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Saturday, August 3, 2002, CST

Day 10, The not so forbidden city


I spent too much time on the internet last night, and got very little sleep, but still managed to get up at the 6AM wake up call. It had rained overnight, with lightning and thunder, so it was much cooler today. The temperature drop was as much as 5 degrees Celcius, and brought it from unbearably impossible to just miserable.  Breakfast, in the hotel, was jammed packed with Caucasians, and we had to wait for a table. That is the first time any of our hotels have been so crowded. As I listened to people talking, I would estimate the Americans at close, but less than fifty percent, and the remainder, European. This seems to be what I find at the various tourist spots too.


Most of today was spent at the forbidden city, (Gugong, The Imperial Palace) and Tiananmen Square. Even though I estimate the temps at about 90, and much better than yesterday, it was still tough, and we are getting a little toured out, these days. We wanted to linger, and think about the significance of this place. The power and excesses of a feudal society, the idea of being surrounded by 600 years of history, and the June 4th massacre that became a constant diversion on our wedding anniversary. With the heat, and the crowds, lingering and soaking it all in, was the last thing on our minds, however, but at 170 acres, even hustling through it took a few hours. Today was a Saturday, but I was told that even on a weekday, the crowds would be pretty close to the sea of humanity that we encountered today. Pretty ironic that a place that was once forbidden, would be visited by over 100,000 people per day.


Lunch was at Fang Ze Xuan Restaurant, in Di Tan Park, and was surprisingly good. Time for another word about Chinese bathrooms. In ’85, the forbidden city was one of the worst bathrooms, and Di Tan Park would’ve been unapproachable. I have been told, that the government spent over RMB$2Billion on renovating the bathroom facilities in the various tourist areas, and it shows. Not only was the forbidden city very tolerable, but it was clean and air conditioned and the thought of just hanging around to cool off crossed our minds. Di Tan park, even had an attendant. There was a time, when even the bathroom in your hotel couldn’t be counted on. With food, bathrooms, and hotels taken care of, if Beijing could just improve the weather, and the smog, (which they are working on. There are natural gas vehicles everywhere), they should be ready for the 2008 Olympics.


We breezed in and out of the summer palace, with a short boat ride, as everyone was getting cranky and tired of the heat. A stop at the Cloisonne factory, to shop and hang out in front of the air conditioners, and it was back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta. Dinner was at the world famous Hepingmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, where Nixon, Kissinger, and many heads of states, have visited. It lived up to its’ reputation, and was delicious. After dinner, we took in a Shaolin Gung Fu show. Since this was close to our hotel, we walked home, and it gave us a chance to see how people spent their evenings. There are as many people on the streets, as in the daytime, and in the short walk to the hotel, we passed by an exercise apparatus section of a park, complete with a crude elliptical machine (not powered, of course); an outdoor dance class; and several young people, smooching, and stealing a kiss. I saw one couple riding their bikes, while holding hands, and there were several couples with 2 to a bike. The girls are pretty adept at dressing stylishly, and maintaining an air of elegance while sitting side saddle on the back of their date’s bike.


Tomorrow, we scale the wall, and go shopping. Hope it cools down some more.



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