Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beijing Trip Day 3 - Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven & Summer Palace

Day 3!  After a good night's sleep, it was time to head out again on the third day of our holiday in Beijing!  Recap, Day 2, we visited the Mutianyu Great Wall and Ming Tombs.  Today, we focus on the sights within Beijing capital itself.  Again, we decided to go with Simon, our trusty driver.

Breakfast in the Exec Lounge
But before we set off, breakfast was needed!  We woke up a bit later and decided to take breakfast in the Exec Lounge, since we had breakfast at the main cafe on the 4th floor the day before.

The Egg's Benedict was good.  There was a live noodle station, but I didn't get any noodles this morning.   See the video for the spread and what I ate.


Tiananmen Square 天安门广场 - Passports Required 
Driver Simon picked us up at the appointed time and our first stop would be Tiananmen Square.  There was plenty of security and barricades and he could only drop us at a junction which was a short walk to the security screening tent.  So we joined the queue, which moved fairly quickly, but I hit a snag.  They X-rayed my backpack, and took a look at my Sony Handycam, and the supervisor declared that I could NOT bring this piece of equipment into the Tiananmen area.  Goodness, I was stuck!  Obviously, I wasn't about to argue with the Chinese police.  This was when I was very grateful that we had booked a private tour with Simon.  We quickly called him, using the mobile phone that he provided us, and asked him to come back to the same point where he dropped us off so that he could safekeep my video camera.  Simon duly obliged and turned up within 10 minutes or so.  Thankfully, we had no issues with entering after this.

Tiananmen Square is indeed large.  As this was low season, it didn't feel like there were that many people around.  Tiananmen Square is very famous, for many reasons.  Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on this square, on Oct 1, 1949.  More information on Wiki -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square

Another picture.  Most of the visitors were locals.  I saw very few foreigners. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, when British and French troops invaded Beijing, they pitched camp near the gate and briefly considered burning down the gate and the entire Forbidden City. They decided ultimately to spare the Forbidden City and instead burn down the Old Summer Palace.

Make no mistake, the British and French have invaded China several times, and marched all the way to Beijing, and did all sorts of nasty things to the Chinese.  Frankly, any modern Chinese citizen, reading up on this history, will come to the realisation that the hundred years of humiliation of China by the Western Imperialists power was only possible because the then Government of China (a monarchy, Qing Dynasty) was pretty much incompetent. Faced with internal revolts, they couldn't even stop the British from capturing Canton, a city of more than 1 million people, with fewer than 6,000 troops!

Tiananmen Square 天安门广场 Video
And here is a video of our experience in the Tiananmen Square.  We didn't spend too long here.  Just took some photos and moved on.  Our main objective was to visit the Forbidden City.  To get there, from the Tiananmen Square, we had to cross a major road via an underpass.


Underpass, which was very nicely decorated too.  I did notice very tight security all around, not just manpower, but plenty of CCTV cameras all over the place (typically on lamp posts).  I felt very safe.

Forbidden City
Once we crossed the road, it was time go get into the Forbidden City.  We just followed the flow of human traffic, couldn't go wrong.  The way this place was designed, it was a one-way street.  You would need to enter the Forbidden City from this side, and exit at the other North side.  So in the picture below, as well as the video that follows, you will see us entering the Forbidden City like every other tourist that day.  You can see Chairman Mao's portrait on Tiananmen "Gate of Heavenly Peace" Gate.

Here is the video.  The video starts with us walking into the Heavenly Gate.  We needed to find the ticket booths to buy tickets into the Forbidden City.  It was off-season, so we could get tickets that were slightly cheaper.  And there weren't any queues at the ticket booth!  Cool.  During peak, be prepared to wait in the long lines.  We proceeded in quickly, and the rest, they say is history.  I did feel like an Emperor, walking into the Forbidden City.  It was quite something, given that it was completed in 1420, almost 600 years ago!


Many tour groups, almost all were domestic tourists.  Already, we were there during low season, and the number of visitors during peak is way more than what we saw.  So, get ready to face the big squeeze of China, when you visit the Forbidden City during the peak season!

After we completed the Forbidden City, we exited by the North Gate (only one gate to exit anyway), crossed the road, and walked to the first junction to wait for our driver Simon.  There were many people waiting at the junction, since all the tour groups had to find a place to gather too.  We didn't have to wait too long and soon, we were on our way to the next destination, which was the Temple of Heaven.  But before that, I spotted this vehicle, which I thought was rather quaint.

But seriously, there were many more big continental cars and SUVs than the modified scooter you see above.  Cars like the Audi below were common.

Temple of Heaven  (天壇)
Our next stop was the Temple of Heaven, which wasn't very far from the Forbidden City.  This is an imperial complex of religious buildings, visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for ritualistic ceremonies of prayer to the heavens for good harvests.  The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420, during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, and extended under later Emperors.

The place was rather large and there were several different entrances to the compound.  We entered via the North Gate, after buying our combined ticket to see several sights within the compound.

No doubt, the most famous building to take a look in this complex is the one below.  Pretty cool, with distinctive architecture.  This was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

And here is a video of what we saw in the Temple of Heaven complex.  You couldn't actually go into that unique structure.  But you could peek in from the outside.  We also visited the Circular Mound Altar, a place which was also built for religious purposes, and use for animal sacrifices.  And then, we took a look at the Imperial Vault, of which the Echo wall was nearby.


This was the Imperial Vault.  There were more sights within the Temple of Heaven compound, but we didn't visit all.

It was lunch time, and we would be meeting Simon at East Gate. Simon drove us a short distance to a rather famous restaurant called Brown Door.  What was so interesting about this place?

Brown Door Restaurant - Beijing 
When we stepped into the non-descript restaurant, which Simon told us serve fairly authentic Beijing cuisine at a reasonable price, we were taken aback that almost all the entire restaurant was patronized by foreigners!  Wow.  Did our driver kid us?  Was this a tourist trap?  Not at all.  Indeed, there were many foreign tourists, but the food was pretty decent and the prices reasonable.  This video shows you what we ate.  I recall paying no more than 110RMB (or 16 USD).  The cooking standard was decent and we ate a very full lunch, to get all that energy to walk some more!


SUMMER PALACE
After a satisfying lunch, it was time for the final stop of the day, the Summer Palace.  Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this was a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces.  This place was huge!  And full of domestic tourists too.  Here is my video.  After entering, we first crossed a bridge to an island. .  What bridge?  It was the Seventeen-Arch bridge built during Emperor Qian Long's reign (Qing Dynasty).  Then we walked back to the mainland, and walked one big round, passing the Long Corridor, passing some Marble Boat and finally to the North gate to meet our driver Simon.  It was a long and interesting walk.


On the burning of the Summer Palace controversy, this BBC article gives an interesting perspective - http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30810596; to quote,

"There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK's relations with China - a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country's most beautiful palace."

And with all the looting of the Summer Palace, it has also left a controversial legacy in British art collections - royal, military, private - full of looted objects.  Oh well, let's hope and pray that we live in peace.  Waging war in the modern era between powerful countries would almost certainly mean nuclear annihilation.

Travelling back to the Hotel
On our way back to the hotel, I was again doing some car watching.  And again, I saw many nice cars. I called this video BMW, Audi, Lexus and many other nice cars.  

We got back to our hotel in good time.  Again, we went to the Executive Lounge to have our dinner and this evening, there was Won-Ton noodles!  Awesome.  Plenty of good food to eat, and plenty of history to ponder over. 

End of Day 3, and we move on to Day 4 where we take Beijing Subway.  Stay tuned for more!  Thanks for reading.

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