. As we have found out that could be anything from 10 metres or 2km. We negotiated a fare with a taxi and 10 minutes later he had us outside the bank in Wangfujing (which was also our destination for dinner).
Wangfujing as well as being a main shopping part of Beijing is famous for it’s street food stalls which sell some exotic options as well as more familiar fare. After changing some dollars we had a light bite to eat then found an Apple store that was 3 stories. The upper and lower floors had hundreds of iPhones and laptops that were free for the public to use to surf and play games. One of the things we worked out early on in KL was if you find an apple store you can surf for free so we took advantage of it researching for parts of our trip to come whilst the kids played a few games. As you can expect the place was packed. We spent 45mins then headed for the food stalls.
This was well laid out with at least 40 stalls all in a line and clean in both presentation and preparations. To cut a long story short we went adventurous with BBQ’d silk worms BBQ’d snake and fried scorpions on the menu. BB and I ate kebabs of all 3 whilst Noelle tried the silkworm and snake but shied away from the scorpion. Lets just say that the scorpions were better than the snake which was better than the silkworms. BB commented prior to eating the snake that it was supposed to taste like chicken but after his first bite he said it didn’t. He was adamant he was not leaving until he had tried a scorpion so we told him to make it happen. We passed on the crickets, starfish, seahorses and whole fried spiders (these were huge) KK was having none of it and preferred a fresh strawberry kebab instead. She lost a tooth this afternoon but wants the tooth fairy to give her Malaysian Ringgit not Chinese monopoly money. BB lost a tooth in Malaysia as well.
We left the food stall and headed down the main mall area towards the nearest subway station and came upon a tea shop so we spent a few minutes looking at tea. Noelle found one she liked which cost 6000 yuan a kg (NZ$1500) which then convinced her that maybe not this trip.
We finally got back to the hostel just after 8pm so almost a 12hr day. On the way home from the subway we saw a woman cooking her dinner on the sidewalk but what has been the most bizarre sight(we’ve seen a few) so far was an old man with a huge live turtle hung from a piece of bamboo sitting on a street corner this morning. Noelle tried to talk with him but didn’t understand his dialect. I guessed some people have dogs and walk them…hey he had a turtle.
We all had a shower upon returning and the grime that accumulates during the day is pretty scary. Currently the kids are sleeping and we’re in the bar socialising and Noelle is making friends with the Chef and getting a few extra onion rings added to our late night snack. (He’s from Denmark and in return for working in the hostel he gets free food and accomodation)
Tomorrow is our last day so we are going to pick up our train tickets for Monday. By all accounts this could be a bit painful…at least the kids can have a bit of a day off. Later we have to pack as we leave on Monday at 10am headed to Xian with the bullet train (around 6 hours)
Beijing has really impressed us with not only it’s cleanliness but the atmosphere and the vibrancy of it. It has character and we would definitely love to come back. At no times have we felt unsafe or out of our depth. The volume of people at times have challenged our senses and patience but it’s what you get in a city this size…we love it but couldn’t probably live here…… We had expected that the China portion of the trip would be the hardest part as it was the most unknown to us but so far we seem to be managing it. The kids are pretty unfazed by it all and love buying the tickets for the subway. We have booked a night train from Xian to Chengdu which will take 16 hours so this will be a test of keeping it together within a confined space for that amount of time. My memories of night trains in Europe may be romanticising what is to come however it adds another element and experience to reminisce about later if the reality is too different.
More soon with photos (Noelle promises….but like our promises to the kids… they get a little bent at times)