Sunday, March 28, 2010

Travel to the Forbidden City

I love trains! Yesterday, I took my first trip out of the university's neighborhood to see the Forbidden City, and I used the Beijing subway system to get there. The subway was quite easy to use - not unlike most of the big city subways that I've experienced. It was bustling and crowded, but nothing that I haven't seen before in Tokyo.

I arrived at 天安门广场 (Tian'anmen Square) at about 10am, and I was struck with how large everything was. Tian'anmen Square was bigger than I had imagined, and all of the buildings and sculptures were larger than life. I especially like the gigantic Communist sculptures celebrating workers. (See photo.) I didn't have a tour guide or an official explanation - I just assumed the statues are celebrating workers!

There was a *huge* line to get into Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall, where his body is on display. At one point, the staff opened up the line to allow more people to get in, and there was a stampede. Guys with bull horns started screaming at the people who were cutting in line and making them go to the end of the line. (Imagine Mandarin screamed through bullhorns by angry Chinese men. Scary!) -- I decided not to get mixed up in that mess just to see the Chairman's lifeless body. So, I continued my northward journey through the square.

After passing more grand buildings and walking through a tunnel under the main thoroughfare, I reached the entrance to the Forbidden City. The crowds had been quite overwhelming, so I decided to take refuge in 安园 (Peace Park), adjacent to the entrance. Apparently, it's not so popular with the tourists, so for the low-low price of 2 Yuan (about 30 cents) I spent some quiet time in a wonderful garden. Peace Park was not always so peaceful, though, because they used to perform animal sacrifices there. (See photo.)

Once I was rested and ready to fight the crowds again, I left Peace Park and got in line for my ticket to the Forbidden City. Lots of tourists spent the 40 Yuan to get in, so it was slow going through the attraction. The Forbidden City is essentially the center set of buildings - surrounded by inner and outer courtyards and buildings - that was the Imperial Palace from the Ming to the Qing Dynasties. It is truly a fortress on a grand scale. I especially enjoyed the intricate artwork painted on the buildings and the scary statues! (See photo.)

After all that, I returned to campus feeling that my first trip out on the town was successful. Not only did I finally get to see the Forbidden City, I was able to work on my language skills. I recognized lots of characters and phrases, putting what I've learned into better context. It was fun and educational, too!

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