China Trip--Day 6
9:07 AM I slept through the night for the first time. Partly getting used to the time change, partly so tired from climbing the Great Wall yesterday. Mark and Nick went out to a nearby alley and bought some Chinese flatbread (pronounced something like Da Bing). Last night they brought back a Chinese grapefruit the size of a volleyball. Sweetest grapefruit I've ever eaten. The aroma fills the room. The fruit is much chewier than American grapefruit.
9:09 AM Josh says we're in for a long day of walking. We're joining with another ELIC team member and her family to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We'll have a guide to explain the things we see.
9:11 AM We're touring today with Andrea and her family. They are from Alabama so I'm sure I'll feel right at home.
9:13 AM Alan just said he needs to wash his face and get beautified. If we wait that long, we'll be here all day. Last night Alan and Mark and Nick got two-hour massages for $12 each. One hour on the back and arms, one hour on the feet. I may need try that myself.
10 AM We met Jeff, Vicky, Andrea and Courtney Lowe who joined us for our tour of the Forbidden City. Andrea and Josh serve on the same ELIC team. The Lowes live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They are here visiting Andrea for a week. Our tour guide David showed up a few minutes late. He is a Beijing native, around 60, short and stocky, a former high school chemistry teacher. He started leading tours in 2000 after he retired because staying home was boring. There are 11 in our group--6 in the Pritchard group, 4 in the Lowe group plus David. We journeyed in three cabs from the Mac Center on the west side of Beijing to a bank in the Wang Fu Jing section on the east side. Turns out this is the Michigan Avenue of Beijing. Huge shopping area, multiple high-end restaurants, enormous neon lights, a very popular pedestrian mall. It could have been the downtown section of any major American city. While the Lowes exchanged money, Nick and Alan and I went to a nearby McDonalds for burgers and Cokes. Just seemed like an American thing to do. Tasted the same, a bit cheaper, and a lot cleaner.
10:22 AM As we drove east, we saw more and more bicycles. In some areas, we saw hundreds of bikes (most looking very old and worn) parked in front of the shops. Chinese driving in general is a wild experience. One man told me, "Stop signs are a suggestion." On Sunday we came to a major intersection with cars and bikes so jammed together that no one could move. People walked nonchalantly between the cars even though this was a major thoroughfare. Cars, buses, bikes and people routinely cross in front of each other, creating near-accidents every block. The ELIC people call those near-accidents "China moments." We saw some trolley cars today that just add to the confusion.
10:30 PM Side note. Two days ago we saw a pirated DVD of "The Passion of the Christ" prominently displayed in a DVD/video store.
11:12 AM We passed a long section of outdoor grills, each one featuring a separate vendor. Sort of like the Taste of Chicago. Josh says you can order things like snake and other delicacies grilled to your liking. BTW, you see lots of security guards all over Beijing. There are guards at every hotel, in front of every building, and guarding many streets.
11:26 AM While walking down the "Michigan Avenue" of Beijing, Andrea pointed out the grooves in one section of the sidewalk. Those grooves are for the blind to follow. The grooves become raised dots when there is a change in direction or an intersection.
11:48 AM On the subway. Crowded but clean and modern. We travel two stops to the west entrance to the Forbidden City. It turns out that Tiananmen Square is an enormous open plaza across from the Forbidden City. On one side is the parliament, on the other side a historical museum, at the other end a mausoleum containing the remains of Mao Tse-Tung who died in 1976. Tiananmen translates "Heavenly Peaceful Gate," the name for the entrance to the Forbidden City, the home to 24 Chinese emperors from the early 1400s to the early 1900s. It is enormous and overwhelming. Those emperors knew how to live well. The entire complex covers 177 acres and took 17 years to build. You pass through gate after gate, each one leading to a magnificent building, most dedicated to certain ceremonial functions. The complex is built of wood and ceramic, mostly in red and yellow. The Chinese believe red is the color of good luck, and yellow is the traditional color of the emperor. You pass through the Meridian Gate (the center of the world), across the Emperor's Bridge, you come to the open area featured in the movie "The Last Emperor." Two sculpted lions guard one building. The male lion has a paw on a ball, representing imperial power. The female lion has a paw resting on a baby, symbolizing imperial succession. There is a magnificent building, hundreds of years old, for the emperor's coronation, another for his banquets, another for the empress, and so on. You pass through the Great Harmony Gate. The Chinese thought of everything, including an ancient system of heating using coals that provided warmth during the cold Beijing winters. Our guide pointed out animals atop one ornate building that kept the devil away.
