Beijing, China: A Forbidden Adventure
Winter in Korea can be frigid and the days can seem to crawl by when the winds are blowing strong straight into your face so of course we decided to go someplace even colder.
Many in the Land of the Morning Calm start to dream of far away places and trips are made to coincide with the holidays. From Christmas to the Lunar New Year there are a few to choose from.
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While most head to warmer climate locations, one trip I am reminded of was the Lunar New Year spent in Beijing back in 2009. The city left me wondering if I ever wanted to go back to China but, it was also an adventure in a land where fireworks were aplenty and English was almost non-existent from what we could tell. Straight off of the bus into a taxi to help us find our hotel, we were amiss when the driver didn’t understand English, Korean or French. After English was a miss my brain started drawing upon any language that might take hold and hence Korean and French came out of my mouth. It was not that I expected him to understand either but, when you find yourself in a situation when a language isn’t working and nothing is being understood, it seems your brain will start taking shots in the dark with anything it can. He tried to get us out of the taxi but we handed him a paper with the name of the hotel and insisted he help us. Eventually he did and we found our hotel thankfully. It was my first trip to a land where I truly could not communicate.
We walked along alleys with men making unknown street food dishes in front of buildings and homes with red national flags hung up along with dried fish and lanterns until we finally came to the massive square up the road. It was just a short trip to Tienanmen Square and it left us wondering if the end of January was perhaps the worst time to visit due to the cold that shot straight to our bones. Just ten minutes out and our toes were already frozen in our boots and we had a full day of walking outside ahead of us.
The Forbidden City, or Zijin Cheng, is a must see on any list of sites in Bejing and is massive, though we had no doubt that it would be. As the former imperial palace from the Ming dynasty up until the end of the Qing dynasty, it was the center of the Chinese government for almost 500 years.
The complex was built from 1406 to 1420 and boasts 980 buildings that took more than a million people to build and covers 180 acres of land. The Forbidden City became an UNESCO site in 1987 and is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. For tourists, the route is set up so that you must enter from the Meridian Gate (Wumen) at the southern end of the complex near Tienanmen Square and must exit at the Gate of the Divine (Shenwu Men) at the northern end which means there is a lot of walking involved in seeing the site. High crimson walls surround the complex and the buildings inside are massive as well. Wandering around the corridors between the buildings can make you feel somewhat like a mouse in a maze going this way and that wondering how far you’ve gotten and if you’re any nearer to the end after that last turn. Of course the blistering cold we were experiencing didn’t help and with no buildings to take a warm break in, it was a bit like race to see as much as we could and get out before our toes were overtaken by frostbite.
Beijing, China has some amazing places to stay. Check out the Legendale Hotel Wangfujing Beijing, Raffles Beijing Hotel or the Jianguo Garden Hotel for a picturesque stay in the city.
While not worried about the cold, we couldn’t help but notice the intricate details from the ceramic carvings and tiled roofs with statues everywhere we looked. The yellow, the color of the Emperor, glazed tile roofs beamed in the sunlight that gave us no warmth. Interestingly there are only two buildings in the complex that don’t have yellow tiled roofs and those are the library which has black tiles which are associated with water so as to prevent a fire and the other is the Crown Prince’s residence which has green tiles associated with wood and thus represent growth. The Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming Dynasty for 224 years from 1420 until Li Zicheng, who proclaimed himself emperor of the Shun dynasty, captured the palace. He soon fled and the Ming general Wu Sangui along with Manchu forces took over. The Shunzhi Emporer took power and thus the Qing dynastic rule in China began. Home to 24 emperors, 14 Ming and 10 Qing, the Forbidden City was the political center of China up until 1912 when the last emperor of China, Puyi, abdicated his throne.
The grandiose architecture and ornate carvings and decor gave the impression that the royalty of years ago set out to press upon people and that was that this was the realm of an emperor that was sent to rule from heaven. In traditional Chinese astrology the name of the Forbidden City, or Zijin Cheng, refers to the North Star which is where the celestial emperor was said to live. The Forbidden City was the earthly counterpart of that heavenly home and they went to many lengths to ensure it stood up to that mighty task. The Forbidden City was our introduction to Beijing and it prepared us for the immensity of everything else we would see in and around the city in the coming days.
The Forbidden City
4 Jing Shan Qian Jie, Dongcheng, 北京市 China
Days: Tuesday ~ Sunday; Closed Mondays
Hours: April 1 ~ October 31: 8:30AM ~ 4:00PM*; November 1 ~ March 31: 8:30AM ~ 3:30PM*
*Last entry is permitted 50 minutes prior to closing and last ticket sales end 1 hour prior to closing.
April 1 ~ October 31: 60 yuan
November 1 ~ March 31: 40 yuan
Children under 120cm are free of charge.
Transportation to the southern gate entrance:
Subway: Tian’an men East or Tian’an men West (Tian’an men xi) on line 1
Bus: No.1, 10, 120, 126, 2, 20, 37, 4, 52, 59, 728, 802 to Tian’an Men East OR No. 1, 10, 22, 37, 4, 5, 52, 728, 802 to Tian’an Men West