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Inside the Forbidden City

The first leg of our tour started in the capital city of China, Beijing, upon arrival we were immediately shuttled off to the parts unknown. I was already taken away by the sheer immensity and vastness of China, it was when I got down from the bus and entered Tiananmen square and walk to the Forbidden City, that the largeness of China would be personalized with its historical buildings and places.

*for the purpose of safety, security, and confidentiality, I did not include any of my students’ faces in any of the pictures. 

For four days, from November 18-21, 2014, my Grade 8 students and I took an educational tour to ancient, mythical and massive land of China. We stayed mainly in Beijing and later on, transferred via bullet train to Xian Province. During those four days, I got to learn so much about the 2,000 year old history of the world’s oldest civilization. This of course is the first part of my three-part experience and reflection of my Beijing – Xian tour.

Tiananmen Square

 

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From what I know of the history of Tiananmen Square, it was the sight of the 1989 uprising of students, famous for the lone China man standing up against a column of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) tanks. Tiananmen square was the first stop in the many grandiose places that I would be seeing later on in my trip. Disembarking from our bus and walking down underground passageways, the first thing that would welcome any visitor is the large Tiananmen Gate or in English, the South Gate of the Forbidden City.

 

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Centuries ago, emperors would be transported to these very gates to greet his subjects and also protect the outermost perimeter of his palace. Today, Tiananmen Gate was the start of our kilometer journey to the Forbidden City. Apart from the vast and humongous (I will be using these two adjectives a lot in the coming paragraphs and entries, so bear with me) Tiananmen Gate, just across from it was the mausoleum of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung),  a huge monolithic structure dedicated to the preservation of the dear old leader of Communist China back in the 40’s and up to the 70’s. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to enter the structure; first, it was closed and second, it was not part of our travel itinerary. Nevertheless seeing these two historical structures was more than enough to put me on a historical high.

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The monument in front of the Great Hall of the People. Note the lone PLA guard, you can find them practically everywhere
With my entire being abuzz with pure historical delight, we continued our quick walk along Tiananmen Square, it being a square there really wasn’t that much to see and behold. The place was packed with tourists as they took their selfies and pictures by the obelisk fronting the Great Hall of the People (where the echelons of the country’s power hold their office). Scanning the entire square, there wasn’t that much of a historical marker concerning the revolution back in 1989; then again it was a revolution or protest against the communist regime, I don’t think they would particularly want to remember something as grave as that.

The Forbidden City

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I can’t leave without having a shot with Chairman Mao
Just across Tiananmen Square, was the highlight of my first day in Beijing. Seeing the red-orange hues from afar and the kilometers long wall, the Forbidden City trumps the initial shock and awe of Tiananmen gate. Since we arrived a bit late in Beijing, we had to really hurry so that we could get the last tickets to enter the emperor’s palace by 3pm. From afar one can already spot the giant portrait of Mao Zedong hanging in front of the southern entry of the palace. With a little crossing here and there, we finally started the second-half of our tour in Beijing.

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The throne room of the Dragon Emperor. The steps in front me are for the emperor’s use
Seeing the Forbidden City up close and personal is very different from seeing it on TV or in the movies. The sheer size of it was overwhelming and astounding, it racked my brains that 500 years ago, the Chinese were already building grand buildings and had a very complex society and civilization. My eyes feasted on the preserved beauty of the palace, the magnificent colors embellished in every nook and cranny of the palace halls.

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You can get literally lost just exploring this place. We took the Forbidden City lite tour, but you can spend the whole day here
Our tour was pretty straightforward, we had to consider the time element since we only had about two hours before the museum closed. Nonetheless, I did not fail to rob the golden orbs fronting the gates for good luck, sort of like what Jaden Smith did in the Karate Kid remake. I did not also forget take panoramic shots of the palace halls and the requisite selfies. Trudging along, I couldn’t help but remark to myself, the beauty of the palace and how well preserved it was. Though we only stuck to the main structures, such as the different halls, gates, gardens and palaces; the palace’s lofty titles escaped my mind.

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Immersing myself in the color of power (red)
Given that we only had two hours to explore the place, our tour guide (in his heavily accented English) did not fail to impart his knowledge to us. Built over 400-500 years ago, the Forbidden City was the home of the Qing Dynasty or the last dynasty of Ancient China. Covering hectares, the city has over nine thousand rooms. At the time of the emperor, the city was only open to the emperor himself, his wife, his consorts and the eunuchs. No other people were allowed inside unless they were part of the government. Today, it stands as a monument to the history of Ancient China and its long line of emperors. If you expect to find some historical treasure or museum, the thousands of rooms will not give you any of that. The entire palace may be a museum, but its historical treasures are found in Taiwan, after the nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, had the imperial treasures transferred to Taiwan during the Chinese revolution.

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Every step is a step into a thousand year old culture and history
I could ramble all day about the information but it was just too many and too long to remember. But I would have to say that a visit to the Forbidden City was a great way to start my educational tour. For those who’ve never been or about to visit the city, it would take half a day or the entire day to explore every nook and cranny of the city. Along the way you’ll see different shops selling tacky souvenirs, so it’s best to just ignore these and continue on with your tour. There are other places where you can get great souvenirs and it most certainly isn’t this.
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