We walked under the Meridian Gate (that's the gate with the Big Picture of Mao - where he used to give speeches... like the Emperors did too.),
and into a courtyard much like any courtyard in front of a big tourist attraction. It was full of ticky-tacky souvenirs only vaguely related to where we were. Army hats, wind-up elbow crawling army foot soldiers, staring down a rifle, and other shiny-spinny stuff. All the military stuff I had seen up 'til now (of the toy variety - not so much the real stuff) left me scratching my head as I would return to the hotel, and watch filtered BBC showing Hu Jintao saying that China has no interest in Military Hegemony.
(Special Note - while BBC was reporting the massive Mafia Bust, on CNN, Ricky Gervais was joking around with that guy who replaced Larry King. That's CNN?)
One decidedly odd part about the ticky-tacky souvenirs was they are government sanctioned ticky-tacky souvenirs. Somewhere, someone, on a committee at some time said, "Yes, these guys can sell this stuff in front of the Palace of our deposed Emperors." Because there was 1 medium sized stall of this, not the chock-a-block one finds outside the Puyallup Fair or somewhere similar. And as I was to learn later, most enterprises pay a portion of profits off the top to the government as a privilege of being able to do business. Sort of like taxes, but it seems more in the way of a protection racket. Especially since this change from all enterprises being run by the state, and now switching to things being run by individuals. Sort of like the government realizes, individuals will do a better job, but they still want a hand in the cookie jar. It just seems schizophrenic to me - and more and more so the longer I was there.
After we passed the gambit of noisy-flashy stuff we saw our way to the ticket office. We 'New York Walked' our way through the "need-a-tour-guide-need-a-tour-guide" phalanx, and at last made it through the next gate that lets you in to the real inside of the Forbidden City.
The audacity of the place struck me as I came out into the plaza. It was a bit like walking out onto the deck of an air craft carrier - that same human audacity to build something so huge - to hold it in a human mind.
Another thing began to weigh in on me as we walked through gate after gate, and saw pavilion after pavilion. This palace has very little inside. Yes, the pavilions have a roof and four walls, doors that open and close, but the walls are just one board thick, and are often pierced with designs - more screens to let light and air in rather than capable of keeping anything out. The dress of the Chinese Emperors appeared to make a whole different sort of sense, as did the references to dogs kept in sleeves and on laps, and surrounding oneself with braziers (small charcoal burners) and wearing 4 or 8 or more... layers of robes. I was wearing lots of clothing - and moving around, and I was freezing. Pity the official who must sit still. And wait.
|a line of braziers in front of one of many thrones|
I also began to get the feeling that visiting the "Palace Museum" as it was called must be a soul-rending experience for many a museum curator. The few artifacts that were in cases were housed more or less as one would usually see. With a few oddities. The sticky tack museums use to hold down items to prevent earth quake damage is usually clear - if you see it all. Here - plenty of neon orange, and flashy turquoise were much in evidence. While one area might be nicely laid out (like the wedding paraphernalia of the last Emperor of China), there would be weighty jade statues placed any ol' way (but tied down with fishing wire for earthquake safety), with paper scraps of their 17th century labels hanging off like pitiful ragged paper ribbons.
Or a fantastic jade carving all of one piece - with working sliding doors (well at one time), but carved as part of the piece - and translucent, but one of the sliding doors had been broken - and just left hanging crazily. What was going in in this place?
The quilts at the doorways to hold in heat were an interesting touch. Literally, large, heavy, thick, slightly over-door-sized quilts were hung over each set of double door sized opening. And you pushed the quilt aside to enter any warmed or "temperature controlled" room. (Heck - it could have been 50F degrees in these rooms, it just felt so much warmer than 18F.) The "Spirit Step" did make sealing in heat with these 'door-quilts' easier, as there was substantial bottom edge to the door as well.
Next time - The weirdnesses of the doors, halls, and getting really lost really easily.