Everything Forbidden is mandatory

Picking up where I left off...

Yesterday afternoon I made another trip to Carrefour for some household items. TG and I went to a different one than where I went back in October. This one is further away and much larger. I got an iron and ironing board, a toaster, and a wok. I have a frying pan I got at IKEA back when I first moved into the apartment, but the burner on the stove is really made for something larger, and a wok seemed like the most sensible thing. Oddly enough, the one I got was made in Germany. Go figure.
I also picked up some speakers for the laptop. I was going crazy just listening to music on the little built-in speakers. I'm very happy with these. They were made by Hyundai. TG also picked up a set of speakers for his computer. Getting all that stuff back in a little Beijing taxi was fun. Like the majority of the taxis here, it was a Hyundai, and they're kind of cramped for long-legged Americans like us, especially when they have a cage around the driver like some of them do.

Last night was another culinary adventure. JW, TG and I went to a little place around the corner called A-Che! It's basically Cuban food and drink with lots of Che Guevara décor. It is really nice inside (and I don't say that just because it was so cold outside). There was a little bit of New Orleans in the mix as well, and Latin videos were projected on the wall. We got to see a lot of Shakira, which is never a bad thing. Anyway, we started out with some "Cuban margaritas" which seemed sweeter than normal ones, and might have in fact been made with rum instead of tequila. The food turned out to be okay but not great. I had Cuban style roast pork with beans and rice. The meat was excellent, but the beans and rice mixture was rather dry and flavorless. TG took advantage of the availability of Cuban cigars and politely blew his smoke away from us. I'm getting kind of used to all the smoking around me here, and must admit the Cuban cigar was less stinky than any other cigar I've smelled.

Even more entertaining than the videos was a large table of Russians next to us. There were about ten of them, and they were consuming prodigious quantities of alcohol of all sorts. I saw a bottle of Absolut brought to them, and the whole thing was drained before they left, along with dozens of beers and who knows what else. After dinner, a little band started playing jazz and Latin standards ("Girl from Ipanema", "Fly Me to the Moon", "The Shadow of Your Smile", and so on), and one of the Russian girls jumped up on her chair and started dancing. The three of us stayed in our seats and moved on to a Russian beer called Baltika 9 in honor of the entertainment. There were also some more trained dancers who did some great whirling and dipping and so on.

