Beijing: "Yu Li to Song Na to Xin Ying"


People's Republic of China

January 5, 2008

Clear and Cold

Dear Family and Friends,

Sorry, sports fans. "Yu Li to Song Na to Xin Ying" is not the double-play combination on the Chinese Baseball Team in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Yu Li (Lily) and Song Na (Jasmine) and Xin Ying (Elsa) are my never-let-me-out-of-their-sight girl-guides in this capital city of 15.2 million.


I met Lily and her business partner Diego in Bangkok. Charming Lily, 26, is Chinese and a specialist in industrial design. Talented Diego, 47, a software engineer, is an Italian ex-pat who has lived in China for several years. They made excellent suggestions regarding my China travel plans and helped me with hotel reservations. Unfortunately, their days are busy as they are working full-time to set up a new photography studio. 

Lily conscripted her roommate Jasmine to be my guide for the weekend.

Happy, energetic Jasmine, 26, works as an Import Operator for a Chinese cargo company. She picked me up at my hotel and we shipped off to central Beijing to visit the Emperors.

Tian'an Men Square or Tian'an Men Guanchang -- the Square of Heavenly Peace -- is a vast open concrete expanse. Chairman Mao's Mausoleum is the focal point. Other buildings include the China National Museum and traditional Chinese gates. From the Tian'an Men Ming Dynasty gate, Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Across a ten lane boulevard, is the Great Hall of the People. A huge poster of Chairman Mao (1893 - 1976) hangs on the façade.

Chairman Mao is a revered figure here. His portrait graces the obverse of all the Chinese paper currency.

Tian'an Men Square itself, the site of popular demonstrations, must be able to hold tens of thousands of people. And if memory serves, maybe a couple of tanks can also squeeze in . . . .

La Citta Proibita, Ciudad Prohibida, Die Verbotene Stadt, La Cite Interdite,  The Forbidden City by any name was the home of twenty four Emperors who ruled China for nearly six hundred years. "The symbolic center of the Chinese universe, the palace was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries until the 1920's. It was opened to the public in 1949."**

"With its many halls and pavilions, marble railings and steps, red walls and yellow tiles, the Forbidden City looks resplendent and magnificent. It occupies an area of over 720,000 square meters*** with 9000 bays of halls and rooms. The construction area amounts to about 150,000 square meters and the surrounding walls are 10 meters high and 3,428 meters long with four splendid corner towers standing separately at four corners of the city. A moat, which is 52 meters wide and 3800 meters long, surrounds the outside city walls. Thus the city was made a strongly fortified castle."****

The structures of the Forbidden City boast many charming names: Gate of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony, Gate of Heavenly Purity, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, Hall of Imperial Peace, Palace of Eternal Harmony, Palace of Abstinence, Palace of Peaceful Longevity, Imperial Zenith Hall, Hall of Mental Cultivation, and the Gate of Divine Prowess.

Jasmine and I enter the main gate, the Gate of Heavenly Purity, and stroll deeper and deeper into this almost endless yet orderly, ancient compound of halls and courtyards. Living quarters, meeting rooms, fasting halls and ceremonial halls are well-preserved and proudly presented. Grand sculpture, golden paintings, colorful architectural detail, luxurious furnishings and intricate historical dioramas combine to make The Forbidden City a truly royal treasure.

Even now in flowerless winter, the Imperial Flower Garden is my favorite spot. It is symmetrically laid out with pavilions, halls and hilltop temples as well as a rock garden and ancient trees. The walkways are cobble and on close inspection, each one has a different design of flowers and trees. The rock garden is more like a boulder garden with huge weathered and eroded stone.

The bare, yet artistic gardens are compelling but the sun is setting behind the temples and it is time to leave.

This day of Emperors has been an excellent day for me, and I presume, an excellent preview. Many more wonders, ancient and modern, await me in my travels in the coming month.



PS As Jasmine and I wandered the Forbidden City, I overheard a conversation in English in what sounded like a North American accent I asked the young man where he was from. He said, "Michigan" so I responded that he must be comfortable with the low temperatures here. He correcxted me, "NO! Now I live in Los Angeles, and I am freezing my ass off.

Amen to that.


** "China."Dorling Kindersley Limited. London. 2005.

*** 861,112.8 sq yards. Here's a handy site:

**** Beijing. 2007


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