1 November – Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Beijing has produced another rare sunny day. We have been so incredibly lucky with the weather and air quality here!
Our group – we call ourselves “Kobe’s Family,” – piles onto our bus. We get the same bus and driver for our entire time in Beijing. Driving in China is a cross between vehicle ballet and aggression. Perhaps a bit like Kung Fu? All smooth moves, some of them amazing to behold. Take for instance doing U Turns in big busses in the middle of extreme rush hour traffic. Horns are seldom sounded and there seems to be virtually no frayed nerves or anger when a driver cuts another off. I think the worst thing is that cars, and other motorized vehicles don’t stop for pedestrians even when pedestrians are in a crosswalk and walking with a green walk light.

Anyway our bus soon deposits us near a very busy Tiananmen Square. Kobe has briefed us. Stay close and follow him without letting others butt in to our group. He lines us up two by two. It feels a lot like being in kindergarten but very soon we understand why. We need to cross a road, he holds traffic at bay. We need to get through a number of security gates without our group being interrupted by others….. wow, strategic walking! We keep together and are soon along the perimeter of this enormous square. The biggest in the world we’re told. 

There is some sort of high powered international meeting about to start. Judging from the flags, with Russian dignitaries. As a result no tourists are allowed on the square and there is a lot of security. We see a red carpet and there is a most impressive 19 salute which rumbles across the square from artillery pieces somewhere out of our view. We hear the roar and see the flashes but that’s about it. 

We head across another road, pass more security checks and enter the outer gate to the Forbidden City. Thus begins a walk through this truly enormous series of courtyards and palaces. Deigned to impress, this is the biggest palace complex in the world and was the home of China’s Ming and Qing Dynasty Emperors for some 500 years. All the red plastered palaces are constructed of wood (under the plaster) with sweeping upturned yellow glazed tile roofs. The ornate soffits and eves are predominately blues and greens and decorated with intricate painting. The consecutive courtyards are decorated with carved white marble balustrades and pillars. The dragon motif is everywhere. We see no plants or trees until we arrive at the last courtyard which is a lovely garden with the usual elements of trees, rocks and water. We don’t enter any of the palace buildings, most are either closed to the public or have a mob trying to peer into dark interior spaces.

I don’t think I’ve tried to describe Chinese group (mob) dynamics yet. We’re told that because the country has so many people, many push ahead and ignore everything and anyone in their path because otherwise they’d get nowhere. I imagine this is likely true. In fact there are times if one doesn’t actively push forward one is shoved backwards. The Chinese people we have encountered in group situations do not lineup, and do not wait their turn. They push and trample their way to where they want to be with complete disregard to anyone else. Little ladies with purses are ferocious beasts! Large men, akin to stampeding buffalo. A Chinese crowd is a mass of humanity best avoided unless one is prepared to get elbows out, shoulders shoving and engage in general body checking. They take no mercy.

We avoid the “moshing” as much as possible and eventually make our way through the entire Forbidden City awed and unscathed.

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