This morning I managed to get out of bed and make it down to the gym around 8:00, then Skyped with D for a while (nasty weather in Seattle). At 11:30 I met TG for a little sightseeing. We got in a taxi and asked for the Forbidden City (actually I pointed to it on a map, but whatever). For some reason the driver dropped us off at the north entrance, which is closer (and therefore a smaller fare for him). Most visitors go to the south entrance, so we saw things in kind of a backwards order. The place is so huge we didn't get through more than about half of it, though we did make it to many of the most famous buildings. There's a lot of renovation and restoration going on. I took 155 pictures – just some of the highlights will go here.
Here's the frozen canal the runs along the north wall, and the nortwest corner Arrow Tower.
This is Dui Xiu Shan, The Temple of Accumulated Elegance, which is made of natural stones piled up and mortared together into an artificial hill with a temple on top. There are tunnels inside it.
The north part of the City has many small courtyards like this with trees and temples and oddly shaped chunks of stone on pillars. I'm sure it looks quite different in the summertime.
This is a close view of the walkway, with some nice stonework.
There are many of these passageways, almost like a maze.
Many of the temples have sculptures of animals outside them. Aside from the deer and dragon, there were lions, cranes, peacocks, and turtles.
We thought the tall temple in the background looked really interesting, so we tried to make our way towards it, but every time we found a passage in that direction, it either turned a different way or ended. We never did get any closer to it. But that's okay, we saw many interesting things.
There were lots of people around, though it wasn't really crowded. I'm sure it's a different story at other times of the year. Instead of approaching our dragon-tower temple, we found ourselves here...
It was like walking onto a gigantic movie set. I tried to imagine the place without the modern trash cans, railings and warning signs. The building in the background is Qian Qing Gong, The Palace of Heavenly Purity, which dates from 1420. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the emperors lived here.
A little peak inside to a throne room.
Every time we walked though a gate, there was another courtyard and more elaborate buildings. We began to say things like, "Oh, look, another temple," in deadpan voices. Here's TG taking a picture backed by an ornate wall just outside the Gate of Heavenly Purity.
Two golden lions greet visitors here. The far one is the male, representing the emperor, and the near one is female for the emperor's concubine.
This is the female lion. Notice the cub under her paw. Hopefully she's playing with it, not crushing it. It was in this courtyard that we had our first interaction with a stranger. A young woman wearing some sort of ID badge came up to us and asked us in English where we were from. We told her we were Americans, and no we weren't just visiting China on a vacation. She said she was a volunteer at an art gallery over at the other end of the courtyard and invited us to see the watercolors. I'm sure she was exactly what she said she was, but we politely declined and said we wanted to see more of the buildings. Maybe we would stop in later. She said, "I don't think you will." Very perceptive of her. We smiled and laughed as we walked away.
This is the Large Stone Carving. That's its name (in English anyway). It was carved out of a single piece of stone that was brought from several miles away. There's a sign to explain how they did it. Workers poured water on the road in the cold of winter, making a long ice road, and they pulled the stone on the ice. It's 16.75 meters long, 3.07 meters wide, and 1.7 meters thick, and weighs more than 200 tons. The carvings now visible are not the originals. In 1761, the original design was chiseled off and replaced with the nine dragons with lotus trim we see now.
Here's a view where you can see some of the modern city in the distance, including construction cranes, of course.
This got a chuckle. I don't think I need to explain anything on this one.
Coming in the winter does have some advantages, including sights like this.
This is Wu Men (Meridian Gate), the main south gate where most people come in. Along here a gentleman spoke to us who said he was visiting from Shanghai. No, we're not visiting, we live here, we work here, we're Americans, do you know where Seattle is?
Outside that gate is another spectacular courtyard (yawn), and then this gate, which is right on Chang'an Boulevard, Beijing's main street. Here we talked to a young woman from Shanghai. I think she was either a student or had a job in Beijing. When we said we were working for the Olympics she was intrigued. "Thank you," she said. "We need lots of help. It's a very big thing, and we've never done it before." She introduced us to her friend. I noticed that a little crowd of Chinese was gathering around us, listening in on the conversation.
Across the street is Tian'anmen Square. That's the National Museum on the far side.
And this is the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese Parliament Building. As we walked along here, another young woman approached and asked where we were from. No, we're not visiting—Americans—Olympics—since October—and so on. She told us she came from the city near where the big Three Gorges Dam is, and introduced us to her friend who was visiting from their home town. By this time we had worked out a story that we only had a little time for our sightseeing, then had to get to our office to work. Somewhere in there was another conversation with a woman from Qingdao, which is the coastal city where the Olympic sailing events will take place, and this is her friend... Americans—Olympics—October—work.
I'm sure this monument commemorates something important, but I didn't get any closer to find out what. By this time I was feeling a little tired. (I’ve since looked it up, and it’s the Monument to the People’s Heroes.) Near here, a girl in a red coat came up and asked where we were from. Americans—Olympics—October—work. She introduced a young man who was with her. He said he loved American movies, and Spiderman is his favorite, though he also likes Shrek, Toy Story, and lots of others. He was very enthusiastic, and said he liked the sound of American accents. They invited us to see a calligraphy and watercolor exhibit over at the museum.
Forward the Revolution!
This would be a great spot for people watching but for a couple things. First, it was too darn cold. Second, about every ten paces, someone will approach you trying to sell you postcards or Mao wristwatches or Red Army style hats. Or try to get you to go to the calligraphy exhibit at the museum. Or maybe just practice their English. Americans—Olympics—October—work.
This is a view along Chang'an looking east. We walked along the street for a while until we found a taxi that was available. Whew! I'm tired all over again just writing about it. Oddly enough, the whole affair only took about four hours. There's still plenty we haven't seen yet in that part of town, like the lovely calligraphy and watercolor exhibit at the museum, so we'll be back. And if anyone ever comes to visit me here, I'll probably get to act as tourguide and go through it again.

Well, it’s getting late and I’m very tired. Posting this entry has been quite tedious, since the only way I could get the images to upload was by doing them one at a time, and some of them I had to try three times before they made it. I might post some of the remaining pictures in later entries where I don’t have new photos.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful outing. You may remember my t-shirt from when I worked in Yellowstone--"I'm not a tourist, I live here." More snow here on Tuesday, below freezing since then, lots of ice on side streets. The transmission died on my Subaru on Thursday so we are driving the Miata with 150 lbs. of sand in the trunk in hopes of having some traction if we need it. Yikes.

  2. Don't shatter my conceptions about Subaru reliability! That does not sound like fun.

    And I was wondering if anyone will understand the title I put on this entry... (A prize to the first person who can post a comment with the right answer!)

  3. Ok my guess would be the Forbidden city is a mandatory sight to see when in Bejing?

  4. You've got part of it. It's a combination of that and a literary reference. Name the book and you win.

  5. Take 2..
    "Whatever is not forbidden is mandatory; whatever is not mandatory is forbidden," from George Orwell in Animal Farm?

  6. Should have combined this into the last post but I had hit submit before I found another reference.
    From The Once and Future king T.H. White wrote "Everything not Forbidden is Compulsory" Bit of a longshot but trying to cover my bases :)

  7. There you go. I was thinking about The Once and Future King, but Orwell works too. For your prize, you get a souvenir from China next time I visit home. Maybe you would have got one anyway, but I promise the one you get now will be nicer!