Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Forbidden City (gugong/故宫)

This is the perfect example of the contrast between new and old in modern China. Ancient buildings in the foreground, modern cranes building skyscrapers in the background. Thank you Clala.

Yesterday we went to The Forbidden City with the school. It's free for students on Tuesdays, so that's why we went during the week.

First off, the weather was spectacular. It was in the mid-70's (today was mid-80's), with mostly clear blue skies. Nothing really falls from the sky here, at least not this time of year, so the only thing obscuring the sun and the sky is generally a hazy layer of smog. It sounds worse than it is. You don't really notice it, at least I certainly don't (at least I mean in terms of difficulty breathing or anything like that. The level to which it disgusts me on an emotional and ethical level is an entirely different story). Anyways, It was great to be going on a day like yesterday.

I'd love to tell you that it was the best experience of my life, but it wasn't. It was interesting, don't get me wrong, but in the end it was just layer after layer after layer of really old buildings that all look the same. It was cool to think that centuries of emperors once ruled all of China from where I was. The school got us audio guides to help us appreciate the site more. Mostly it told us stories like "This is where the emperor housed all his concubines. He slept with a different one every night. One emperor even, according to legend, died from over-excitement with his concubines." Lots of stuff I really would rather not know. Interesting, but a little creepy (don't forget the eunuchs too).

Overall, I'm glad I went. The Forbidden City is like the Great Wall, one of those things that if you come to Beijing (and frankly any part of China) you have to go to, if not purely for their I've-been-there story value. If you ever find yourself in Beijing, I highly recommend you visit it.

Tomorrow we're going to an exhibit on Tibet that my host mom told me about with our geography class. I'm really excited, because anything about Tibet interests me. I'll write about that probably this weekend at some point.

One last thing. I haven't seen Mao's body yet. It's housed in a building to the south of the Forbidden City, in Tiananmen Square. I'm not sure if/how you get tickets, but I'm definitely going to try before I leave China. Because that's also something you have to do when you come to Beijing. I'm positive you can't take pictures of that though. Darn!

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