This morning we visited Tiananmen Square or the Forbidden City or the home to the imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of Qing Dynasty. To give you a perspective to the third largest city square in the world, if one were to stay the night in every room within the city square, it would take over 28 years. Walking through the multitude of ring-like layers was weird, it felt as if every time you walked into another area it looked like the one you were coming from and kept going. Tiananmen Square was just another excellent example of beautiful architecture that was covered with jaw dropping, intricate paintings. Also, with each of the new sections we had ample opportunities to acquire good luck by stepping over the steps and rubbing the knobs that decorated all the doors.
After the Tiananmen Square visit we went off to each lunch. Fortunately, I sat directly across one our program coordinators from the Asia Institute. Her English name is Liliana. While enjoying another excellent family style meal, Liliana and I talked extensively trying to understand the differences between our cultures. From education to music to food to American comparisons to Chinese cities, we talked a lot. This was one of my favorite meals just because I was able to learn so much about her and her perspectives.
Following lunch, we took a short bus ride to the Hutong village where we had a bike carriage tour throughout the village. While on the outside it looked as if the housing was the less than ideal, the insides of the houses we went into were beautiful, including many artifacts from some of the dynasties. We learned that the instead of destroying the village to create high sky rise apartment buildings, the government protects this area and the housing is actually quite sought after. I never would have thought these one floor houses where up to nine families share a community bathroom would be worth roughly $9M as we were told. The host family that welcomed us into their home told us stories and relayed all the above information. One other fact they mentioned was that I was sitting on a chair that was part of the Ming Dynasty! How crazy, I was sitting on such an interesting artifact that should be in a museum. This is also the reason why these houses go for so much. Also, after hearing that, I became quite thankful that the vase my elbow almost knocked had not fallen because who knows what that could have been.
For the last planned activity of the night we took on a Tai-chi class in the park that surrounds the Temple of Heaven. While I did not particularly love the Tai-chi class it was very interesting to go through such a thing, especially when everyone else is walking by taking pictures and videos. By the time the class had ended, we had amassed a crowd of about 15 by standers. Once we finished Tai-chi we walked through the rest of the park until we got to the Temple of Heaven. Something I would have never guessed about ANY building, let alone a building with the age and history that the Temple of Heaven has, is that Temple of Heaven was built completely with wood and NO nails. On top of all the exquisite architecture we have already seen, this fact put itself over the edge, very crazy.
For the night, me and a group of three other friends decided to go to the 798 Art Zone. The 798 Art Zone had been described as the most Soho-esque area in China and the most popular area for contemporary art in all of China. We had been attempting to make trip there via taxi in rush hour. It was extremely frustrating and after an hour of searching, relocating, and getting ignored by drivers we had almost decided to drop the plans and find something else to do when finally we got picked up. Even though most of the exhibits and collections had been closed, there was still beautiful art and sculptures covering the streets and with how big the zone is, there was plenty of art to be seen and I am sure we did not even see half of the available art. Even after all the troubles and the set circumstances, I had an excellent time. If I ever make it out to Beijing again, I will certainly be planning a day trip out to 798.
Now it’s time to pack up and get ready for the early rise and morning of travel to Xi’an via bullet train.