31 December 2008

Beihai Park

Aaaannnddd...we're still in Beijing. We took advantage of some warmer weather one day to head to Beihai (North Sea) Park. The trip there was an adventure in itself. There were no metros near the park and from the bad map in Frommer's bad China guide (don't buy it) the park didn't look to be too far from the Forbidden City so we thought to walk.

Well we walked, and walked, and walked a lot more. We stopped a few times for directions and were told that it was at the end of the block and to the right. The "block" though was a couple miles long. We kept trying to see the White Dagoba which was so visible from the Forbidden City hoping it would help us find the park but no luck, until we reached the end of the two mile block, turned right, then took our lives in our hands and crossed the road without the benefit of a light or crosswalk. Then, there was the park.

Initially built in the 10th century, it is amongst the largest of Chinese gardens, and contains numerous historically important structures, palaces and temples. Unfortunately we were too tired from our walk to explore more than the front of the park! I imagine the waters are probably full of blossoming water lillies in the spring/summer but not so much in the fall. Despite being denied the beauty of flowering lillies and trees the park was still a treat.

Climbing up to the White Dagoba was not nearly as horrifying as was the Great Wall and was well worth the small effort for the view of the park. A reliquary, secreted inside the structure are Buddhist Scriptures, monk's mantles and alms bowl, and the bones of monks (their remains after cremation). Standing at 40 meters tall on the highest spot in the park, the Dagoba's body is made of white stone and sun, moon and flame engravings decorate the surface of the tower.

17 December 2008

Market of Dreams

On one of our last days in Beijing we visited what our guide book called the "Market of Dreams." It's a combination of flea marketyness and small stores which display their wares in their shops and on tables out front. I do not think there wasn't anything that we did not find here: scrolls, paintings, games, clothing, jade, pearls, marble, chops, bobble heads, statues, silver necklaces, arm pieces, hair ornaments, books of Mao's sayings in several languages, incense, baskets, furniture, doors, and things I couldn't even identify.

Props to Lauren who took all these pictures:

We did us some good shopping here. I am not a bargainer, not at all. Lauren on the other hand is good at it. They want 100 yen for something she laughs and says 30. A combination of using a calculator, me as an interpreter, and a little walking away later and we end up with a fairly decent deal.

13 December 2008

The Forbidden City

One of our many stops in Beijing was to the Forbidden City. Home to Chinese emperors from it's completion in 1420, the Forbidden City has 980 surviving rooms and covers 720,000 square meters, which is a lot of squares. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, UNSECO listed it as the world's largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Shrouded in mystery, the city was as forbidden as its name implies and it wasn't just anyone who got an invite; until the Japanese and Western governments helped the Boxers topple the last Qing Empire and replace it with Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek then later with Mao. I think they got the fair end of that deal, no? Sorry, I just finished an Anchee Min book and find myself feeling uncharacteristically sympathetic towards the (former)Chinese government...In any case, Royal Palace or tourist attraction the Forbidden City still rises majestically in the center of Beijing.

Even after entering the main gate the massive size of the city is not immediately apparent and remains so until you start passing through the various halls and buildings and you just keep going like it stretches on forever.

Once you're done being completely overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the space you can concentrate on details...like the longest single piece marble carving in the world.

And the color! Oh my gosh the colors. And all the fantastic details both large and small.

And have I mentioned that there are also gardens? The gardens are buried way in the back and were for the private use of only the emperor and his court.

It was really amazing to be able to see this with my own eyes. I've seen the Forbidden City featured in many movies, read about it's history and histories of the people who have ruled it and to finally be there myself was a real privledge.