Saturday, November 13, 2010

Let the Tour Begin!

I woke up early in the morning, still getting my internal clock reset. When Jason awoke, we headed down to meet Dad in the lobby of our quite lavish hotel. As more people congregated I began to wonder if they were all part of our tour. There must have been a few dozen people, obviously not Chinese, milling about.

Jimmy found us and asked us how breakfast was. We had not had breakfast, as we weren't sure if we were going as a group or what. Turns out we were supposed to eat at the hotel restaurant and then come to the lobby. As the tour bus was leaving in a few minutes, Jason and I raced up to the restaurant and after a brief explanation asked a very nice man named Simon if we could take some food to go. Simon is a British ex-pat and a manager of the hotel. He made sure we got take away boxes and we packed up some food for the three of us.

When we returned to the lobby our group was mustering around Jimmy to get name tags that also had Jimmy's cell phone number on the back. Much to my relief, it looked like our group was only twenty or so. Most of the people on the trip looked newly retired. But we did have a couple of people my age. There were also to sisters along who looked a little frail. I wondered how they would do with all of the walking that was advertised on this trip!

We headed to the bus and introduced ourselves. Then it was off to our first destination. Tiananmen Square!

The bus disembarked us across the street from the square. One thing about it, it is HUGE. In the above photo you can see the old archers gate from the wall, and the back side of Mao's Tomb. Our two little old sisters had wheelchairs, which was good. We had to pass through a security checkpoint (the little tent there) to get into the square proper, and then we walked, quite briskly, towards the gate to the Forbidden City.

Me and Mao
That's Jimmy holding the flag there and pointing.

We had the option to stand in line to see Mao's body, but the two hour wait for the ten second peek seemed a little silly to all of us, and we continued the march to the other side of the square. We stopped about here...

to take a group picture, which was then sold in a commemorative book. Dad got one for us to share.

Finally we got to the line heading into the Forbidden City.

As we entered the Forbidden city across bridges that crossed a moat, we entered the first courtyard. It was pretty gargantuan as well. Seems like Texas really has nothing on how the ancient Chinese built things. The first courtyard lead to another gate similar to the one we just passed through.

Passing through that gate was a long walk to the archers gate.

Apparently in times of conflict, they would leave the first two gates open for the enemy to charge through. When they finally got to this monster, they were tired and frustrated. They would pack into this three walled trap trying to get through the gates, and the archers would stand up and start ploinking away.

Through this gate we entered one of the neatest courtyards. It had a river running through it. Tactical? Yes. But very pretty none the less.

Finally it was time to go through the final gates to the palace of the Emperor.

We were all a little awestruck standing there at the vast panorama in front of us.





Here we are at the Emperor's Palace.

We crossed the massive courtyard and were told by Jimmy that we could go up to where the crowd was mashing in to get a look and a picture of the Emperors Throne.

Now, prior to our trip, my wife was very concerned because both my father and I had plans for getting pictures of ourselves sitting on the throne. When we finally crowded our way to the front though, these plans vanished like the morning fog... well, the morning fog in a clean air place. It never really burned away in Beijing...just turned to smog. Anyway, there was a tummy high metal fence blocking the doors, and I am certain that before we could get over that, across the floor, past the rope, up the steps, on the throne, pictures taken, and back out to disappear in the crowd (a couple of big bearded white guys disappearing in the crowd?) That we would be apprehended and our cameras confiscated.

So we settled for pictures. Here it is folks. The Throne of the Emperor of China.

What? You were expecting some golden toilet joke or something?

Unfortunately, it was here that our trip had a major incident. As the crowd pressed in around us to see and get pictures as well, some low life picked the wallet from Dad's pocket.
Fortunately, Jason used Jimmy's cell phone to call his wife who then called mom who then cancelled all of the credit cards.
Unfortunately, it tainted a good majority of the rest of the day. I had seen the guy bump up against Dad, and at the time it registered as weird in my head for some reason. When I replayed it minutes later, I realized that the guy had plenty of room to go by Dad without smashing against him. We were all so frustrated. And having seen the guy I spent the next hour scanning faces, looking for him.

I took pictures of stuff as we went, because I knew that I would miss most of it, and indeed have no memories of the rest of the Forbidden City other than the pictures I took. Grr.

So we walked more and saw the back of the palace...

concubine houses with neat incense burners in front...

The Emperor had around 300 concubines, each with their own little areas. He also had a pretty rock garden to take his concubine on dates...

complete with a little pagoda where the two lovebirds could, as Jimmy put it, express their royal love...

The view through the gate we exited...

the moat around the city...

By the time we sat down for lunch I was pretty well over the grumpies. Then the food came...

Already being predisposed to grumpiness because of the pickpocket, I was frustrated at the lack of decorum shown by my tour mates that first meal we shared together. Almost as soon as the first plate hit the lazy susan it began spinning and people filled their plates. I had to bite my tongue a number of times because these folks had not received the education we had the night before on how to share a meal. It ended up being more of a feeding frenzy. And a silent one at that, since no matter how many times one of the Shaffer men tried starting a conversation with a question - So, where are you from? or What brings you to China? - it was like sitting with teenagers. One word answers and awkward silence.

The afternoon would hold a trip to the Summer Palace. A lavish city near a man made lake with a fascinating history of it's own. I hoped we could make the best of it.

More Later

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