Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Forbidden City, Beijing China

The magnificent Forbidden City was called so because it was off limits to commoners for 500 years. Most of the palace was trashed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, however, it still remains China's largest and best preserved cluster of ancient buildings. It sheltered two dynasties - the Ming and Qing who did not stray from the city unless they absolutely had to, which made it an elitist community. A stultifying code of rules, protocol and superstition depended its other worldliness, from here the emperors governed China until 1911.

The wall enclosing the city was assembled from 12 million bricks. Most of the buildings are made of wood and for fear of fire, there are large bronze pots filled with water in case of an emergency. The City is 1 million square meters, there are over 800 buildings and over 9000 rooms; less than half the City is open to visitors.

For more information: TravelGuideChina and Wikipedia.

This is the Tienanmen, which means Gate of Heavenly Peace. Tienanmen Square was across the street. On either side of the picture of Mao Zedong, it the poetic slogan: Long live the People's Republic of China and on the right, Long live the unities of the people of the world.

It was freeeeezing outside! Peddlers were trying to sell hats and gloves to tourists who were unprepared.

As there are so many buildings, there is always construction going on. When one area is complete, they move to the next. By the time the 10 year circle is complete they start renovating all over again.

When it rained, these stone statues would have water pouring out.

You could differentiate the importance of each building by counting the number of animals in the corner. At the front sits a man on top of a chicken (this is not included). As you can see, this building has a total of 9 signifying high importance. This building was reserved for the emperor.

These are the bronze pots filled with water in case of fire.

In the Imperial Garden the Emperor and his favorite concubines (he had 1000 concubines!) played hide and go seek.

Jade, Silk, Pearl, Enamelware & Tea House Tourist Traps - Beijing

As with any day tours in China, you are likely to be brought to various tourist traps along the way. These are basically fillers for the tours, the tour company gets paid a commission for each person they bring into these factories. Some of the things we had seen were interesting, such as making silk from a silk worm (video below) and the jade, but we could have done without and spent more time on the Great Wall.

If you're planning a trip to China and are able to spend at least 10 days or more there, we highly recommend planning your own excursions. You can spend more time at the nicer areas such as the Great Wall and the Summer Palace all without the hassle of the extra tourist traps. If you've seen enough, you can move on rather than having to wait for the slow ones in the tour group. It's also a GREAT idea to pick up a Lonely Planet Guide at least a few weeks before you go, ours was the Holy Grail to us.

Now, on to some pictures and very brief descriptions, enjoy!

Beijing Jade Factory intro

Cutting large pieces of jade

Finished products

Mmmmm cabbage.. The cabbage is a popular motif even today, used to bring wealth or prosperity into the home.

Jade bangles - these are given instead of a wedding ring. Because of the durability of the jade, they are never taken off.

Pearl Factory intro

Small fresh water pearls


Don't want to lug your expensive souvenirs home? No problem! You can still drop a small fortune and have DHL ship them for you!

Tea House

Silk Factory Video - How silk is made from a silk worm.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ming Tombs - Beijing, China

Before making our way to the Great Wall of China, we stopped off at the Ming Tombs. As you can see from the picture, it was a chilly day. The tombs have a good history, but it wasn't the most interesting place we've ever been, we think it was a filler for the day tour. We've seen some online posts to avoid the Ming Tombs, mostly because it is a pretty boring tour and you aren't able to see much. On that note, you can say you've seen the tombs after reading this post and clicking on any of the other links!

History (Chinatravelguide.com):

50 kilometers northwest from Beijing City lies the Ming Tombs - the general name given to the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). The mausoleums have been perfectly preserved, as has the necropolis of each of the many emperors. Because of its long history, palatial and integrated architecture, the site has a high cultural and historic value. The layout and arrangement of all thirteen mausoleums are very similar but vary in size as well as in the complexity of their structures.

It was originally built only as Changling, the tomb of Emperor Zhu Di and his empresses. This is the most magnificent of the tombs. The succeeding twelve emperors had their tombs built around Changling.

Only the Changling and Dingling tombs are open to the public. Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. The total internal area of the main building is 1956 square meters. There are 32 huge posts, and the largest measures about 14 meters in height.It inhumes Emperor Zhudi, the fourth son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. Travel China Guide recommends the Lingsi Palace in its second yard as really deserving a visit. This is unique as it is the only huge palace made of camphor wood. It covers about 1956 square meters. The ceiling is colorfully painted and supported by sixteen solid camphor posts. The floor was decorated with gold bricks..... (click here to read on)

Entrance to the main hall

Emperor Yongle

The entire place was built without a single nail, an impressive feat in those days!

These gold ingots uncovered from Dingling weigh 385 grams each, marked with the name of the place they came from, date of collection, name of the official in charge as well as their weight and purity.

Silver ingots, each weighing l.9 kilos, were the type of money in use at the time. They were land tax collected from Zhejiang Province.

These are helmet, sword and armour worn by Emperor Wanli. The originals had decayed. They are reproductions.

The gold crown, for the Emperor, is woven with extremely thin gold wire. The weaving is done from top to bottom. The tiny holes must be the same in size. It is neat and graceful, displaying the high artistry in arts and crafts in the Ming Dynasty.