Our visit to Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and Summer Palace and other tidbits..

Paddy rice fields viewed as we sped past in the speed train at 305km/h

This is the ninth post in the Ni ha (Hello) China Travelogue.

After a glorious week in Guangzhou, we travelled to Beijing via their speed or bullet train. We travelled at an average speed of 307 kilometers per hour and arrived in Beijing after 8 hours.  As we travelled through the countryside,we could see the many rice paddies.

Interesting nuggets we learned from our tour guide Kong Li (Leo)

Our travel guide in Beijing was Leo. Leo is the 76th generation of Confucius, a history that he is very proud of. Leo may not be the philosopher his ancestor was, but he is a brilliant tour guide and an entrepreneur de luxe ! Because of his ingenuity and his amazing network of contacts, we had hitched rides on the rickshaws and had lunch in one of the hutongs - the old courtyard style residential areas reminiscent of the old Beijing.

The Seal. The box that contains your name, stamp and Chinese horoscope sign.

After Leo had shared how each child is given a seal that contains your family name and the animal category you belong to, we were all gaga and ordered seals for our family members right there on the bus.  A few of our colleagues had seals made for their schools as well. After explaining to us how to relieve headaches, Leo had secured three or four massages for his masseuse Chinese business counterparts.  We knew we had a sales pitch coming every morning, but what the heck - all of us had a richer experience because of Leo's tour guide mastery.

We also learned that in China, you need to obtain a car number plate before you can buy a car. Your name goes into a lottery and when you are selected, then only can you receive a number plate that enables you to become a car owner. Leo told us that his friend who has been a businessman for more than five years, is still waiting for his name to be selected. According to Leo, those who are born in Beijing, seem to enjoy preference.

Another interesting fact is that nobody in China can own land. All the land belongs to the government. You can lease a home for 75 years, though.

Leo and I with the sunflower head that survived.

We were called the Sunflower group because Leo used a large Sunflower as our Group Symbol. By the end of Day 1, the massive sunflower leaves had fallen off and only the centre remained. Obviously, that sunflower was made in China, we teased, but the joke fell flat because Leo missed out on the nuance of inferior Chinese goods we are often exposed to in South Africa!

Enjoying Forbidden City, lunch in a Hutong and Summer Palace

But, let me do a quick preview of the cultural and historical sights we saw on our first day in Beijing.

The Forbidden City

Group posing in Tiananmen Square

You enter the Forbidden City via Tiananmen Square, the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  After this you reach the main entrance to the palace, The Meridian Gate.  The Emperor's palace had 9999 rooms. The Forbidden City was home to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. You can still see the moat that surroundeds the Forbidden City.

All the tourists at the Meridian Gate

When you pass through the Meridian Gate, you enter a large courtyard in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  During the Ming Dynasty, the officials gathered at the gate every morning to brief the emperor.

The courtyard

The Forbidden City is divided into a working area and a family area. You enter from the south into the working area. No women, not even the empress, was allowed to enter the working area.

Throne in Hall of Supreme Harmony

The 20,000-strong Imperial army were all eunuchs, according to Leo. The emperor was the only real man at Forbidden city. Then the emperor also had many concubines. During the Ming Dynasty, the emperor chose young women from all the groups in China.

Meeting a Chinese family

The story about the concubine's service to the emperor was amusing.  Every night the emperor would choose 4-5 girls to be of service to him. Each service would last 45 minutes. The eunuch in charge would burn three sticks of incense consecutively ( 15 minutes each) to measure the time. The quality of the girl's service would be rated and each one would receive a bangle of either bronze, silver, gold or jade.   Receiving a jade bangle meant you were one of the emperor's favourites and you would be called again by the emperor.

North gate exit

Visit to Summer Palace

This is where the Dragon Queen lived. She was one of the  mother of one of the emperors who built the Summer Palace for her enjoyment. 

Lunch in a hutong

Rodney and I hitching a ride to the hutong where we were going to have lunch.

We had lunch at a home in a hutong.  We took a rickshaw ride to our home-restaurant. These courtyard houses do not have bathrooms and toilets.  The residents have to use the public toilets and public baths. During the day when these home owners run their restaurants, their beds become the seating area.

hutong scenes

It is here in the hutong area where we also had our real experience of bargaining and haggling with the street traders.  If you show any sign of interest, these - mostly women - would not let you go.

My driver

We learned how to drive a hard bargain and left the hutongs with full tummies and loads of souvenirs for the folk at home.

One of the street traders going home to stock up

That was a busy, busy but fun-filled day in Beijing.

Norma and Landie enjoying lunch at the hutong restaurant.

scene in hutong.


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