Friday, June 27, 2008

China Day 1: Beijing (Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven)

We made it! Our flight left LAX Thursday morning at 1:40 a.m., and we arrived this morning at 5:00 a.m. (The flight was a direct flight and twelve hours long, but China is fifteen hours ahead of Los Angeles which explains why we lost a day.) The flight was smooth and uneventful. I actually slept eight of the twelve hours (I usually cannot sleep on planes), which was just what I needed after a night of very little sleep on Tuesday and all the stress of trying to get out of town in one piece!

So, not only was our flight a breeze, but getting out of the Beijing airport was quick and smooth. The international terminal is brand new for the Olympics and is beautiful and modern (and air conditioned!). It makes LAX look like the Quasimodo of airports.

We collected our bags, and found the taxi line. I had printed out our hotel address and name in Chinese from the website, but our cab driver was still confused. Eventually, he pulled off on a median and decided to phone a friend. Just when I thought we may have lucked out with the worst driver in Beijing, I see a driver throw his car in reverse and back up on the freeway!!

Against the odds, we managed to make it to our hotel -- the Westin, Financial Street -- at about 6:00 a.m. Our good luck streak continued, and they were able to check us in early, so we headed up to our room to shower and have a quick nap.

The room is very comfy.

I thought the fresh flowers in the bathroom were a nice touch.

Of course, Josh decided to raid the mini bar. The most interesting item available? One condom for about 40 CNY (about $6).

Ah, but at least there was Diet Coke!

After a long shower and a two-hour nap, we met Mary, our fantastic guide, in the lobby of our hotel. Our first stop: the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is located in the dead center of Beijing and was the home of the emperors (and their wives and concubines) in China for almost five hundred years. The Last Emperor (yes, like the movie), Puyi, was the last royal family member to live there until he abdicated his throne in 1912.

Walking around the Forbidden City, I could not believe how huge it was. Also, there were so many amazing things we learned from Mary: how concubines were selected, eccentricities of the emperors, scandals, affairs, and muurrrder.

Here's a picture of Josh standing outside the moat that surrounds the Forbidden City.
Josh and me in front of the North Gate (the only gate the women were allowed through, back in the day). I'm not sure whose hat that is . . .

The door of the gate. The number nine is considered lucky and was the royal number, so each door in the Forbidden City has nine rows of nine gold spheres.

Pretty cool, huh? I'm thinking we need one of these for our front door . . .

Inside the Forbidden City.

On many of the rooftops, there was a procession of sculpted animals.

Josh in a pretty doorway.

Josh and Mary walking ahead of me. I'm telling you, this place is huge. We walked all around it, and it took over three hours! It could easily take longer to see everything.

I'm in love with the lion sculptures. This is actually a lioness, according to Mary, because it has a little lion cub under its left paw.

As you can probably tell, it's pretty foggy/cloudy/smoggy today. (In fact, it started raining on our way home tonight.) Fortunately, it made for a "cooler" day (I was still dying of heat and humidity). Unfortunately, my pictures look a little gloomy.


Huge carving of dragons.

The Opera House in the Forbidden City.

More pictures of the Forbidden City. It turns out I took 188 pictures today, most at the Forbidden City. It was just so gorgeous!

Our next stop was Tiananmen Square.

Josh, me, and Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square.

After Tiananmen Square, it was time for lunch! Mary took us to one of her favorite places that is well-known for their Peking Duck!

Josh ordered a bowl of noodles . . .

And, of course, beer!

I decided on the Peking Duck.

Which was excellent!

After lunch, we headed to the Temple of Heaven, a site used by the Ming and Qing dynasties to pray and make sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of a good harvest.

The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a huge park frequented by locals for morning tai chi or to get some fresh air in the polluted city. (As a side note, I cannot get over how green Beijing is! Not what I was expecting at all.)

The Circular Mound Altar.

Josh in front of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. A circular "echo" wall wraps around this building, and you can hear someone speaking to you on the other side of the building.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This entire thing is made of wood. Oh, and not a single nail was used. Just wood. Pretty impressive, right?

There is a long, outdoor "hallway" as Mary described it (reminded me of the frescoes in Rome) that the animal sacrifices used to be brought down before the ceremony. Now, it's a big gathering place for locals to sing, dance, and play cards and chess. When we walked in, we saw a large choir practicing while an older couple plucked out a different tune on some instruments I have never seen.

More musicians.

A group of men playing a game that is similar to chess.

As we were walking out, we say this gentleman. He has a bucket of water and a big brush, and he is practicing his calligraphy by writing out an ancient poem.

Pretty cool.

We also saw this guy flying a string of kites. Too bad it's such a gloomy day as this would have been a cool picture.

One of my favorite things about Beijing is how the bicyclists and cars coexist. There are a ton of bicycles, and they have their own lane of the freeway.

It's that blend of ancient and modern that makes Beijing so cool. Check this guy out -- hauling wood on his bike next to a major highway.

We did a little shopping, too, including stops at the Silk Market, the Pearl Market, and some other market with every type of gadget and electronic thingamajig you could want.

Well, this has been quite a post! I have to admit, I am pretty exhausted, so I am going to stop here. Tomorrow we are off to the Great Wall! More to follow soon . . .

(P.S. Please excuse any typos or formatting inconsistencies. Frankly, blogger is driving me crazy, and I am too tired to revise as my brain is mush.)


dapotato said...

glad you got there safely and smoothly. the photos are great! everything is beautiful, even in the gloom. :)

Sarah said...

Wow, how exciting. It looks beautiful. And I'm so glad you can post as you go!

wan-nabe said...

i'm so glad that you arrived safely and that you managed to get some shut-eye on the long flight.

wow! your first day was jam-packed, and looks fascinating. i can't wait for the rest of the trip :)

WeezerMonkey said...

Yay for a number of things!
(1) Blogging while traveling!
(2) Your personal tour guide, Mary!
(3) Having overcast skies instead of blazing heat!
(4) A fabulous hotel!

jmawrey said...

Wow!! Looks amazing! I miss you guys- keep posting so I can live vicariously through you!

Danica said...

ahh!! you are in china! so amazing. keep the blogs coming --- we must live vicariously through you.

Nanette said...

What an awesome day! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

California Girl said...

So interesting!

amber said...

so much good stuff in this post! i'm especially loving the guy practicing his calligraphy with water on the ground. so cool!

R said...

You are right, it is gorgeous! Sounds like your guide is awesome and you're trip is off to a great start.