Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 3 - Forbidden City and Exotic Food Market

After a morning of trekking around the Panjiayuan Antiques Market and a brief visit to Tianamen Square we found ourselves in front of the Forbidden City and decided that we should go in and see what all the fuss was about. 

The Forbidden City, viewed from Jingshan Hill to the north. (photo care of Wikipedia)
The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. It was the home of the Chinese Emperor and his household for over 500 years (from 1406 - 1924) and got its name from the fact that ordinary people were not allowed to enter, on pain of death. Luckily for us, instant execution is no longer meted out to commoners, we just had to pay a few Yuan to enter. 

The Forbidden City, now rather less interestingly known in China as the "Palace Museum" or "Former Palace", is a sprawling rectangular complex nearly a kilometre in length filled with 980 surviving buildings and surrounded by a 7.9 metre high wall and a wide, deep moat. It is divided into two parts, the Outer Court, traditionally used for ceremonies, and the Inner Court where the emperor and his family lived.
One of the grand entrance gates to the Forbidden City. 

It seemed to be de rigueur to be carrying a Chinese flag while visiting the Forbidden City.

Riot shields stacked up against an army barracks just inside the entrance of the Forbidden City complex. 

Someone was selling these toy soldiers just inside the entrance too. I thought it was kind of ironic somehow.

Real soldiers' boots in front of the barracks.

The army owners of the riot shields and boots came out for some kind of roll call while we were there.

Just inside the Forbidden City complex.

One of the numerous halls. They all had exciting names like The Hall of Preserving Harmony and the Palace of Heavenly Purity.

Detail of one of the hall/palace eaves.

View of the Hall of Supreme Harmony through the gate of the same name.

Hall of Supreme Harmony up on its marble terrace.
One of the many copper vats placed throughout the complex. They were part of the fire fighting equipment of the palace and were always kept filled with water. In winter, quilts were put over the vats to stop them from freezing.

The Hall of Central Harmony in the Outer Court. It was used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies.

Gate through to the Inner Court.

A pair of gilded lion statues in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity.

Grand throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity. 

Glazed building design.

Imperial roof decorations.

Detail of a roof decoration.

Weeds growing on the roof of one of the old imperial buildings.
Pavilion inside the Imperial Garden within the Inner Court. The garden was full of ancient cypress trees and interestingly shaped rock formations.

The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 before China became a republic. The Qing Court was heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism which resulted in the production of many religious relics such as this one above 

The Qing Dynasty produced a lot of these pearl and gem inlaid gold sachets. These sachets were used to hold perfume or flower petals and were tied around the waist as a kind if pendant.

Beautifully painted wooden beam that formed part of the roof of one of the halls.

Another spectacular building, though unfortunately I don't know the name of this one. No doubt it was something lovely like the Palace of Holy Clarity of something!

The entire complex was so huge that you really needed a whole day at least to see it and we only had a couple of hours so our visit was rather rushed. In this picture, we were all being herded back out through the grand gates, past the marble terraces into modern Beijing.

As we left the Forbidden City, we saw these two guys selling traditional candied apples to hungry tourists.

So, after two or three hours or so wandering around the Forbidden City it was time to leave and we headed back towards Tiananmen Square to watch the flag lowering ceremony that takes place every day at sunset. 

Tiananmen Square is huge and was built that way on purpose. It is supposed to symbolise the strength of the Communist Party and can hold a million people. It is the world's biggest public square.

The National Museum of China is on the edge of Tiananmen Square.

This obelisk is the Monument to People's Heroes. It commemorates all those people who lost their lives in the Communist Revolution.

A short lived kite flying session on the Square. This was soon stopped by a uniformed guard.

A huge crowd had gathered for the flag lowering ceremony and they were just as pushy as any Korean crowd ever are so my chances of getting any decent pictures were pretty slim. 

This was one of the best pics I managed to get of the flag ceremony and it still had the backs of people's heads in!

Standing to attention at the ceremony.

These guys were ready for anything with their fire extinguisher and segway!

I quickly gave up trying to take photos of the soldiers and focussed on the crowds instead. In the background you can see the Forbidden City.

Sunset over Tiananmen Square.

By the time the sun went down we were ravenous and decided to try our luck at Donghuamen Night Market for aome exotic foods. I'd been looking forward to this little excursion but with a little trepidation as I'd read about some of the weird things they had on offer there including scorpions, snake skin and even deep fried sheep penises. I figured arriving with a considerable appetite was probably the only way to go!

Donghuamen Night Market started in 1984 and sells a selection of over 100 speciality snacks from all over China.

There was a long line of stalls selling all kinds of weird and wonderful snacks.

Apparently, starfish were one of the worst tasting things that were on sale at the market. I didn't try finding out for myself though.

The dreaded silk worm pupae that we hate so much from our experience of the smell of it being boiled in stalls at the side of the street in Korea. In China, they had these giant versions of the same bug- gross!

There was bird's nest soup for sale sat the market. For those who don't know about this expensive delicacy, it's made from the saliva-glued nests of a few species of swift.

Crispy snake skin on a stick ready to be deep fried for your enjoyment and bragging rights.

This is some animals stomach lining I'm guessing.

A tempting selection of snacks.

Steamed crabs, a more recognisable (for us) delicacy.

There were fried insects galore of course and plenty of 'courageous' tourists trying to crunch their way through to credibility.

I thought about trying one of these bad boys but they were just so massive I chickened out!

So I went for a couple of these instead, deep fat fried of course.

Looking hungry....or terrified?

Not sure....but they were actually pretty tasty, like crispy greasy chicken skin! 

Rowan had some too....eventually!

Deep fried ice cream on toast. I bought one of these and it was delish!

A cheerful looking worker grilling lamb skewers.

Candied fruits preserved in crystalised sugar.

Rowan playing at being Ghengis Khan tearing his way through a whole leg of lamb!

After filling up on lamb, mini scorpions and ice cream toast we took a gentle stroll back towards our hostel. On the way we passed a beautifully illuminated church. In the church yard were a large crowd of people taking part in some kind of group line dancing exercise! A pretty surreal end to the day!

The pretty church lit up at night.

Mass line dancing by illuminated church light!

It was pretty late when we finally made it back to the hostel so we had a quick beer in the hostel bar and planned our next day of Beijing wanderings. In the next post: our trip to the pretty but rather misty Summer Palace, my inevitable dose of food poisoning and an awesome performance of traditional entertainment at a Beijing Tea House.

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