Our day started off with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was quite wild to walk into one of the largest city squares in the world, where many of their central government buildings are located. These buildings reminded me a little bit of Washington, D.C., and there was even one monument honoring fallen soldiers very similar to the Washington Monument. As we were walking around, lots of people were just staring at us, likely because they had never seen Americans before. People from all over China come to see these two landmarks, and we were told it wouldn’t be uncommon for some to want to even get pictures of us with or without asking.
We walked straight to the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square, and it was quite amazing to see how intricate all of the architecture was. We kept walking through multiple sets of doors just to see more and more open space surrounded by well-built buildings on the sides, all of which had a specific use for the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. I found it very interesting that it truly was cut off from the rest of the city, as it was surrounded by a 52 meter wide moat so that no one could enter.
After seeing all there was to see about the Forbidden City, we went off to lunch and then took a Hutong tour in one of the oldest and most cherished sections of Beijing. As we were taken down these narrow alleys by bike, it was very interesting to note that these areas looked so unkept because people aren’t allowed to change the exteriors of their homes due to the entire area having major historical significance. We entered one very small home with a ridiculously nice courtyard and an even nicer interior, and found out it was priced at around $9 million in U.S. dollars! Now that’s some prime real estate!
For our last excursion of the day, we went to the Temple of Heaven. We started off this visit with instruction in the art of Tai Chi. As we were guided through all of the poses, I really began making sure that my body and mind were going through the motions as one unit. Although we eventually gained some unwanted spectators, I still found the exercise to be very spiritually uplifting, and I was glad we had this experience. After finishing Tai Chi, we then went to visit the actual temple. The Temple of Heaven was built entirely out of wood without using a single nail, which is absurd to consider. It was used by the Emperor to pray for certain things from God by sacrificing animals, where the smoke rising from the temple was believed to create a connection between the heavens and Earth.
Later that night, a few friends and I ventured out to the fourth ring of Beijing to see Art Zone 798, which is one of the biggest contemporary art hubs in all of China. Most of the main art exhibits were closed off, but there was still quite a lot to see in the surrounding areas, such as very detailed walls, interesting sculptures, and a lot of graffiti. It took a very long time to get a cab to take us this far, but it was well worth it as the art was spectacular.