Day 9: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Day 9 at least started off a little better than the day before and I had a productive morning working on my own school work and grading papers for the class I was teaching.  Ryan and the other students (there were a few of us who were there as spouses/guests, but we didn't go on the business trips) came back at lunch and the clock started ticking down before we had to meet up again for more sightseeing.  What did that mean?  It was a mad dash to find lunch.  It wouldn't have been so bad but many of us headed to the food court at a near by mall and we quickly learned their process was different from what we were used to.  

I have done Asian food courts before and there is usually a central place to pay, but this mall had you load money on a card, complete with a deposit, and then use it like a debit card at a food stall and then take it back to the central cashier to get your deposit back.  Oh, food places only sold food so if you wanted a drink (and yes beer was cheaper than water) you had to go to a separate counter.  The good news for me was that another vegetarian was with us and her boyfriend (maybe husband?) spoke Chinese and could find out what would be acceptable for us to eat.  I ended up ordering the same thing she did just to make things easier.  Well the bad news for us was that we went first and figured the process out and they messed up in processing our order (I think they forgot) so everyone who ordered after us got their food first and Ryan and I were still waiting around.  We ended up having to take it to go and eat on the bus.  So I don't have a lovely picture of my food but I did take a picture of the food model.  There was tofu and veggies in here with some noodles.  You can see the price is 16 yuan, which is about $2.60, and that was for a lot of food.  I couldn't even finish it!
Our first stop on the afternoon tour was to Tiananmen Square.  This place is famous but not necessarily for good reasons.  I'm not here to comment on the events that took place here or the lack of information on the event available in China or the varying accounts you can hear of what took place around the world, but I will say, this place is huge and frequented by thousands of visitors a day and the mere name of the this location can put people on edge in China.  Our tour guide handled it well.  He said he was ok talking about, he thought the outside media may have exaggerated and he doesn't know how many people were killed, just that it was less than what the media reported.  I think I heard him say he would guess 39 but I may have misheard him since he was speaking on a mic and we all had earpieces in and the wind made it hard to hear some times.

Anyway, a trip to Beijing is not complete without a visit to Tiananmen square.  Plus it is right next to the Forbidden city.  The square itself is huge and even has a road that goes through it.  There are many buildings around the square.

Here our tour guide is showing us where we are on a map.
This is the Zhengyangmen gatehouse at the south end of the square.

Here is the Monument to the People's Heroes and behind it is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the first Chairman of the communist party in China, which he ran until his death.  His giant picture hangs in Tiananmen square and this is probably one of the most recognizable sights in the square and possibly in all of Beijing.  I have pictures below, of course.
In the middle of the square was a giant screen that was advertising various areas around China.

You can see that there wasn't a lot of people around.  I think this was more because of the storm looming on the horizon but possibly also because it was later in the day and many tourists may have visited in the morning hours.
Here I am with Ryan.  You can see the building with Mao's picture on it.
Here it is closer up.
This is the entrance to the Forbidden City.  Along the way, not sure if you can see, but there are some military members and then some men in civilian clothes lined up with them.  Someone asked our guide and he said that they dress some of the soldiers in civilian clothes to make people not feel so nervous that there are so many armed soldiers around.  Honestly, I think it did the opposite.  I found it even weirder that in line with the guys in uniform were guys in civilian clothes too.  I guess I can understand the rationale but I don't know if it works.  It was a little creepy.  Some were in sunglasses and dark clothes and they stood with their hands behind their backs and at one point I thought they may have been prisoners on display for bad behavior or something.  I guess it was good to know they were just military members in civilian clothes.
Here we are entering into the Forbidden City.  This served as the Imperial Palace for many years spanning multiple dynasties.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  You may recognize this from the movie The Last Emperor.  This place is huge.  You could spend hours walking around here but after a while everything starts to look the same.
After passing through that first gate we enter into an area with bridges over some water.
I loved seeing this area because when I was here 9 years ago most of the side areas were off limits.  They were covered over and under renovation  in preparation for the upcoming Beijing Olympics.  It looked so much nicer at this visit.
In between each of these large buildings were very large open courtyards.
Again, it looks very empty, but I think this is because it was later in the day and it looked like a storm was coming (it drizzled from time to time).

