Monday, June 12, 2017

Revisiting the Homeland (Part 4): Great Wall, Forbidden City, Hutong, Wangfujing, Confucius Institute, and Going Home

- June 4-7, 2017, Sunday to Wednesday.

- Since we arrived in Beijing on the 1st of June, we had not gone around the city for a tour, as we mainly did visits to universities and the Philippine Embassy (click here). Because of this, I think it was about time for us to really experience the treasures of Beijing.

- Our first stop for the morning was the Forbidden City. This was the imperial palace from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (China's last two dynasties.) This was around the 1400s until 1912, when the Qing Dynasty ended. The reason this palace/city was called "Forbidden" was because no one could enter or leave the palace without the permission of the emperor. The Forbidden City is accessible through the Tiananmen West metro station or Tiananmen East metro station. Speaking of Tiananmen, the Tiananmen is located just in front of the Forbidden City. The Tiananmen Square is where demonstrations were held in 1989 to fight for democratic reforms. As this was a big blow on the government (which eventually led to the opening of the government in the 1990s,) this is usually left out in history books in China. This incident was also called the June 4th Incident or the Tiananmen (Square) Massacre. Mao Zed Dong's is also located nearby; apart from not being part of our itinerary, I also read that it's being renovated lately.

At the Tiananmen Square.
Monument to the People's Heroes and the Great Hall of the People at the back.
National Museum of China. Should visit this next time.
The monument and a lamp post (with a CCTV camera.)
With the reflection of the Tiananmen Square.
- The Tiananmen Square was also where Mao Ze Dong proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. October 1 has since then become a national holiday. This is also why people can see a poster of Mao Ze Dong at the entrance of the Tiananmen. The Tiananmen, or "Gate of Heavenly Peace," is the gate to the Forbidden City. (It's just like like Seoul's Gwanghwamun, the gate of Gyeongbok Palace, has a square in front, called Gwanghwamun Square.)

Tiananmen: the entrance to the Forbidden City with Mao Ze Dong's poster in front.
Mandatory tourist shot.
Great Chairman Mao.
- I found myself in the middle of a great tourist chaos after entering the Forbidden City. Being one of China's premier tourist spots, I was met with battalions and battalions of local and foreign tourists. If given the chance to go there, I'd go really early (the earliest possible time) so when I get inside, there won't be too many tourists. There were so many tourists that at some point I did not have much elbow space, especially through the gates from one courtyard to another. These courtyards between great halls showcase Confucian-style architecture. Other than that, some halls showcase Manchurian shamanist (Qing-era,) Taoist, or Buddhist influences.

I bought my own Qing Dynasty batwing headdress. Yes I understand it's for women, but it was so cheap, cultural, and cute I just couldn't resist. (I can use this in my history class too.)
Meridian Gate.
Don't forget to rub the knobs for luck!!
Gate of Supreme Harmony.

Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Mandatory tourist shot, complete with photobombers.
Up close.
One of the throne halls. Couldn't go near because too many people were in front of me.
To the back door of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Chinese and Manchurian scripts at the Palace of Heavenly Purity.
On the way to the Imperial Gardens.
A pagoda/gazebo.
This small room was build a the side of this coral-like rock formation.
- The Forbidden City is also home to the Palace Museum. This is connected to Taiwan's National Palace Museum, which I visited in 2014 (click here to see.) When the Japanese forces were advancing in China, China took its treasures to Taiwan for safekeeping. Later on, they were shipped back to China, only to find the Communist forces gaining dominance in the government. This led to the treasures being shipped back to Taiwan. Today, the treasures are split between the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City, and the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Unfortunately, I did not get to visit the Palace Museum as it wasn't part of our itinerary, and also due to lack of time. I must visit this next time.

