Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 20th through 22nd – Beijing, China

Arriving in Beijing was sort of a shock when I realized the rumors were true about the pollution. I couldn't believe my eyes were seeing this stark, gray bubble of a city before me. My eyes could see a couple buildings past me in every direction and there was no sky or sun shining down. The city was just as dirty to Shanghai, but we drove through downtown so we go to see the big buildings rise above us. Many of the buildings, I was told, were new and many of the old buildings that Lucas saw six years ago were now gone and replaced. Rapid growth was imminent due to the population and of over a billion. It was sad after a few days of seeing the old city to find out that the old had been crushed down after hundreds of years. Buildings that stood next to the forbidden city for centuries were being replaced with clubs or random convenient stores. The new way of life was parading in and stomping out the old, but the culture seemed to loom in the past. I felt like I was living years before with peasants in the streets, dirty bathrooms with Eastern toilets and lack of common courtesy. Besides all the odd and old points of the city, there was much to do and see that was spectacular.

The first day out in Beijing we went to the Forbidden City. After watching the movie of The Last Emperor, I had a newfound respect for the centuries old traditions, but especially the final days of Pu Yi. As a three year old boy he was taken to the Forbidden City to never see the outside walls until the crown was taken away by warlords when he was a young teenager, he eventually became a gardener at the Forbidden City until his death, and fun other facts in between.

The city was much bigger than I expected, it seemed to go on forever, with many barrier walls and living quarters for the workers and servants of the emperor in those days. We got to see the lavish life that the emperors lived with the basic food utensils, plates and bowls they used. The outdoor courtyards were beautiful, but also were covered in stone so there was a lack of green and barely any gardens to speak of except for one in the far back. This trip was cut short by me getting sick from our lunch at Loving Hut. Some sort of bug got me bad and I had a fun tour of the bathrooms of Beijing from the Forbidden City to hutongs nearby. After that experience we were feeling weary and tried to find some clean food, but I was hesitant to eat that whole night.

Instead, we walked the streets and ventured into one of the nearby hutongs, or the very old living quarters for the poorer Chinese. Winding through dark alleys inside their streets, we saw a man peeing on a wall who pretended to try to pee on us. The next sight was a large door with the character "Condemned"  on the front. I peeked through the crack in the door to see a vacant lot with broken bricks. I wondered if the rest of the hutong would be destroyed next.

We walked the streets in front of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The new large Opera House was located around there as well as a humongous shopping area that literally went forever in every direction and sold the usual Chinese souvenirs and food. We headed home tired and feeling a bit sick for the next day.

The next day we woke up an went to the Temple of Heaven. This spot was much more beautiful than the Forbidden City, and had rich history for the country as well. The emperor would pray to god for rain, a good harvest and would sacrifice animals to make sure that the country was given enough food for the season. The place was jam packed with tourists, and most of the place was redone as the Forbidden City had been redone, but it was still beautiful and the the blessing quarters were on display.

[caption id="attachment_310" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Temple of Heaven Gardens"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_306" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Us at the Forbidden City"][/caption]