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The Unforbidden

This afternoon, after writing in the morning and eating and writing in the evening I walked to the Forbidden City, of which, Wikipedia tells us:

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government.

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

I don’t know if I saw all of those 720,000 square metres (far from it, I’m sure), but I went in through the main entrance, beneath the portrait of Mao, bought a ticket and went into the palace proper and spent at least a couple of hours working my way northwards through the compound, past a number of halls. It was all very grand. Huge buildings sitting in huge squares, with huge numbers of people streaming up through the middle of the palace.

Amongst all the usual tourists, many of them Chinese, I think, with a smattering of foreigners – lots of blond, Teutonic, Nordic types – there were large groups of older Chinese people. These, in particular, were ones to avoid, as they tend to swarm desperately to the most exciting spots – the doorways into the halls – to catch glimpses of the treasures within. The interiors of the halls were fairly dark (naturally enough) and bare – actually not that exciting.

I was stopped by a couple of Chinese couples who wanted me to take their pictures. I was happy to oblige. I was also approached by a middle-aged guy who wanted to take my picture with the women with him. I was bemused and amused by this but complied cheerfully. I was buttonholed by a smartly dressed man of about 25 or 30 who spoke very good English and wanted to show me a gallery of artworks produced by university students, of whom he was one. He followed me round as I browsed, clearly hoping to make a sale, but I wasn’t ready to buy souvenirs yet – and said as much.

At the northern side of the complex was a garden area full of smaller, more intimate buildings. This area also had a number of unusual rocks, bits of coral and so on. Some of the rocks were formed into passageways and installations, beside which were signs that warned, ‘PERILOUS HILLS, NO CLIMBING PLEASE’.

Beyond the north gate of the Forbidden City and its moat, I went into Jingshan Park and ascended the hill there, which gave great panoramic views of the city. Having seen a line of massive gates extending from the south side of Tiananmen Square all the way up to the north end of the Forbidden City, I was impressed – and a little depressed – to see that there were more monumental gates extending further north (I’d glimpsed some further south, beyond the shopping street south of Tiananmen, as well). Depressed because it makes me feel I have to go and look at them all.

Having left my computer and backpack at the hostel, I headed back there, tired and sated with sightseeing, to pick up my things and head off to dinner. Eventually, after walking round for a while longer, I plucked up my courage and went into a place that looked neither too fancy nor too basic and had a tasty dinner of Taiwanese-style chicken and vegetables with some rice. After that I went to Starbucks for dessert, coffee and writing.

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