We woke up semi-early an had a yummy breakfast in our hostel's lounge/restaurant area. We were feel pretty confident that we wouldn't be needing a map, and we were right, of course. God, Beijing is so easy to find your way around. If you have a general idea of where something is, walk in that direction and you'll come to it. That's how it was with the Forbidden City. First of all, it's kind of massive and it's right at the centre of the city. You can't really miss it. So, we walked for about ten minutes toward the East side of the city and we were there! Except we arrived at the wrong entrance, so we had to walk for an additional five minutes to get to the public gate (and not get shouted at by Chinese policemen).
Oh! And at approximiately 6 AM that morning, Bernie and Charlene arrived by train from Shanghai. Bernie promptly knocked on my door and woke me, as well as my five roommates, up to say he had arrived. Thanks, Bernie.
Anyways, you can tell you're getting close to the Forbidden City because all of the buildings start looking more traditional. We took a route slightly off the beaten track and were rewarded with lots of beautiful houses, traditional restaurants and tea shops and less (touristy) traffic.
We arrived, bought our passes, and made our way through the buildings. They were really impressive. The Chinese Emporer used this area as a centre for government and military control for about 500 years, as we all know, and it was as impressive as it sounds. However, I think it would be nicer in the summer when the gardens are abloom. That being said, it would also be more crowded in the summer and it was already pretty crowded in the dead of winter. So each season has it's upside!
After we wandered around the city for a few hours we made our way through the South gate and were immediately greeted by Chinese soldiers, standing guard at Tiannamen Square. We took some pictures with the Chairman (you know who I'm talking about) and were once again on our way. All of the tourist attractions were pretty crowded. We decided to head to a teahouse to thaw out.
We had some tea and stayed inside for about an hour, and then decided it wasn't too far to the Temple of Heaven to walk. This was our only real location mistake. We knew which direction to go into, but from Wangfujing it would have been much easier and much faster to get into a cab. We walked for a really long time in the cold, but we (I) were stubborn and kept saying "It's just the next block over". Finally we arrived to the park where the temple is located. It was really cool! They used this temple as a place of prayer for getting good harvests. Looking into the temple you can see piles of grain as offerings. On the outside it was really ornate and beautiful, so I was a bit surprised when I found out it was just about grain. But then I rememberd reading "The Good Earth" by Pearl Buckman and realized how important getting a decent harvest was (and still is) to the massive Chinese population. Of course it would be foremost on their minds after a long, cold and hungry winter. I mean, duh. On our way out, we saw lots and lots of senior citizens in the park. They didn't look nearly as cold as we were. They were singing beautiful songs, playing hackey sack and dancing to strange techno-like music. They made my day... and they made me stop complaining about how cold it was... for a little while...
On our way to the Temple of Heaven the ladies spied a big building across the street with a sign that said "PEARL MARKET". The guys never had a chance. Actually, I think they welcomed getting out of the cold. The Pearl Market is similar to the famous Silk Market. You can get all kinds of counterfeit stuff as well as regular souvenir stuff. Of course, you could also get pearls. There were all kinds. Any kind, size and colour you can imagine! I was in love. We shopped around there, made some purchases, and then made our way to the Silk Market where we bought MORE stuff. And we would go back again. And again.
We took Bernie and Char to the same restaurant as the previous night and then took them to the Eating Street to check out the goodies. They were sufficiently grossed out and entertained. Then we went back to the hostel, had a tasty Tsingtao (my new favourite beer) and went to bed.
The couples across the street from the Forbidden City. Ask me if I missed my boyfriend.
And I'd make this building my master bedroom.