We spent a day visiting the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Beijing. I always wanted to go to the infamous Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 protests where government soldiers killed several thousand (numbers vary) citizens, and the Forbidden City. I didn’t know former dynasties also made a huge Summer Palace and a Temple of Heaven. Those four sites plus the old city of Beijing took up an entire day. My big take-away from the experience was the emperors were very narcissistic. The amount of manpower that it must have taken complete these massive palaces is amazing.
Security getting to the square and inside the Forbidden City was tight. We had to go through a couple different checkpoints. There were huge number of tourists (averages 16 million visitors per year), mostly Chinese visiting the palace, so it took us about 30 minutes to get to the front gate of the palace. There was a Communist party meeting taking place, this being just after President Xi Jinping was named to another term, and some of the square was blocked off. As with everything in China, the square is huge, covering 109 acres.
The name Forbidden City makes it sound more exotic than what is really is. Forbidden is a translation that refers to the fact that people could only enter and leave with the emperor’s permission. Once again, the place is just massive. There are thirteen enormous decorative gates that separate vast plazas. There are 980 buildings on the 180-acre site.
The summer palace is basically a man-made reservoir (Kunming Lake) which workers built a large hill (Longevity Hill) from the earth and rock where the lake was excavated. We walked along most of the lake and I was most impressed with the 786 meter “Long Corridor” that featured exquisite art work on every beam and panel.
The Temple of Heaven was the place of worship for the emperors. Today there are beautiful gardens and temples. It was funny when Oliver stood on the spot where the emperor talked to the gods. It was a round, stone platform. The color schemes of dark red, blue, gold and green continued throughout all of the palaces.
We also took a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of the old city. The distinctive grey bricks of the buildings combined with the red lantern decorations and Chinese flags, gave it a cool look. The alleyways (hutongs) are protected but with the growing economy, some areas are being gentrified and it is feared the entire area will be redeveloped. Below is a video I shot with Oliver in the rickshaw.
We also visited the Beijing Zoo. Most of the animals are in small, depressing cages and cells. The exception are the headlining Chinese Pandas. They are in a beautifully done living areas. It was fascinating to watch them strip bamboo. They would run it through their teeth and collect the leaves in the side of their mouth. They then put the leaves in their paw and chew them.
Finally, we went to eat several nights at the APM mall, one of the many shopping districts of the “new” China. They made a nice European style walking street. Most of the places were typical Western luxury stores.