12:45 AM Is this a sign of progress? There is a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City.
1:10 PM Single most fascinating fact. There are 9999 1/2 rooms in the Forbidden City. That's an exact count. Chinese emperors were considered to be the Son of Heaven and the recipient of a divine mandate to rule his people. The designers of the Forbidden City reasoned that the "Heavenly Emperor" would have a palace containing at least 10,000 rooms. Therefore, the Forbidden City has 1/2 room less than 10,000, lest the earthly "Son of Heaven" should anger the true Heavenly Emperor. There's a sermon illustration in there somewhere.
1:17 PM We saw one hall with a throne and a large stone attached to the ceiling a few feet in front of the throne. According to an ancient legend, if an illegitimate man attempted to take the throne, the stone would fall from the ceiling and crush him. In 1906 a "stupid man" (according to our guide) took the throne. Knowing the legend, he had the throne moved back about 10 feet so the stone wouldn't fall on him. He managed to stay in power for 83 days.
2:30 PM Our tour guide talked a lot about the last emperor, Pu Yi, who was made famous (in the West) by the movie "The Last Emperor." Pu Yi came to power when he was three years old, and was forced to abdicate when he was five years old in the revolution of 1911, led by Sun Yat-Sen, a revered figure in modern Chinese history (and a Christian).
2:40 PM We saw the "Mental Cultivation Palace," where the emperor met with his top advisors. Since many of the emperors came to power as children, the mother of the emperor became a powerful figure in China. We saw a room with a tiny throne for a small boy, behind it was a pull-down fabric screen, and behind that was a larger throne for the emperor's mother. She was really the most powerful person in China, at least until her son grew up.
2:41 PM A brief talk about concubines. Every emperor had about 3000 eunuchs who helped oversee the vast holdings of the Forbidden City. The emperor and empress had separate bedrooms because the emperor had at least 25 concubines who lived in the many courtyards.
3:10 PM At one point, our tour guide said, "You work for the church? Good." He also said he knew a priest who serves a congregation in Taiwan. He thought Josh was a "priest" like me.
3:15 PM We piled into taxes for a short drive to a "Hot Pot" restaurant in a very modern seven-story shopping center. They brought a pot of boiling soup stock (kept hot by burning coals) to the table. We used chopsticks to put beef, lamb and mutton (plus potatoes and cabbage) into the soup stock. Then we dipped it into a peanut sauce flavored with various condiments. A really messy, fun meal. Mark said it was "tasty like a fox," which is a mystery to me. David ate with us and showed us the ropes. I'm not very handy with chopsticks but now I use them without thinking about it.
4:46 PM After touring the shopping center (as modern as any shopping center in Chicago), we collapsed in some chairs on the first floor. Marlene and I were dead tired from all the walking plus the sensory overload of seeing the Forbidden City. So Josh decided we need to get a foot massage.
5:01 PM After walking two blocks, we took an elevator to the third or fourth floor, and entered a nice suite of rooms that looked like an upscale doctor's office. This was the home of the "Beijing Magic Foot Massage." They ushered the five of us into a room with individual recliners. We were lined up this way--Marlene, Josh, Nick, me, Mark, Alan. A woman came in and offered us tea or Coke or noodles or a "dessert soup." Then five women and one man came in the room. The man worked on Marlene, the five women worked on the rest of us. All were in their 20s, I think. First they plunged our feet into tubs containing hot water and tea. Then they pounded and kneaded and massaged and rubbed and poked and prodded our feet. They even popped our toes. First the right, then the left, then the right again. Then they massaged our legs. Then our shoulders and neck. Then the arms and hands. At one point they put extremely hot towels on our feet. I almost came up out of my seat. I'm smiling as I write this because our whole family was lined up side by side so we could talk to each other. It was more painful for some than others. The whole thing lasted 80 minutes and cost us $12 apiece. And we all felt much better and more relaxed when it was over. Marlene says we should do it again on Saturday before our flight home on Sunday. I've never had a massage before, and it seems funny to go around the world to have one. But I do feel better tonight.
10:29 PM The day is done and we have passed the halfway point on our trip to Beijing. A few minutes ago Marlene called it our best family vacation in years. I agree. Tomorrow we visit the Summer Palace.
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