So on Saturday we tried to go to Mao's Tomb and The Museum of Chinese Culture, and they were still closed. Too bad for us.
You know, going through security into Tianamen, waiting with the dense crowd, grannies, little kids, whole families, then getting out into the square, well, I found it quite emotional. Standing there where the Students and the Tanks squared off, with all those people, who don't know what happened there, or won't or can't think about it, I got a little teary eyed. Maudlin maybe, but I did. It sure is impressive though, very huge, and down at the end, Mao, watching over it all.
So since they didn't want us going into the cultural hot spots around the square, we opted for the Forbidden City. The line up was quite long, but as we get to the end of it a young woman befriends us, and tells us there is a "back" way in, we just have to go through a gallery of art from her school, then into "The Workers Cultural Garden", then from there into the Forbidden City by a side gate. We didn't buy any of her art, though she had produced some lovely silk screened and lacquered plaques. She avoided the hard sell, just pointed us in the right direction.
Turns out that all we did was skip the line-up for the First Gate (and trust me, The Forbidden City has gates-a-plenty), we still had to buy tickets, and then go through another line up to get past the second gate and into the courtyard of the first Palace.
Let me make this clear, the place may be the size of a city, yes it might, but holy-moly cannoli, it isn't forbidden any more. More like the Come One Come All City. Soylent Green style crowded in there. At some of the doors/windows into the main Palaces it was crush-tactic. A perfect place for pick-pocketing, but no one tried.
Quick aside, I was having trouble believing that this is really a country of 1.5 billion people. Sohzou, and Beijing were like ghost towns - but by Saturday I began to believe, and after today, oh I certainly do, but more about that later.
So the Forbidden City (hah), is staggering. The scale of it. Mostly you are only allowed to walk down the central plaza's, one awe inspiring square with a Palace at the north end after another. Forgive me for not remembering names, but know that Prosperity, Good Fortune, Celestial and like-minded words were involved in the titles. You slowly make your way back to the big one, and then into the beautiful garden behind it. The place was packed, like the Ex almost. Most of the side palaces (and there are tons) were off limits, but on the east side of the final two main courtyards there were a collection of minor ones that were open. Lots of exhibitions of Jade and Gold, all in the small palaces and courtyards that were home to Concubines, and Dowager Empresses, and Princes. Only a fraction of these are open to the public, and after a while, not being a huge student of the minutia of Dynastic Chinese politics they all start to blur together.
Once we were out the backside of the Forbidden City (about 4 hours, and tons of poked kidneys) we crossed the road and went into Jianshing Park. According to what we read, the park which includes a great big hill with a great big Pagoda on top was built and landscaped primarily with the rock that was dug up to make the moat for the Forbidden city. The park was crowded too, but it was also very quiet and very pretty. We went up to the top (sore, very sore from the Wall on Friday still) and were treated to a lovely panoramic view of most of Beijing. Man what a big city, it stretched out in all directions as far as we could see through the pollution (the day had actually been clear until it cooled down in the late afternoon and the smog rolled in). I recommend this park to anyone visiting Beijing, it is a lovely break from the hustle and bustle, but you are still right in the heart of things.
We walked down along the east side of the F.C., through a neighbourhood we hadn't been through before, but the restaurant we were looking for was closed for the Holidays. Tired, dazed, and sore we ended up in the alley of our youth hostel where we found a totally cool restaurant. It was split into two buildings, across the alley from each other. They are owned and run by this guy who has lived in Beijing his whole life and loves the traditional small neighbourhoods. His pictures (big handmade large format camera) of the people of these vanishing areas were all around the restaurant, as were lots of pictures of him with famous people. But what really gave the restaurant it's beauty was how small, crowded, dirty and fucking full of life it was. The staff were all wearing their big winter coats, yelling, running around, the place was filled with local families, the food and dishes were being run back and forth across the alley, people had written all over the walls and there was a 1960's era propaganda opera film playing on this large screen TV, the woman looking oh so sincere singing about a red lantern, and through all this a little terrier was just wandering around. We bought some postcards of his prints, and if I am ever back in Beijing I will be heading right for that place.
From the restaurant we had a bit of an adventure getting to the train station for the over-night to X'ian. (Our fault entirely, we thought we knew better than a local, and then had Taxi-Pirates after us.) We were in a "hard" sleeper. which meant 6 beds squished into a train cabin. Tight, and full, and hard to sleep in, but I managed. Too bad about my snoring, but the guys up on the top bunks (sweltering hot) didn't sleep much anyways. One of them kept getting phone calls. We made X'ian by 8.30 and had something to eat at a filthy little restaurant crowded with people looking for breakfast, what we didn't know was that we had walked right by the shuttle for our hostle, waiting for us. We were in trouble when we finally got there.