Day 5: Following the Emperor

The last breakfast at Penta Hotel was a little saddening, only because I wasn’t sure if the other hotels would have grapefruit juice, Asian pears, and steamed buns, but I’m hoping they do.
Today was absolutely packed. The beginning was Tiananmen Square, historically an important cultural site. To inform us of said history, we were joined once again by Uncle Joe. One of the first things we learned was that queueing is really not something that is done in China (at least in public). The lines to get past security and to the Square itself were insane, with random people trying to shove their way past us in every direction. It seemed like there were an endless number of tour groups, all with matching hats or shirts or something.

After some pictures, we made our way across the street to another historic site: the Forbidden City. This was really fantastic to see from the outside, and even more amazing on the inside. A few things I found neat about the Forbidden City besides the usual history:

  • There are over 10,000 individual rooms (it would literally take years to see them all)
  • There are specific rooms dedicated to the most specific things (like the one room for the emperor to be with his wife and not his concubines, different tea rooms, rooms for different meals, etc.)

The whole City was a lot to take in, and I wish we had spent more time there. Of course, we had much more to see.

After a lunch together as a group (with lightly sweetened flower tea), we took a bus to the historic part of Beijing. Here, we toured the Hutong: buildings that had been passed down within families for generations, and were preserved to keep their original look (at least on the outside). So because of this, the buildings were fairly plain on the outside, but the insides (at least the one we saw) were impressive, to say the least. Each home is currently worth millions, so while it looks like a place for commoners, pretty much only wealthy business people live there.

Once again, with our schedule for today we couldn’t linger too long, so again off we went, this time to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple was a summer palace for the Emperor, and a place for him to pray for a good harvest in the coming year.

But first, we had something else to do. Outside the direct area of the Temple, we had a Taichi class. It was a little odd at first, especially with random people stopping to watch us (and sometimes take pictures, but Uncle Joe usually told them off), but once everyone got into it, it was fun.

The Temple of Heaven itself had some fascinating architecture. According to Joe, not a single nail was used in its construction, and it started a movement in Chinese architecture of similar buildings. The inside was particularly ornate.

After a brief time exploring the Temple and its surrounding buildings (one with a small museum featuring artifacts used in the Temple), it was time to leave. Unfortunately, this meant saying goodbye to Uncle Joe.

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