If yesterday was a furnace, today was a steam bath, the kind of weather that makes your head swim and your clothing stick. This is, as far as I can tell, a true Beijing summer. I was going to sit in the bar and drink a beer while writing this, but they have just started to play the Black Eyed Peas, and I just can’t handle that crap. That’s worse than a potential credit default. Oh yes, and be sure to pay special attention to the color of the sky in these pictures. Smog is awesome.
I made a second trip to the Forbidden City today, determined not to lose heart once I arrived at the ticket line. I discovered that there is a subway that brings you much closer to the main entrance, cutting the initial walking distance almost in half. When I last made the attempt, it was Saturday, and I was hoping that a Monday would prove to be less formidable in terms of the crowd. This proved to be true, and with little hesitation I strode up to the ticket window. A moment later, I was headed into the second most popular attraction in China, the monstrous Forbidden City.
And I mean monstrous. Originally the home of the emperor and his court, the city was built almost entirely with the intention of awing those who visited and thoroughly excluding those who did not have the privilege. The city was a world unto its own, a mystical location closed to the outside world. Emperors required that their foreign visitors (dignitaries, famed explorers) visit them exclusively within the city, bringing gifts from afar as a sign of tribute to the great Middle Kingdom.
The Emperors are gone, but the echo of their existence has not quite left. The magnitude of excess displayed within is on a level that cannot be described. The city is of such size that I found it difficult to focus on any one particular detail, simply out of the extent of grandeur that exists. The spaces within are incomprehensibly large. I suspect that this was the goal of the creators; a space so open that it does not seem enclosed, a world of it’s own. It was the rest of the world on the outside looking in.
The effect that results from such size is strange to behold. As a whole, the different sections of the city do not look remarkably different from one another, at least on a macro examination. Come a bit closer in, however, and you find a world of detail that is astounding. Ornate carvings, bronze sculpture, 200 ton slabs of marble. There are numerous themes repeated throughout the palace, but there are any number of details that are one of a kind and specific to the area of the palace where they are placed. Different sections were designated for different and very specific uses. Some of the pavilions were used for greeting guests, some for rituals, and I even found one that claimed it was the site used for the selection of the emperor’s concubines. It seems that the Chinese court led a life very bound to tradition.
I have been to the city once before, and it was cold to the point where I spent most of my time looking at the ground and just waiting for the trip to end. We started at the main entrance and didn’t stop to look at anything, making a straight line for the far northern exit. Walking straight through without stopping to look at anything can take a half and hour, but if you decide to explore even a little bit, you could easily spend several hours in the city. I have read that there are more than 9,000 rooms total. You are only able to access about half of the city, but this would keep you busy for a very long time.
I tried to get pictures not so much of the greater objects, but more of the fine details and the people around them. There is something about domestic Chinese tourism that I find fascinating. The throngs of people, the manner in which they group together at certain locations, and the montage of umbrellas. The heat exaggerates these effects, as huge groups come together in the shade of buildings, a mass of fans waving in the heat.
With or without emperor, the city has held its own. Sitting at the direct center of Beijing, this is, without a doubt, the center of China. There is something eerie about the stature held by such a tourist attraction. Though it has not been used as a palace in just about a century, the city has still grown outwardly in the manner that was always intended. And while every other wall in the city of Beijing has been brought down, the walls of the Forbidden City remain. Even the Zhongnanhai, the nerve center of China’s government, sits just to the west of the city, a reminder that there is no longer a ruler on the throne, but that the great hand of power has not moved very far.