We got our first view of Tiananmen Square last night, the day of our arrival. This morning, we actually walked on Tiananmen Square and were really impressed by the massive size. We can understand that it has reputedly had a million people for important national occasions. Our guide told us that Tiananmen Square is actually the largest public square in the World. When we arrived, we went through security scanners. Monday was a quiet day but there were still an enormous number of people in the square, milling about, taking photos or just being in awe of the place – Tiananmen Square is so historic that it does not take much to close your eyes and imagine that you are there on another day when history was made. The first week of October, there are enormous Independence Day celebrations in China, and given that Tiananmen Square is the centre of Beijing which is China’s capital, we were not surprised to still see enormous floral decorations twenty feet high.
After Tiananmen Square, we followed the crowds with our guide and took the subway beneath the ten lane road that has been there in one form or another for a thousand years. As we came out of the subway, we saw a beautiful historic building, where the political leaders have viewed military processions in the past – in front of it, there are amazing stunning floral displays but we understand that the building is now a restaurant. Anyway, a little further on, we went through one of the five historic tunnels to the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City is China’s largest and best preserved complex of ancient buildings – it was the home for China’s emperors, their entourage, plus the political centre of China’s government. It got its name because for over five hundred years, it excluded commoners. In the Forbidden City, one gets an enormous sense of presence, despite the hundreds of thousands of people visiting most days. Key sites that we saw included:
Visiting the Forbidden City is very much about seeing historic architecture, rather than art. Many areas are not open to the public, and it is only possible to get a glimpse inside rooms from windows or open doorways with barriers. Needless to say, the viewing points provide pinch points for the people and there much jockeying for best positions for photos. We were told that following the War of Independence, many of the treasures from the Forbidden City are available to be seen in a museum in Taiwan.
We exited the Forbidden City to the North and visited Jingham Park, climbing the steep hill by about 300 steps, to the beautiful temple with the giant gold Buddha and had a fantastic panoramic view of both the Forbidden City and Beijing beyond. This, of course, provided an excellent opportunity for photos.
After lunch, we spent some time exploring the Hutong area of Beijing, adjacent to Houai Lake. “Hutong” translates to “alley” because this area is full of very old alley ways. It is one of the oldest surviving areas of Beijing and is a prime residential area. We took a rickshaw and our guide followed on a bicycle. We were told that the rich and poor lived side-by-side. We saw homes valued at USD 20 million, adjacent to poor people’s home, where in the latter case, seven shared a room. We actually visited a typical home where ordinary people lived, where many families shared one kitchen, bathroom, and WC. The views across Houai Lake are spectacular, and we understand that it is a popular location for skating when the water freezes, in winter. The rickshaw provided an ideal way of exploring this historical part of Beijing.
In the evening we saw one of Beijing’s top attractions, a show entitled “The Legend of Kung Fu”. The story is set in an ancient temple where we encounter a little boy’s journey. Through practicing Kung Fu and Zen he became a master and finally reaching the goal of enlightenment. After the show, we were taken by a guide for a traditional meal of “Beijing Duck”. Unfortunately, we had tasted better “Beijing Duck” in Hong Kong and our guide was quite embarrassed.