Beijing, Revisited

Note: I started this post last month and got distracted from finishing it in a timely manner, but better late than never, right?

Recently I read a news article about how urban dwelling Chinese are suffering under unprecedented smog levels. Clean air tourism is now a thing and flights have been cancelled due to the smog. Having recently returned to Beijing, I sympathize greatly with the locals who have no ‘clean’ place to breathe. According to a New York Times article, China is currently reclassifying smog as a natural disaster (like a rainstorm or sandstorm) and not as a manufactured event.


Smog in China: NASA’s image December 2016

The Forbidden Palace

I have spent the last two Thanksgiving breaks in Beijing. I wrote extensive about my first trip (Beijing Night Market GalleryUnexpected Cloisonné Factory Tour, and Mind Your Step). I also visited the Forbidden City, but did not write an article about it at the time, most likely because it was an amazingly cold, frigid day and I struggled to understand our tour guide; at the end of the tour I was incredibly numb both physically and mentally.

This year, my daughter accompanied my husband and I on our 5-day trip. We returned to the Forbidden City as the main cultural event of the trip. Prior to our trip, we watched a couple of documentaries about the Forbidden City so that we were all aware of the historical and cultural significance of it.

For 500 years (1420-1912), the Forbidden City served as the Chinese Imperial Palace and was home to the Emperor, Empress, thousands of concubines and eunuchs, and the Emperor’s children. Architecturally, it is an amazing place. A moat and a 26′ wall surround 989 buildings which were built in less than 15 years by over a million slaves. According to legend there are 9,999 rooms in total as only heaven can have 10,000 rooms.

The Tour

It is very easy to find a tour guide for the Forbidden City. You simply have to look like a foreigner and walk up to the entrance. You will be approached by tour guides and then you can establish a price for the tour. Tip: make sure you can clearly understand the tour guide or it will be a waste of money. (Tip #2: Take Steve with you on a tour and be entertained by watching him incessentaly quiz the tour guide to see if he knows more than they do…)

The tour can take as long as you wish. Hours can be spent walking around, reading all of the placards and fighting your way to the front of the line to look into the ornate throne rooms and royal bedrooms.

The most humbling moment of the trip for me, is when I stood on the cobblestone courtyard upon entering the palace. You are standing on stones laid down over 600 years ago…and they are still there. Thousands of people have walked upon and possibly died on these stones…and only the stones remain…

Find out More

Since I am not a historian, I will not go into all the details of the Forbidden City (besides it would take hours) so here are a few resources if you would like to learn more:

Tourism Information for the Forbidden City

The best internet resource ever: Wikipedia!

Smithsonian Documentaries

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