Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beijing: The Forbidden City

When we first arrived in China we went through customs and my mom was stopped because her passport photo does not quite look like her in real life. The girl who was checking our passports called her supervisor over and he looked back and forth at my mom's photo. Then he asked her to smile (to see if maybe she looked more similar to her photo if she smiled). She smiled, but I was watching from a ways away and could tell she was sort of laughing at the whole thing. I'm not sure that bodes well with the Chinese immigration team.

The supervisor had three phones sitting on his desk. Two normal ones and one red one. He picked up the red phone and called someone else who eventually came down, asked for my mom's drivers license (which incidentally looks like yet a third and different version of my mom) and also took a photo of her with a digital camera. She took the passport, drivers license and digital photo to the "back" and somehow compared them. In the time that she was gone we sat in this tiny little four chair section that had a rope separating it from the regular foot traffic. It said "waiting area". In the time there we got to joking back and forth about the situation. Typical smug Americans.

"Listen buddy. I can give you ten million reasons why my photos don't look the same, starting with some recent weight loss and a hair-do overhaul and ending with the fact that I haven't slept in 36 hours."

"Well. We're going to have to call headquarters (CIA headquarters that is) and let them know that the new passport isn't working out"

Asian tourists congregated in a group nearby and we heard them sounding out the words "wait-ing ar-ea". Other judgmental travelers probably thought we were up to no good. Eventually we were able to go, but the whole situation put new meaning to the term "Forbidden City"

The next day we went to the real Forbidden City, which is just a few blocks away from our hotel. It took the better part of three hours to walk around, but there is no doubt that we could've spent days there and seen new things each time.

The patterns and the texture in some of the paintings and tile work were just incredible. Not to mention the immensity of the plazas and buildings (which are, like most everything else here based on the principles of Yin and Yang). Some buildings seemed to be renovated, and others were not - I learned later that only the main buildings were restored, and that is because the 2008 Olympics were in Beijing.

After the Forbidden City we went across the street to Jing Shan park, which has a great view of the city (as well as the pollution) and also has a large Buddha in the center pagoda that people were praying at.

We came back to the hotel for some lunch and then headed off again to Tian'an Men Square - which is also very close to our hotel and adjacent to the Forbidden City, to the South.

It was incredibly crowded. Most people were taking a walk around to see the large portrait of Chairman Mao - most of the visitors were Chinese. We walked to the other side of the square where there were huge red pillars (52 in all, representing the different cultural groups of China), and massive television screens that showed a very militaristic parade fully equipped with tanks, soldiers and missles. As it turns out, 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the "people's revolution" and October 1st was National Day although it seems they are celebrating all month long. So we picked an intersting time to be in China and we have witnessed an immense amount of national pride. 60, in China, is more significant that 50 (which we put more value on in the US) as 60 generally means a "wholeness" or "completeness". A human life is viewed as 60.

Something that I wasn't expecting in Beijing are all of the tree lined streets. It is actually quite beautiful. Next up for us was the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. Read on, Friend.