To immense myself in the rich cultural history of China, today I visited the Forbidden Palace, Summer Palace and explored the diversity that China has to offer.
The forbidden palace was built in 1421 by the third Ming emperor of China. The palace served all the emperors since, until 1911. It has a complex symmetrical architectural structure that balances living space with its 9000 rooms and expansive outdoor area.
A visit to the forbidden palace starts with its entrance, at Tian’Amen Square, where, according to the Chinese Government, on June 4th 1989, nothing happened, thanks to China’s strict censorship of the image below.
Walking past the majestic entry of the forbidden city, I immediately recalled Jackie Chan’s Movie “Shanghai Noon”. Although it has nothing to do with Shanghai! The movie starts with a cut scene of the imperial guards training in the court yard of the forbidden city. And there I stood, in front of that same courtyard, contemplating back at how life would have been for imperial guards living in that era.
The palace is filled with pomp and superstitions. Yellow roofs indicates imperial majesty, and commoners at the time were forbidden to have their roofs in yellow, at risk of having their head chopped off. Similarly, the statures of the imperial court officials determined which entrance they used, where they stayed and how close to the emperor they were allowed to get. The number of animals on their roof ceiling were also indicative of rank, where a 9 signified the highest level, that of the emperor. 9 in Chinese also signifies everlasting or eternal as it sound like the word “Jui” which is Chinese for everlasting.
After a brief moment of respite from the uncompromising heat and humidity, we headed to the Temple of Heaven, where it is said that the emperor visited each year at the winter solstice to offer prayers to the heaven for good harvest. The temple was built to follow the Chinese belief that the heaven was round and the earth was square. The architecture definitely reflected that belief.
Picture above are my kids making friends with the local kids, and behind, the impressive architecture of the temple.
We then headed to the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace features a huge artificial lake that was hand dug, and a river diverted to fill it with water, so that the emperor could come relax. It was connected by an artificial canal to the forbidden palace, which allowed the emperor to take the half day trip by boat down to his Summer Palace. The place is surrounded by massive artificial hills, which was made as a result of the overflowing soil from digging the massive lake.
Experiencing the diversity that China had to offer, we decided to head to an Arab area for dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, comprised of grilled Halal meats of all kinds, graced by lively Arabic music and belly dance – it definitely is not everyday that you see Asian girls belly dancing to the tune of Arabic music!
After spending a whole day talking about emperors and dragon lady, I walked into the toilet at the restaurant to the sight of a traditional squatting toilet. I almost walked straight back out, but, in a moment of thought, I decided to experience all things local, as it came. I closed the door behind me to sit on the throne that sat too low.