Our day started early and the bus ride to the Forbidden City was only 30 minutes. Once the bus stopped, we had to quickly get off because buses could not stop in front of the historical site for very long. We formed a single file line behind Joe, our tour guide, and went through a series of check in points before going through an underground passageway that brought us up to the parliament building, and the gate into the Forbidden City. Joe gave us a brief background and history lecture before giving us 10 minutes of free time in Tiannamen square. Apparently this city square is the largest in Beijing. Hayley and I took most of our time and pictures in front of the gate where the famous Mao portrait is. Joe then let us through the gate- closer and closer to the Mao portrait. I noticed that the portrait was very detailed, you could even see a wart on Mao’s chin. Joe then led us through two more gates and gave us a lecture on the inside of the Forbidden City before letting us go on our own till the end of the site. I learned from Joe’s lecture that no one but the royal family was allowed in the Forbidden City, except concubine candidates who would come from the back gate. Dr. Li informed us that the signs on each gate were a different blessing. The architectural style, purpose, and environment of the Forbidden City surprised me in how similar it was to Gyung Book Goong- South Korea’s version of the Forbidden City. Later though, Will told me that Korea learned a lot from China so even though he had never been to Korea, he was not surprised that the palaces of the royal families were similar. Some of the buildings were open and you could see inside. Some of them looked like a classroom, others looked like a bedroom. The site was packed with native Chinese and tourists alike. At the end of the site was a garden of impressive size with various trees, flowers, and bushes.
We were then bused to the Bell Tower. We were led into a small town square where Joe gave us a background history of the village. Some of these houses had been there for decades and the interior and exterior were still intact. We then paired off into twos and rode rickshaws- a small carriage pulled by a man on a bike. Hayley and I really appreciated the ride, the carriages were shaded and there was a nice breeze as we biked through the village. Our driver was also very sweet and offered to take pictures of us in the carriage. We stopped in front of a front door- and not a modern front door, this village was built in ancient Chinese style. The door opened up to a small square that was surrounded by walled rooms but had no roof. Again, such architectural style reminded me of old Korean homes. We were led into a small living room where we all squeezed in to sit. Joe informed us of the purpose of such architectural style but none of it surprised me as it had to same purpose as Korean ones. Then an elderly man, Mr. Jong, came in and started speaking to us. He did not know how to speak English so Joe translated what he was saying. Mr. Jong was born, raised, and has been living in that house ever since. He told us about how when he was young, the city of Beijing was not very populated but as the city grew the village streets become more and more narrow- as we had observed from the rickshaw ride. At the end of the visit, when everyone was filing out Hayley and I asked if we could take a picture with him and he agreed to and was even kind enough to walk us out of his house. On our way out, he gave me and Hayley a leaf off of one of his trees and directed us to eat it. The leaf tasted very familiar, like one of the herbs you’d put on a pasta or pizza but Hayley could not say exactly what it was.
We were then bused to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven, as Joe told us, was where the emperor would make animal sacrifices to the gods in heaven. The temple itself is enormous and is an architectural feat. I don’t think my words would do it justice, so I will leave pictures of the temple below. The inside of the temple was open to the public and we could see the king’s seats and stone animals lined up to the sacrificed. There was also a museum next to the temple that had a scaled version of the temple in cross section form. The museum also described how the temple was built with geometric perfection, the columns formed individual squares and the perfect circular roofs represented the circle of life. The temple was rebuilt many times over the years due to natural disasters and dynasty wars. The temple was also used for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Joe then led us through the back gate of the site into a garden where we walked for some time before meeting our Taichi instructor. We got into rows of three and followed the instructor’s movements. I found it very difficult to follow the movements exactly- there were a lot of moves per step. After the Taichi class was over, we thanked our instructor and walked back to the bus where we were bused back to the hotel.