Final Day In Beijing

24th September 2017

Forbidden PalaceA visit to Beijing would not be complete without a visit to the Forbidden City so it was up early and in the queue by 8:30am as it opened, in the hope of beating the crowds. No chance! It still took 15 minutes to shuffle forward and pass through the security checkpoint. It was ram-packed with tour groups, families and tourists like us (even a few Western faces). We would normally avoid visiting a popular tourist attraction on a Sunday but that was how our itinerary panned out. However we understand it is this busy every day, so shuffle on we did.

Golden streamWe are herded through three ornate gates through the outer courtyards and on into the large inner courtyard. The series of bridges across the Golden Stream were pretty enough in the early morning sunshine. What is it with the locals having to have photos of themselves taken everywhere? Even worse are the never ending selfies. Often they step right in front of you just when your finger is on the camera shutter. Are we invisible or are they just plain rude? The other strange phenomenon was the groups of teenage girls who kept asking us and especially Dave could they have a photo taken with him. Good for his ego, but very weird by today’s (Western) standards.

Hall interiorThe mass of people means that it is just as bad trying to take a photo looking inside each of the Halls of Harmony. As a Brit I queue patiently for my turn at the front but after the third person barges in front of me, it is elbows out and I push my way in. Dave is nowhere to be seen in this scrum as he just couldn’t face it. There are just as good photo opportunities away from the main crowd. Like all similar places, the crowds head straight down the main thoroughfare to see the main attractions. By detouring left or right from the stream it was possible to have some space to yourself. We therefore dipped in and out of the main stream of people seeing the main sites as well as walking along the quieter side cloisters.

There are empty spaces if you get off the main pathNine Dragon screenI had read there was a Nine Dragon Screen – a beautifully glazed mural – and one of only three left in China. Unfortunately it was an extra charge for entrance to this section, so I contented myself with the view through the wrought iron railings. Dave, however, stepped up to the challenge and went in to get a photo for me. Having failed the 7P rule (basically not being prepared), it was only later that we found we missed seeing the Opera House that was in that enclosed section. My excuse was that it was just too hot and too crowded to have time to stop and check out where we were and what was what, especially as the Lonely Planet guide refused to load properly on my phone (time to move on from a Windows Phone maybe??)

Can an elephant really sit like that?I had read enough to know I wanted to see the Imperial Gardens which covered 70,000 sq metres, so we fought our way to see them. Crammed inside the walls of the Forbidden City they were impressive but they did not feel that large to me. There are so many nooks and crannies that it is hard to judge the total space. We must have covered more ground than I thought as we had reached our 10k steps daily target by 10am. By 10:45 the crowds were such that we had reached our limit of endurance and, having had a flavour of the place, we left. The guide book (and Paul) advised allowing a day to explore and we agree, but it would take a more patient tourist than us to last that long elbowing our way around.

Great setting for wedding photosWe decide it is time to view the Forbidden City from afar and so we leave the melee and head for a quiet spot outside the compound and along the river, well just us and about half a dozen couples having their wedding photos taken. We can see some advantages of having your wedding photos taken in advance of the big day as that will leave more time for the bride and groom to spend with their guests. This is a growing phenomenon that we are spotting is now spreading outside Asia.

View overlooking Forbidden CityAnother place to get a good view of the Forbidden City is to head into Jingshãn Park and climb up to the viewpoint. We tell our legs that tomorrow they can rest as we have the flight back to the UK to lounge around on. The walk to the top is certainly worth the views which show just how much land is taken up by the enclosed space of the Forbidden City. Apparently the number of daily visitors allowed into the Forbidden City is restricted to 80,000 to enhance the tourists experience. In 2015 there were up to 140,000 visitors a day, now that would be a squeeze.

Jingshan ParkOur legs were by now seriously complaining so we head back to the hotel and put our feet up for the afternoon. Rested there was one further sight we had to see and that was to Tiananmen Square to see the flag lowering ceremony at sunset. It was not far from our hotel but the square covers an area of 44 hectares or 100 acres, so we had many more steps to take just to have a walk around. To enter the square we have to queue again as there is strict security with scanners and bag checks, which give the history we were happy to submit to.

Peoples Hero monumentTiananmen is actually the name given to the gate of the Imperial Palace and it was originally built in 1417, but after a number of fires the current incarnation dates from 1651. The monument to the People’s Heroes is worth a stop and to view, it is dedicated to those who have died fighting for freedom since 1840. The eight gilt characters on the monument are in Chairman Mao’s handwriting and translates as “People’s heroes are immortal”. The challenge we had was taking a decent photo of one half of it let alone trying to capture the whole work.

What? Why?We were then distracted by a huge floral statue being erected in the centre of the square, which was much easier to photograph. We are not sure the reason for such a piece of art – perhaps the upcoming Communist Party event – but the vibrant colours make it an attractive addition to the huge plaza. The crowds are beginning to congregate around the cordon at one end of the Plaza and we duly take our place in the crowd with at least fifteen minutes still to go to sunset when the flag is to be lowered.

Down comes the flagOur time is filled by dodging selfies especially the lady in front of me who has flipped the screen on her phone to try and get a photo of herself with me looking over her shoulder. She has picked the wrong punter and a decent photo is just not going to happen! Eventually she realises this and so I can watch the guards and preparations for the ceremony without her camera phone pointing in my face.

Marching to and froThe marching of the guards was impressive but I am not sure it was really worth the wait. I seem to be in a minority as the locals have all crowded around the action and the ceremony seems to be a daily draw for spectators. The following morning we pass through the square on our way to the metro heading for the airport and the square is much quieter. The queues for security and the Forbidden Place remain as long as ever, and that is one thing we will not miss when we get home. We have enjoyed China and the many exciting and interesting places it has to offer and it has given us a lot more pins in our world map we have on our wall at home marking places we have been!

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