Palace Museum.
One of the corner towers.
Red wall.
Got bored while waiting for our bus.
Pretend commie. (And yes, I understand that my hat isn't the authentic Mao-style beret-like hat.)
- After our morning trip to the Forbidden City, we had lunch near Wangfujing since there were some of us who wanted to attend the Sunday mass St. Joseph's Church near Wangfujing. To those of us who did not want to attend the mass, we had an hour of shopping. However, there was a slight schedule mix-up with the mass time, so we all ended up shopping. I also mustered up the courage to eat a stick with three scorpions, a small seahorse, and a starfish. Among the three, the small scorpions and the seahorse tasted great; the scorpions tasted like softer crispy crablets, while the seahorse tasted like "chicharong bulaklak" (deep fried pork mesentery.) The starfish was the worst. Its shell was too touch, and it felt like eating sand. I couldn't eat it all the way through the center, where the shell was its toughest. I could feel the starfish in my tummy even after a few hours after eating. To think the starfish was supposed to be the tamest of the exotic skewers!! By the way, since I arrived in the afternoon, I finally got to buy my souvenirs. (For those wanting to visit Wangfujing, do not forget to haggle when buying souvenirs. Wangfujing is a tourist shopping street, and so the prices are usually very high. I got to lower the price by 40% or more than the initial price!!)

Third time's the charm.

Got to eat one of these.
That starfish is an enemy of my belly.
- We were later whisked off to the hutongs of Beijing. These are historic alleyways with courtyard residences. It's a big area that is best seen riding one of the rickshaws outside the hutong. These hutongs were built during the Yuan Dynasty (1200s,) and though many of them were already destroyed for urban development projects. There are many hutongs in Beijing, mostly those near the Drum Tower. The funny thing is, our tour guide did not explain much about the hutongs, so we did not know which hutong we were brought to. There are a ton of metro stations that are accessible to the hutongs in the Drum Tower area: Guoloudajie metro station, Andingmen metro station, Yonghegong (Lama Temple) metro station, Beixinqiao metro station, Zhangzizhonglu metro station, and Nanluoguxiang metro station. The hutongs of Beijing reminded me of Korea's Bukchon Hanok Village, and just like the houses in Bukchon Hanok, some houses are open for experiencing different cultural activities like Chinese arts and crafts, or costume wearing (click here to see Bukchon Hanok.)

Take me to a place I've never been toooo.
Through the old houses.
- To make the rickshaw ride more interesting, I started singing "Mo Li Hua," a popular Chinese folk song, with my faux Beijing-opera voice. Our rickshaw drivers nearly went out of control when they heard me sing. Well, I had nothing to lose anyway, I wanted to give myself (and my colleagues,) a traditional feel while going through these old alleys.

Quite difficult to take this shot.
Another touristy shot.
A memorial statue.
Old doors.
In one of the courtyards.
An old room wit hold costumes.
Just chillin'.
- Our tour guide gave us some free time after the rickshaw ride, though none of us knew where to go, and we felt that the rickshaw ride was enough (given the time we had left that day.) Since most of us wanted more time to shop (as it was our only day for shopping in Beijing,) we agreed to spend the rest of the afternoon in Wangfujing again so those who wanted to catch the mass could attend mass, while the others shopped.

- Our best day in Beijing was saved for the last. That Monday, we first visited the Confucius Institute Headquarters to give our thanks for funding our trip to China. We also spent some time in the Chinese cultural exhibition halls. The Confucius Institute was established in 2004, and has opened many branches worldwide. Interestingly, unlike other government-affiliated language institutes like Instituto Cervantes (Spain,) Alliance Francaise (France,) or Goethe Institut (Germany,) the Confucius Institutes all operate inside universities and schools, though extramural classes are also opened for those who are not students/staff of the partner schools.

