Sunday, April 02, 2006

Yesterday was another fine day with overcast skies but perfect temperatures for sightseeing. I was floating slightly in a haze of cold caused by my bone-chilling flat which is slowly equilibrating with the outside world. Nonetheless it was great to head to the Forbidden City which I visited on my first full day in China all those months ago. This time however a friend of mine, ML, was our tourguide telling us the significance of many of the details that the guidebooks left out. I'd advise getting a tour guide if you come here. There's so much to see and understand that, though it's great just to wonder around, I think you get a lot more with some real local knowledge.

It was a good chance to get some more photos and so I shall leave this post mostly in pictorial form but give a couple of facts and figures about the Forbidden City first. When it was built (finished in 1420) there were almost a million people working on it and a million soldiers guarding them, in total they built almost 10000 rooms. The emperor had around 3000 concubines and many of them would never get to see him. He never left the palace and was in constant fear of ghosts, demons and assassins so though this was the height of extravagance it must have been a pretty tormented existence. The opening party was a modest affair with 27000 guests being brought in from overseas on the royal fleet of ships, each of which was 120m long.

All over the city are signs of the numerology which the Chinese strongly believed. The number 9, being the biggest number in the basic system had much significance and so objects are often in sets of 9 (not the 8 and 6 which are now considered lucky numbers and 4 which is unlucky. Note that the Chinese dialing code is 86 - perfect. The British is 44 - atrocious!)

The royal red makes for some nice contrasts with many of the old gnarled trees which are in the first garden as you enter the complex.

The weary travelers slowly recovering with a Starbucks bought within the palace. ML on the left.

In an attempt to get some more pictures of people, I got a snap of this guy taking in the view of the throngs of tourists, sitting patiently and looking slightly bemused by the whole spectacle.

Sleep appeared to be the order of the day and an 11 o'clock siesta was welcomed by many.

Partly because of the 2008 games, many of the sites in Beijing are being repaired at the moment. This is one of the main buildings in the complex which is undergoing extensive restoration. Note the workmen on the top right wandering around the scaffolding with no protection whatsoever. This is a pretty normal sight in Beijing.

Collecting clocks and watches, which were often gifts from foreign dignitaries, was a favourite past time of many of the later emperors. This water clock (clepsydra) is an example in what is a stunning collection of time pieces housed in one of the many buildings flanking the main palace artery.

After visiting the forbidden city and having lunch in a rather fine noodle restaurant we headed to the Temple of Heaven. Having seen it before and beginning to feel the cold wearing me down I sat in the gardens, read for a while and took a nap. There were many pensioners and local workers coming to the park purely to sleep so I got a cheeky snap of this guy passed out on one of the benches.

Today I'm resting, attempting to get over the cold before taking off to Xi'an on Tuesday morning.


Benjamin said...

Hi Jonathan. Fascinated by the numerology. Pleased to see the Chinese think 6 is a lucky number. Its my favourite and my girlfriend of recent times told me it was unlucky.

I like the pictures of sleep in the forbidden city. Civilised if weird!

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Ben,

Strange that they're still genuinly concerned about numerology. Out here you buy a phone number and depending on how many lucky and unlucky numbers it has will alter the cost. This is good for unsuscpicious foreigners who don't care how many 4s are in there.

The reason they think of some numbers as more lucky than others is because the words for 6 and 8 sound like words for wealth and good fortune. Seems somewhat tenuous to me even for numerology but a lot of people go by it.

Hope all's well.


Shelley said...

Something to add to the numerology supersition: my dad got an AMAZING apartment in Shanghai for practicially nothing because it was apartment #4 on the 4th floor! All his Chinese friends tried to talk him out of it, saying he would probably suffer terrible luck and bad health. These are educated people! The supersitions in China run very deep. But its a great way to get cheap lodgings if you don't believe in it. :) Although many buildings skip the 4th floor, like we americans used to skip the 13th in new york.

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Shelley,

until you mentioned that, it hadn't crossed my mind that that's exactly where I've been put: fourth apartment, fourth floor. I think that it's no coincidence that they've left this room for a foreigner as I wouldn't be surprised if Chinese people (even scientists) would be reluctant to take it.