Our group started the day with a visit to the Forbidden City near the center of Beijing. On our way to the Forbidden City, we passed through Tiananmen Square, the political center of Beijing. The square was a large open area of about 100 by 80 meters complete with a small garden on one of the sides and a central pillar dedicated as the Monument to the People’s Heroes. On opposing sides were the Museum of Chinese History and the primary government building in Beijing. Also in the center of the square was the building in which Chairman Mao Zedong’s body is still preserved.
The Forbidden City was essentially a large compound with many open areas surrounded by small walls. Within the walls that divided the spaces were offices and living quarters of some those who lived in the imperial palace. The layout can be described as a wider middle column of open areas connected by large similar gates and two smaller columns of open spaces adjacent to each side of the central path. All of the adjacent spaces were connected by openings in the walls that sectioned off the areas. That’s the best I can describe the layout of the compound and it may be hard to picture unless you visit the Forbidden City yourself. The only aspect of the visit that I didn’t like was that most of the sections and gates looked identical apart from the Imperial Garden, although apparently there are 9,999 rooms in the complex which is unbelievable. This garden contained a maze of walkways with sculpted rocks, different types of trees, and koi ponds spanned by bridges. Of the entire Forbidden City, it was easily the best place to take pictures.
After the Forbidden City visit, we traveled to an area of Beijing called Hutong, where many of the people who worked in the palace lived so they were within a short distance. We were able to visit a local homeowner and were given the chance to listen to what he had to say about living in the community. The homes were called quadrangles due to their layout as a central courtyard surrounded by four buildings. The people who live there currently are family oriented and would refuse to leave the area as homes are passed throughout generations of a family. There are also customs related to affairs in the homes of Hutong, such as the northern-most building or the quadrangle is the largest and is the dedicated living quarters of the oldest living family member of the household. Also, the west gate is the gate that people enter through, and all gates are never open at the same time unless a distinguished guest is expected.
We then visited the Temple of Heaven, which is where the emperor would pray twice a year to the God of Heaven. The temple looked like a large park mostly covered in green space with a tall circular tower in the back where the emperor would pray. While at the temple we participated in a short Taichi lesson led by a Taichi master. He provided a complicated demonstration of one of his routines and led us through a simpler one. The abundance of nature in the temple and the slow movements of the Taichi created an overall peaceful atmosphere.
After returning to the hotel a small group of people and I explored the surrounding area looking for a restaurant. We ended up picking a small restaurant that resembled those at which we’ve eaten previously on the trip. We order six different dishes made up of beef, shrimp, noodles, greens, and what I believe was intestines. All of the dishes were slightly spicy which likely pertained to the theme of the restaurant. Today is our last day and Beijing and tomorrow we must leave the hotel at 6 a.m. to catch a train to our next destination, the city of Xi’an.