Confucius Institute Headquarters.
Thank you for welcoming us!!
With the great Confucius.
Opera costume.
With a replica of Xian's terra cotta warrior.
Chinese musical instruments.
What my ancestor could have looked like.
On nothing, just walking down the stairs.
- We had a sumptuous Peking duck lunch in one of the branches of Quanjude, which is a restaurant chain specializing in Peking duck that was established in the late 1800s. However, the Peking duck wasn't the only thing I enjoyed, but all the other duck dishes served to us as well.

With the Quanjude mascot.
I fit right in.
- After lunch we had a long trip to the Badaling segment of the Great Wall of China. This is the segment closest to Beijing, another one being the Mutianyu segment. Going to the Great Wall by commute can be quite hassling, either by bus or suburban train (see here,) and because there are cases of unreliable timetables, this is one of the rare times that I would highly suggest hiring a private car with a driver going to the Great Wall, if possible. (If time management is your thing, you may also consider visiting the Ming Tombs during the latter half of the day, if you go to the Great Wall in the morning.) From my observation, the entrances are different depending on how you want to get up the great wall. In our case, we had the luxury of going up using the cable car (other may opt to walk up, or use the pulley cars.) The cable car ride cost 140 RMB (roudtrip,) but at least it let us save the energy for walking uphill/downhill when we were on top of the main wall.

Flag of China.
Up the cable car.
- The Great Wall was first built in the Qin Dynasty (around 2nd century BCE.) Through the dynasties, more segments were added depending on where the northern "barbarians" were going to attack. Today, the Great Wall spans 9 provinces. Not all segments of the Great Wall are also open, for security, safety, and preservation purposes.

Here it is!! I am finally here!!
It goes on and on and on.
- Intense leg muscle is needed to climb the Great Wall. Even when we were brought to the top via cable car, there are still parts of the Great Wall like that watchtowers that need visitors go uphill. The steps are not of equal height, and since they're made of stones, a lot of people may trip if not careful (I for one saw around four people trip. Fortunately, the usually clumsy me did not.)

At the very crowded watchtower.
What the hell are you.
Going down the steps of the Great Wall, with much care.
Overseeing my empire.
You can buy one of these medals (just 10RMB!!) and have your name engraved. I used my Chinese name.
I don't know why athletes do this.
You need to go through me first.
Go through me: challenge mode.
Goodbye Great Wall. Hope to see more of you next time.
- After alighting the cable car, we had some time to go around the souvenir stores at the parking lot. Later on, we had a long trip back to downtown Beijing and had another Peking duck meal for dinner.

Great Wall celebratory jump shot.
- We had to pack our things since we needed to catch our flight back to scorching hot Guangzhou the following day. It was a midday flight and arrived at the same hotel in Sun Yat Sen University in the early evening (click here.) It was honestly a better hotel than the one we had in Beijing, and so going back to Sun Yat Sen Kaifeng Hotel was like going back "home." We were also a bit tired of Chinese food so we had a Western dinner at the hotel's restaurant. I went for the unusual choice and had a durian pizza for dinner.

My durian pizza and my avocado shake. Very tropical.
- We had nothing else to do but rest and go home the day after arriving at Guangzhou. Although I had my frustrations since the airport in Guangzhou confiscated the snow globe I had in my hand carry for a friend (a first for me, since the other airports I've encountered usually let it pass,) I was more than glad to be back home in Manila after an almost two-week journey in the land of my ancestors. China is a giant country, like India, that cannot be finished in a lifetime. Although our main agenda was really to attend lectures and discussions on China's Belt and Road initiative, being chosen to go to China also became a personal journey for me. I have long appreciated my Chinese heritage, and I am pretty much in touch with my Chinese-ness, but stepping on Chinese soil is indeed a different experience. I am both an outsider and an insider in China, and I have come to accept that. While I have no dreams whatsoever of living in China, I do hope that I'd get to go back again and again. Please don't forget to read (Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here!!)

- Oh, before I forget, we also came home with a group of shaolin monks, and I have no idea why (probably a performance?) They were fun to look at. Teehee.
I wonder why you're all in the Philippines.