May 10th was an early morning and unfortunately I had not had not much sleep during the prior evening. I woke up an hour before our leave time so that I could make sure that I ate breakfast and shower before we left. Once again, I had a great breakfast (which had now been normalized to that which is mentioned above – sticky buns filled with meat, etc..), and we headed out to the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square. On the short bus ride, we were again joined by our tour guide, Joe. He showed us to the Square, and we saw the different buildings around it.
Now, being in Tian’anmen Square and looking at it are two different things. For one, all I knew going into it was how the “Tank Man” had stood up to the tanks that were entering in the 20th century. Seeing it, I finally understood its significance in China. It is the equivalent of the Capital Mall in Washington DC, where many of their monuments and museums are gathered. On one end, they had the equivalent of our Smithsonian (although theirs was only in one building) and on the other was their current parliamentary building (like our Capitol Building). On the other end was the entrance to the Forbidden City, of which there is no likeness in the United States.
Currently, no one lives in the Forbidden City except the guards and the giant portrait of Mao Zedong out front (China tends to idolize people in my experience – at least publicly), where thousands of people go through the city each day. We entered and slowly made our way through the different walls and levels of the complex, seeing where the emperor of old gave his decrees and where he slept at night. After walking through, we made our way to the oldest part of Beijing, called the Hutong District, for a tour.
I have been to foreign countries before the China trip, but none were as memorable for me as Mexico. I visited Mexico for mission trips with my church, and the poverty I saw in cities such as Tijuana was remarkable. It is horrible to know that people live in such poverty, so driving through the Hutong District had a similar feel. We entered a house, and were able to hear about the history of the Hutong district and the history of the room. As it happens, the Hutong district is the richest part of Beijing, with space charged at about $4400 per square meter. This was astounding, as the houses looked horrible on the outside. The guide then said that they are required to keep the old and poor looking outside to hold the image of the old Beijing. But the inside can be nice; she then told us that some of the material in the house dates to the Ming dynasty, older than the United States itself.
The Hutong district was awesome, and probably my favorite part of the trip so far. However, my second favorite experience also happened this day. After the Hutong, we went to the Temple of Heaven, and received a Taiichi lesson. Before even seeing the temple, we grouped up and began doing Taiichi on the road. It was something I had never thought would be interesting, but by the end of it I felt better and was looking forward to finding a class in the states.
After the Taiichi class, we headed out to the Temple of Heaven. It was magnificent, different from the Forbidden City. This had been built smaller but in greater grandeur, as it was built to talk to the God of Heaven. It had also been built with no nails, which was amazing, and only added to its aweing presence. We took pictures of where the emperor communed with the God, and then headed back to the hotel.