So this week I’m again in the capital to see what it has to offer…
The first thing to point out is that none of the lies about the pollution and population density/ overcrowding dreamt up by West didn’t appear to be true at all- as you may be able to see in the photos! It was really quite shocking as usually it lingers up near 200 or above on the AQI, as you may be able to remember from Breathing is overrated. In fact, we almost apologetically stumbled over the Forbidden City, such was our ease on approaching it. Of course, it is nothing like this in the high season, but we were treated to a relaxed stroll around, opposed to a bustled, dirty sweat-fest which is sometimes the case.
A theme of the trip was how easily we were let through bag checks and just generally how much easier access was for the foreigners. We were hurried through security checks as if they were personally offended us by having a cheeky peek at my sandwiches and flask before OKing me and many people were turned away from places where we simply strolled through. A good example of this is taking- by accident I hasten to add- the entrance door into the forbidden city which passes right under Mr Mao instead of one across to the side.
We went there tee hee hee.
Did anyone stop us? Nope. We decided to be slightly cheeky and test out our new superpower. We noticed that in Tiananmen Square, just before dusk, some Chinese people were turned away in front of our eyes as it was closing to the public, however we decided that an evening stroll was just what we wanted, so we did it anyway. Did anyone stop us? Nope. It seems that there is some sort of hangover from the Beijing Olympics, when China was so eager to impress that foreigners were given essentially a free pass. Not that we minded, of course, but it smacks of double standards, so best advice is to make it particularly obvious that you are not Chinese (we found and inability to speak Chinese and white skin useful clues) and you make yourself slightly untouchable.
In fact, we took it a final stage further into the realms of another ‘selfie’ session, and I think that I may have just stumbled on an excellent traveler game. I haven’t yet thought of a name but it may be something like ex-totalitarian-photo-shoot-game. Effectively you find a picture of an ex-dictator in a famous place and then ‘selfie’ yourself, publishing it under a snappy name. I went with Maoie, and this is what it looks like:
I’m sure Mao would have appreciated that no end. But the fun doesn’t stop there. If you, too, would like to have a go, send me the picture and I’ll not only publish it on the blog, but I’ll also mentally send you a sticker. Your choice of colour! Lovely.
After all these fun and games, we got on to the serious business of touristing around perhaps the (2nd) most iconic landmark in China- the Forbidden City.
At around 80RMB plus audio guide, it is a steal. Beside the stories of Emperors and concubines, spiritual solace and daring coups, the beautifully preserved/ restored architecture make it formidable experience for all. Learning tales such as when the palace was attacked during the Ming Dynasty, to the point where the gold on the gilded fire cauldrons was scratched off leave an effortlessly enchanting feel to the whole place.
Incidentally, these cauldrons were actually to help put out fires, being filled to the brim with water, which begs the question of how the nelly they managed to act quickly to douse the fire, being as they are so heavy. Sense reasons that they obvious stayed put, instead being used as sources, but this just seems elaborately inefficient to me.
Behind the palace is a view to bring out all o the cliches… I’ll go with breathtaking on this occasion, particularly as we were blessed with the weather being as clear and sunny as it was. In fact, I actually broke out a t-shirt on top of the hill. Stretching across the entire city and beyond, just sitting there was enough.
Another pleasant aspect to the park was tranquility, even though we were in the centre of one of the urban districts in the world. We saw birds signing, which is something that is somewhat rare in the concrete jungle of Changchun. Even the toilets were encouraging when you got things right!!
From tea houses to landmarks of global importance, there is barely a finer experience for than meandering through the Hutong districts just outside of the centre, watching life unfold. For the more adventurous, you could try to delve into some of the narrow alleys and communal areas in housing complexes to get a better look, but just as good is spending a few moments watching a feisty game of Mahjong or photographing a group of elderly ladies sip tea to keep warm whilst chattering the afternoon away.
The Yonghe ‘lama’ temple, may not offer the the biggest but reputably the best example of a Buddhist temple in China, with thousands of Buddhists streaming through the doors everyday. I was not able to get a picture of the 25m-high wood-carved Buddha in one of the main temples, but it was quite the sight. Also, it was carved from one solid piece, which is staggering and simply a triumph of craftsmanship. It was interesting to note that by far the vast majority of people there were young-ish and although each ages group was ably represented, I got the feeling that Buddhism is alive and kicking looking towards the future. Furthermore, there is no awkward feeling of stepping on someone’s toes…..
I think I have sufficiently bored you for a week! So join me next week for street markets and a very China-ish picture… Let’s see what happens! have a great week!