Saturday, October 17, 2009

Once forbidden

27 & 28 May 2009 - So these two were days full of ancient & wondrous adventure among the keystones of a culture that has been long growing and evolving. Being in the capital city of one of the most influential empires on Earth has initiated a ridiculous paradigm shift in how I see the world, and the (long-term) significance of political entities that have and continue to shape it. Two of the most defining icons of the Chinese empire, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, were on my plan for the day.

The Forbidden City, or Gugong, is the among the most audacious, ostentatious, lavish, and awe-inspiring places I've ever been. It's like the most expensive mansion-palace-castles I've ever seen; complete with what seems like gold-colored everything. From the roofs, to the passageways, courtyards, gardens, and rooms, every part of the structure of this City within a city is carefully designed and meticulously created - at least certainly during the literal centuries of the emporers & empresses. Today, the structures stand, the gardens remain, but much of the detail and finesse of the place has fallen into a state of half-disrepair. Understandably, given the context of the state of 'modern' Chinese political history, this is less surprising than one woulud otherwise think. But still, being there and looking through the museum-like displays in windows throughout the acres-wide complex gives a glimpse into the splendor available for only the most priveleged (and mainly castrated) of classes. It was a pleasure to stroll through some of the most guarded and exclusive grounds, as an unabashed (and bodily intact) prole.

The spectacular Second Courtyard (foreground) to the Hall of Supreme Harmony (background), the largest of both structures & courtyards in the Forbidden City, reportedly capable of holding 100,000 people.

View of the Forbidden City from a hilltop on the opposite end of the complex from Tienanmen Gate (see 26 May). Seeing the near-perfect symmetry of the whole place along the North-South axis striking after walking through the maze-like interior.

This relatively small structure is 2 stories high, including the brass vent on top. I can appreciate the need for a solid incense burner.

This view looking North (& slightly East) of the Gate of Supreme Harmony is just past Tienanmen Gate. The central door in the gate (see the open side doors?) was reserved ONLY for the emporer/empress.

Closeup view of the (closed) Emporer's door inside the Gate of Supreme Harmony, from the South. The fact that it remains closed is an interesting juxtapose between the Communist Party's class-less rhetoric and Confucian tradition.

Looking South toward the other side of the Emporers door and the Gate of Supreme Harmony, from one of the east side of the lower tier around the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

Even the bathroom in the Forbidden City remains a 4 "star-rated" kinda place.

At the Great Wall, Tim & I hoped to camp for the night - and so we did, campfire & all. I took few pictures during the night, so as to avoid a flash exposing our location; to avoid the 50yuan fee to camp (which we ended up paying, soberly, in the morning anyway) we stayed just outside the entrance and campground, sleeping under the stars. The flip side is that our early morning start made for one of the most magnificent views of a man-made structure I've ever seen. With our refreshingly early start, we actually got back to Tims just after noon, with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day.

This early-morning shot was made all the more striking because of the cool hues in the light of the pre-dawn.

Another pre-dawn shot looking across the hill crests lined with the Wall.

Other early hikers across the Wall reposing for a minute before the next leg of their journey rises up to greet them. Tim & I aren't far behind in coming up to this point.

One example of the dereliction that typifies many of the more remote sections of the Wall, most of which is only accessible by traveling on foot.

Looking way down into the next valley, we could see the trails used by local farmers to navigate from one section to the next. Given their proclivity toward hawking trinkets, souvenirs, & drinks to hikers, theirs is probably the best way to navigate the Wall with cargo with minimal hassle.

Another, daytime, view across the Great Wall's hillcrests and towers.

Upon our return I once again struck out on my own - after an especially needed nap. And, really I only went to this MASSIVE flea market-looking place to do just a bit of shopping for stuff I could use back home. I mention this place solely because of its enormity; this market was so freaking huge, it took up more several massive city blocks. You could find EVERYTHING there, from food & produce to paint supplies and building materials, clothes and household goods to electronics & toys - a cacophonous melange of sights, sounds, and scents of modern commerce in action. Now, I'm kicking myself for not getting any pictures there.
After I returned to Tim's, we (Tim & I & a few of his friends) went to hotpot. I'm a fan.

29 May 2009 - Another awesome day of solo adventures followed by a sick rendezvous with good people for great food. Now reflecting back on my last days in Beijing, I realize while not particularly adept, my confidence with the little bit of Mandarin (or puhtonghua) I know was sky high.
I followed Tim's directions toward another massive market, an exclusively electronics-related one. Rather than a single market, this was really 4 1-block square buildings, anywhere from 4 to 7 stories full of that now-familiar anarchic marketplace. I've never imagined such a collective of gadgets, media, and electronic... parts. Better yet, I (think I) got some pretty good deals - I only hope that being in the source country the labor force making what I saw & bought was treated equitably. One can dream, can't he?
While I didn't get a good picture of the whole place, I was there just in time to catch an amazing display of modern (Asian) teen culture - a cosplay contest! I had to look the term up: basically it was talent show between costumed role-players of manga & anime characters. Wow.

Dr. Frankenstein (or something) & company looking good and getting cozy for the cams.

Adorable and ready to kick ass. They were about midway on the prude-ish spectrum, but you should've seen some of the others.

In the afternoon, we (Tim, friends, & I) went back to Yiheyuan for a final stroll through that serene park one last time - on this trip. Today I snapped one of my favorite images from the whole trip, a telling snapshot of why China has persisted for long by that name. Maybe you'll get what I mean.

This unusually (for this place) long bridge boasts 17 arches. Count 'em.

One of my most favorite photos to date. The simplicity and ease of their pasttime amidst so much splendor (at the Summer Palace) leaves me with no doubt that having (& learning from) eons of history is wholesome.

30 May 2009 - So today, I grudgingly departed from Tim's place and snapped a few last shots on the way out. At the same time, my resolve to return to the city and Asia in general was solidified. Wo ai Zhongguo.

The long hallway that earlier greeted me now bids me farewell. Now, unlike when I arrived (around midnight) and I was greeted with darkness, the light guides me forward.