Today consisted of a variety of cultural activities to conclude our visit to Beijing. We started the morning with a visit to Tiananmen Square, followed by the Forbidden City, Hutongs, and the Temple of Heaven where we got to try Tai Chi.
Tiananmen Square is the political hub of China, used to host many diplomats and officials on their visits to Beijing. It features a few key structures including the Great Hall of the People (the main political building in China, similar to parliament or the houses of congress), Mao’s Mausoleum, and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. One of the things I found most impressive about Tiananmen square was its size. Even full of tour groups there was an immense amount of open space, making it unlike any other square I’ve visited in the past. Connected to Tiananmen Square is the Forbidden City, or the residence of emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The city’s name comes from being closed off to the common people to preserve the sacred connection between the emperor and the highest level of heaven. The city is surrounded by two walls for both protection and preservation of the emperor’s dignity. Inside, the buildings have red walls, the color of happiness, and yellow roofs, the color specifically reserved for the emperor. My favorite part of the Forbidden City was the Imperial Garden near the exit. I would strongly recommend visiting the gardens to anyone who happens to find themselves in Beijing.
After our visit to the Forbidden City we had another traditional Chinese lunch, and this time tried a new drink which consisted of sweetened milk and cream mixed with fruit and small squares of jelly that was very refreshing. Later on today I tried my first bubble tea in China, and was pleasantly surprised to find it was significantly better than bubble tea I’ve had anywhere else. Overall today has been characterized by a variety of new beverages that I’ve been able to try.
In the afternoon we visited the Hutong streets nearby the Forbidden city and were invited into a traditional home in the area.The home was complete with a courtyard and a developed sense of Feng shui. These Hutong streets were the residence of government officials in the times of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and to this day there is a strong sense of family in the area that ties people to their homes and relatives.
Our last event of the day was a trip to the Temple of Heaven, the location of sacrifices and prayer performed by the Emperor to ensure good harvests and bumper crops. Three sacrificial animals were used at this place–the pig, the sheep, and the cow. I found it very interesting to walk around the Temple of Heaven, but my experience was slightly marred by the fact that we had many locals both following us and taking pictures of us during our time near the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Despite this, I still enjoyed the visit, especially the Tai Chi class at the end of the day.
That’s all for Beijing this time, onto Xi’an tomorrow!