Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 3 - Part IV Break Time!

Time to stop for a break.  
The Forbidden City in January is cold, and no matter what time of year you are there, it is huge!  So we stopped for a snack.  

Odd thing the 1st; all hot drinks are 20RMB ($3.25) or more.  Soda - about 4RMB ($0.70), talk about your cheap calories!  I thought maybe just the western drinks (coffee, "cappuccino" and the like...) nope, even the poor quality, but hot, Chinese tea was in the 20RMB range.  I think it may have something to do with the "luxury" of the fresh, hot drink.

Odd thing the 2nd; all the cafes and stores we went into were heated like crazy, yet incredibly drafty.  So inside you'd be caught in these conflicting breezes.

Odd thing the 3rd; the Forbidden City is HUGE!, and yet the bookstore employees had to take their lunch break (about 58 seconds long from what I saw), in the tiny bookstore, sitting at a table piled high with books.  (The table had shelves under the table top where they had to precariously prop their food)

Odd thing I didn't buy, because it wasn't worth carrying home - Mao's Little Red Book... IN RUSSIAN!!!  This is funny because other than starting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Russians had little time for the CCP, and looked down on them as a rule.  So these things must be fossils!  Incredibly cheap plastic cover and bad binding.  I wonder what happened to the Chinese when their Little Red Books wore out.  Were they issued new ones?  Was it a sign of their fervor?  Or was a disintegrating LRB a sign of disrespect to Mao?  All these questions...)

Odd thing the 4th; This bookstore had some of the oldest books I had ever seen for sale as "new."  For extra fun, all books that were from before the US & China were on good terms would have several languages (French, German, Arabic, Greek, Russian and some others) but no, or minimal English.  Newer books not in Chinese are primarily in English.

Odd thing the 5th; there were only a few shops to buy "Forbidden City Souvenirs," like this book shop.  They were all tiny, and yet every single one of them contained an inventory that was about half completely unrelated to the Forbidden City.  For example, this books shop had postcards of "Famous Porcelain in the Shanghai Museum," large books on the Great Wall (this is where I saw one of the Old Books sold as new) and on and on.  While I was in China, the China Daily printed a story about how there are over 1 million objects in the possession of the Palace Museum at the Forbidden City, I bet there were photographs of less than 300 of them in all the materials I could find in that book shop.  There were certainly more items than that on display.  It was just bizarre.

Amusing thing; all over the Forbidden City there were large signs in Chinese and English explained things.  They had at one time been sponsored by American Express. Apparently AmEx is bad odor, or something... because the "Provided by American Express" was sloppily painted over with a poorly matched brown paint.

Bonus odd thing 1: According to the AmEx signs just about everything was built in the same year.  While I am suspicious of that and think maybe this was just laziness on the part of a researcher, part of me also thinks that if you have access to tens of thousands of slave laborers I suppose this is possible.

Bonus odd thing 2: A few of the pavilions were noted for "burned down 3 times due to lightening started fires" or "burned down 5 times due to lightening started fires."  As a student of history I have read more than once that palace eunuchs would burn down a building if their looting had gotten to bad.  Really - ya' had 5 lightening started fires you couldn't put out - even with all those vats of fire fighting water in all those proudly displayed giant bronze caudrons?  Really?

After the suspicious drink pricing, the odd souvenir scheme, the weird heating regimen, and plenty of odd signs, when we stopped for lunch we were in for a nice surprise.  The restaurants in the Forbidden City had tasty, well balanced, reasonably priced food that came piping hot in large servings!  Well, at least they got that right.  Having been to too many zoos, aquariums, science centers and museums in the US where the badly take advantage of you by serving the saddest flabbiest, saltiest, driest, most suspicious food ever, at ludicrously high prices,  (Yes, Baltimore Aquarium, Washington DC Zoo, and Seattle Science Center, I'm looking at you!) this was a welcome surprise.  (Strangely tasty food at the very sad Beijing Zoo as well... but that's another story).
The highlight of wackiness of all the breaks we took - the 4 Star rated toilet.
Yes... I even took a picture of the sign.  Not of the facilities... they were just ehhh.

  I later learned I had my expectations set all out of whack for 2 reasons.  After further research, I came to believe 1 star anything in China must have a (damp?) dirt floor, no heating and and no plumbing.  And the Chinese HATE or FEAR (or both) the number 4 - (apparently the word for 4 is a homophone for terrible misfortune) - thus most star systems only register on an odd number scale.  (So regard with the proper amount of wariness the highly vaunted 7 star hotel near the Olympic site.)

Enough about break time, time to get back to the tour.

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