Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I have been a bad blogger. Nearly a month without a post. A little about my week in Beijing with my brother. More on the way.
Beijing in December is bitterly, ruthlessly cold. Through a down coat and double layers of pants, I still felt the wind cut through. A bit of Chicago in China, I suppose. That's the bad news about Beijing. The good news: The bitter, ruthless cold drives away tourists this time of year, so my brother and I had most of the country's great landmarks to ourselves.
We visited nearly all of the great sites. This was what I called a cultural self-education. The trip was particularly special because it was my brother's first time to China -- and I don't count our trip to Taiwan two years ago as visiting China, although most Chinese would probably disagree with me.
Our first stop was Forbidden City, home of emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. For all its hype, the palace complex exceeded our expectations. Here I felt China -- at least during those 500 years the palace was occupied -- was the center of the world. We wandered hall after elaborate hall. The Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Hall of Central Harmony and then the Hall of Preserved Harmony and many, many more. All the halls just started to blend together in the end. I wondered how the eunuchs were able to find their way around back in the day. The English audio tour my brother and I listened to gave brief descriptions of each structure, but I can't tell you much now. What I can say is, standing on that ground, I was proud to be Chinese.
The feeling of awe continued at the Summer Palace, the playground of the emperors, and at the Temple of Heaven, the sacrificial alter to the powers above. Here the building for cleaning and killing the animals, the tracks to wheel them through the complex, and notice here the nine steps and nine circles of the Circular Mound Alter. The precision of the temple's construction and the complexity of the rituals struck a curious contrast to Chinese life now. In most Chinese cities I have visited, there is no order. There is no such thing as waiting in lines; there are cars that play chicken with pedestrians. I savored the quiet of the former slaughtering ground.
The Great Wall was my favorite. We climbed the stretch at Badaling, the most touristy part of the Wall but not packed on this day. It was so windy that I gripped the handrails as we climbed up or slid/ran down for a couple hours. Panting, calves sore, we stopped often for water and Oreo breaks and took in the scene. It wasn't the Wall so much as the view around us that made me think how far away I was from home and how exhilarating that was.