Sunday, January 25, 2015

Forbidden City, forbidden foods....

Oh my goodness, morning came early today.

That said, it was a heck of a way to begin our visit to Beijing!  J

10-year old boy performing for us.
Not a soul was late for our early departure, despite the fact that we averaged about four hours of sleep for the group last night!  It was a good thing that this was true, too, as we were off to visit the Peking Opera School for Children, a 40 minute drive from our hotel.  Beijing is not a terribly busy place on Sunday morning, although as the day went on, things got MUCH busier.  One thing we learned was that 20% of the vehicles in the city are NOT allowed on the streets/freeways one day each week (M-F) but that everyone is allowed to drive anywhere they like on Saturday and Sunday.  Interesting, yes?  But I digress……

The Peking (Beijing) Opera School draws students interested in   Beijing Opera has proven to be remarkably resilient, having survived the persecution of actors and the banning of most of the plays during Mao’s cultural revolution preserving the art form known today as the Peking Opera, a heavily stylized program begun during the Qing dynasty in 1750.
Can you say "Limber up?"  Uffda!

Visually stunning and with a very distinct musical style, the plays are based upon Chinese history and literature.  It involves singing, dancing, speech, mime, acrobatics and symbolic visual effects.  Heavily painted faces symbolize individual character qualities – red for loyalty and courage for example. 

11-year old playing lead female role
Chinese parents are really pushing their kids to become involved in activities and educational pursuits.  Their one-child policy has caused parent-aged young people to want to be sure their kids are not lonely (as they may have been) and so they actively create opportunities for them.  This particular school finds kids from 4 – 12 coming  2 – 3 times a week for three hours each day.  It’s run by actual Peking Opera actors, and they are fabulous to watch as they work with their kids. 

We observed several classes – from gymnastics to singing, from make-up to acting.  I don’t know of any of us who were not touched by these kids and by the joy with which they tackle this activity.  At the end of our visit (90 minutes in), the group performed for us with full make-up and costume.   

WOW.  What fun.  What neat kids.  So glad we did this visit - our first time here!
Ten year old playing oldest character in play.


On the steps of the Temple of Heaven.

Our next stop was at the Temple of Heaven, one of the city’s most well-known and beloved parks.  Dedicated to Heaven, it was built in a curious and rare combination of architectural styles and technology from Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Temple of Heaven is then divided by two enclosed walls separating the inner part from the outer part. The Temple of Heaven is made of a lot of beautiful buildings, the most important being the centerpiece,  the Altar (Hall) of Prayer for Good Harvests: This wooden building of 38 meters in height and 30 meters in diameter sits on a round foundation and three level white marble stone. It boasts as the most symbolical attraction in Temple of Heaven. The Hall is the most recognizable building with its cone-shaped blue roof crowned with a gilded knob–a real marvel for the eyes. The one that can be seen today is unfortunately not the original for it was burned by a fire in Temple of Heaven, but it takes all the exact shapes, colors and posts of the original one. Indeed, there are inside the hall 28 huge posts which were used to indicate time. The black, yellow and green colors of the inner roof are like everything in the altar, representing the Earth and the Heaven.

Like many places in Beijing, Temple of Heaven was designed in line with the ancient Chinese symbolism and mystical cosmological laws. Every detail has been meticulously arranged and decorated in line with the codes and manners to worship the Heaven. In China, number 9 used to be designated as the emperor’s exclusive number. As a result, the Circular Altar was erected with 9 slabs. The interior of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is also dominated by the same kind of law. Every element corresponds to the Earth Solar System. Temple of Heaven is definitely where intense numerology is prevailing more than ever. With that knowledge in mind the visit was like entering in a world where natural laws govern human’s activity on Earth.  How did the Emperor use this temple?  He used it to offer thanks for good harvests, prayers for rain and for the annual Chinese New Year celebration.
The gang in front of the Forbidden City.  I'm sure glad we did these jackets - I could spot them anywhere!

Lunch was served near the Temple and then we headed off to the centerpiece of the old city of Beijing, Tiananmen Square. It is the largest city square in the world, occupying an area of 440,000 square meters (about 109 acres), and able to accommodate 1,000,000 people at one time.

In the south of the Square is the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. Mao Zedong, the hall was built in 1977. It is divided into three halls: the main hall, the north hall and the south hall. The remains of Mao Zedong are laid in a crystal coffin in the main hall.  To the west is the  Great Hall of the People which was built in 1959 (the home to the “congress” of the PRC and seat of its leadership.  To the east, the National Museum of China and to the north, the The Forbidden City, also named the Palace Museum. 

The Forbidden City shares the honor of being one of five world-famous palaces with the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in England, the White House in the U.S. and the Kremlin in Russia. The palace, the most magnificent and splendid palace complex in China, was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Building in 1987. It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the construction of this group of buildings took fourteen years from 1406 to 1420. In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was the imperial palace where twenty-four emperors ascended the throne and exercised their strong power to the nation.  Up until the early 1920’s, this area was inhabited by members of the Emperor’s family.

4:30 p.m., "Closing Time" at the Forbidden City
Suffice to say, this place is huge.  HUGE.  (Those with pedometers attached to themselves today show we walked more then 7 miles today.  Yikes!)

The Snack Market vendors were waiting for us.  Scorpion, shark, cat, fruit....all on a stick!
A quick trip to the Beijing Snack Market followed our journey and then we headed off to dinner and an early return (7 p.m.) to the hotel.   Ahhhhhhh, what a day!

Rachel Burger tries Grasshopper on a stick.  She's my hero. 

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