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Beijing – Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace

Author: Lara G
Date of Trip: September 2012

Our guide who is going to be with us for the rest of our tour, Bob, 45 years old, well educated Chinese citizen, mentioned that he was expelled from the country for 9 years. He completed his master degree in the university of Toronto where he acquired his English name ‘Bob’ which stands for ‘Best Of Best’.

Our visiting sites for today were the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.

The Tiananmen Square, at 109 acres, the world largest public square and was initially the ‘front door’ of the Forbidden City. The Tiananmen Square is 12 times larger than the Red Square in Moscow. There is still a huge portrait of Mao Zedong on the central tribune of the square.

The Forbidden City completed in 1420, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world’s largest palace complex, consisting of many buildings with 9,999 rooms (9 is a lucky number in China) protected by a 20-foot-wide moat and a 32-foot-high wall. Now known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties where outside visitors were forbidden for five centuries. Scenes from the movie ‘The last Emperor’ were taking in the Forbidden City. Emperor had around 3000 wives/concubines. By the Qing dynasty there were around 20,000. Every year 600 the most beautiful young women were brought to the Palace where only 6 (1%) were selected by Emperor to stay in the Palace. The Imperial concubines were guarded by an equally obscene number of eunuchs (men who’ve been castrated) to ensure that they couldn’t be made pregnant by anybody except the Emperor. Many of these 3000 women lead very lonely life and were never granted by the Emperor attention and warmth. If Emperor dies, the concubines, that did not have children from the Emperor, were berried alive in standing position around the Emperor’s tomb. But successful concubines became extremely rich, and were able to use their position to promote the interests of their own family. In the classic of Chinese literature ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’, three generations of the Jia family are supported by one favorite concubine of the Emperor.

Concubines do not officially exist in modern China, but ‘Ernai’ or ‘second wives’ are increasingly common. Unlike in the West, keeping a mistress is not always frowned upon in China. Concubinage was not abolished in Hong Kong until 1971.

There’s a popular Chinese explanation why Chinese men need multiple women but women are expected to make do with just one man: ‘One teapot is usually accompanied by four cups. But have you ever seen one cup with four teapots?’

The magnificent Summer Palace, was the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing Dynasty. Considered one of the finest Chinese architectural gardens, the Summer Palace spans over 700 acres with breathtaking views, pavilions, towers, palaces and halls. We enjoyed a dragon boat ride across the garden’s beautiful lake.

One thing I need to say about today’s tours – all places were packed with people and I can hear people speaking all kind of languages (and Russian among them). I thought that today I really feel that this city has a population of 24 millions of people… It also was a quite hot day. We immediately collapsed to our bed when we finally returned to our cool and comfortable hotel room.

We rested until dinner time, went for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant (for the most of the days breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in our package). After the dinner Sparky and I took a walk down the streets around our hotel. A lot of people were waking or sitting around the tables at the sidewalk restaurants. We saw the Starbucks Cafe, KFC and TJS Friday all in one block. Beijing has a vibrant life of the big city.

My observations about Beijing: architecture of the official buildings and apartment buildings is very similar to what you can see in the most of republics that not long ago were included in the Soviet Union. I can easily imagine their two-three room apartments where at least, two-three generations live together. Our guide, Forest, told us that he lives in two-room apartment + 1 bathroom and kitchen with his wife, daughter and mother-in-law. Most of the apartments do not have a central air conditioning system, each has (or has not) their individual air conditioners installed in the wall or window. Facades of the most apartments are not painted for many-many years, the same we observed during our trip to Ukraine in 2010. As in every big city, some areas look like a complete slam. Roads/streets of Beijing, at least in the central financial district, where our hotel is, get washed every night. First we thought that it was raining at night as the roads and streets become wet, but we could not understand why is it always raining only at night until someone explained us that this is not really a rain, the streets just get washed…

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