Here is a close up view of the detail and artwork on the buildings.
Here I am with Ryan inside the Forbidden City.  Oh, if you are wondering why it is called the Forbidden City it is because no one was allowed in unless the Emperor gave them permission.

Incense burner, and a giant one at that.
Here is the information about the Sundail
This is inside one of the halls.

This picture gives you an idea of the massive size of this Palace.

One of my favorite pictures.  I have no idea what they are doing, maybe getting ready for some sort of event, but they were talking for some time in one of the side areas around the perimeter.
It looks steeper than it really was, but this is a walkway up to one of the halls.  The stairs on the side are where people would walk and the center is flat because this is where the Emperor would go up the stairs on a sedan chair or something similar.
Lions are very popular and doors or gates usually have a pair outside.  There is always a male and a female.  This looks like the female because there is a baby at the foot.
Me and Ryan
Here is inside another hall.

This was inside the Emperor's wedding chamber.  It was hard to get a good picture.
The next stop was the garden area of the Palace.  Rocks are very common in gardens and there are lots of trees.
This also seems to be where all the people ended up!

This is a special tree in the garden area so it was a popular place for people to take pictures.  I think there was something about good luck and making a wish here.

Like I said, rocks are a main attraction in Chinese gardens.
As we were leaving the Forbidden City we had this nice view of a building up on a hill.  I am not sure what we were looking at but I loved the high up view.  I bet there is a nice view from up there.
This is the moat surrounding the Forbidden City.

One of the far corners of the Palace grounds.
Our next stop was a pearl market and a huge knock off market.  Plenty of things to buy but we knew we didn't need any of it!
Dinner was our farewell dinner at Beihai Park.  We didn't spend much time at the park but we did have a nice walk along the lake to the restaurant.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Fangshan.  It has horrible reviews online, mostly that the food is just fair and it is a tourist trap, but I will admit for a farewell group dinner, this place wasn't a bad choice. The setting was tranquil and the open courtyard for cocktails and appetizers to start was done very nicely.  The food wasn't the best and I would't recommend it for a small group, but for a larger group, I think this worked out well.
Here are more pictures from the walk down to the restaurant.

These were the little appetizers set out before dinner while we enjoyed an open bar and some music in the courtyard.
I do not know what this instrument is called in China, but it looks very similar to the Japanese koto.
Dinner was served family style and there were many dishes brought out, including some vegetarian options for those of us that don't eat meat.  This first one definitely looks like meat.
But this one is a vegetable.
More meat.
This was vegetarian but I can't remember now what it was.  I think it was like a bean paste cake.
More veggies!
I think this was chicken.

These were little pieces of dough with red bean.

It is hard to tell but this was a nice vegetarian soup.  Not much to it but it had a good flavor.
Two kinds of shrimp
Kung pao chicken
More veggies
These were really good but I don't know what they were.  It was dessert. 
These were also served for dessert.
This was my vegetarian version of the traditional pork filled sandwich that is found in Beijing.
After dinner we all said our farewells and wrapped up the tour officially.  Of course we all went back to the hotel and stayed up late chatting and drinking in the hotel lobby.  Since many of those on the trip were doing this for credit they were more or less in class during the trip so this was a time to let loose and be a bit more relaxed.  Plus, everyone was leaving the next day to head back to their homes in the US or Canada (and a few did the post tour to Xian) so this was the last chance to hang out together and have fun before vacation came to an end.  Ryan and I stayed in the lobby for a little bit before heading back to the room to pack up because we were switching hotels the next day and continuing on our own for almost another 2 weeks.  Yes, you heard me right, almost 2 more weeks of travel!

This last picture probably seems random, but if you remember from my last post I mentioned that yogurt was very popular in Beijing.  I saw it at many street vendors and kept wondering about it.  While we were out picking up beer from a nearby 7-11 on that last night the guy from our trip that spoke Chinese was buying one so I asked if it was good and so I bought on too.  I had it the next morning and it was fabulous!  It was drinkable yogurt but it was definitely thicker than I would have expected and I recommend trying it if you are ever in Beijing.
QUESTIONS:  Have you heard of Tiananmen Square?  Have you seen the Last Emperor?

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