Friday, January 25, 2013

Day 1 Beijing by Angela Kern

Our first full day in Beijing was undeniably busy; we were going, going, going all day long. We got to sleep in until about 8:30 and didn't leave until nine. I was practically grateful because we haven't really had a moment to catch our breaths since we landed in Xi'an, it's just been one thing after another without any breaks in between. Being constantly busy is, if a little draining, something I wouldn't trade for the world! We have had so many opportunities to experience unique and exciting adventures, I'm glad to say that we have hit most of the things you're supposed to do here as well as experiencing many unique moments.
 When we arrived at our first stop, Tienanmen Square, I was in awe. The history of the place makes standing in the middle of the square overwhelming. Everyone is bustling and taking photos on the same ground where deadly fights fought for entertainment during the Ming and Ching dynasties, where hundreds of college students were killed during the ten year cultural revolution. I grew up hearing about the bravery of those young adults and I know that Tienanmen was the focal point of the cultural revolution here in China. The dark history of the square is starkly contrasted by the capitalist attitude that now predominates. Everyone was either selling or buying something there, not surprising for China. I liked the juxtaposition, it allowed you to really visualize the modern, past, and ancient China. China is definitely a mixture of the two; you find the latest architecture in the entire world right next to sites with enough history that people travel from all over the world to see them.
 From the square we entered the Forbidden City where the emperor stayed during the later Chinese dynasties. It was incredibly large. The enormous city was built with 9999.5 rooms because heaven was said to have 10,000 rooms. Although the emperor thought he was close to the status of a good, he didn't want to offend them by having the same number of rooms in his house. He was also a little paranoid and built a 50 meter most and an impenetrable most around his city to keep invaders out. He even built the ground of the city 7 meters deep of brick precariously placed so they would collapse of an assassin tried to dig under the city. Most emperors had between 10,000 and 20,000 concubines at any given time. No other men were allowed to have relations with these women, and as an added precaution, the emperor only employed eunuchs. The city was very private and as you walk further back, it becomes more private. In the front, the emperor would entertain audiences, but in the back only his favorite concubines could stay. The whole universe pretty much revolved around this  emperor.

All of the buildings were very beautiful and the time were elegant. We mostly saw rooms meant for concubines and were told that the emperor hardly ever slept in his own (larger) room; he had an affinity for the grandiose.
 The Forbidden City want exactly what I was expecting, but it was awe-inspiring if simply for the fact that it let us better understand the dynamics of the royalty in ancient China.
 Next we made our way to the Temple of Heaven. It's another Buddhist temple, but it was much bigger and more ornate than what we've seen previously. There was a pavilion with nine tears leading up to a white circular platform. If you stand in the middle of it, legend says that you get to make one wish. I won't tell you all what my wish was, but I think this one may work because the power of Buddha was behind it. The walkway up to the main temple had a granite row up the middle of it. During dynastic China, only the emperor could walk straight up the middle. We all walked up that way and felt very regal. The actual temple was definitely the coolest ones I've seen yet. It was designed so that the monks could talk to each other at opposite ends of the temple courtyard. The wall around the temple is circular and you can hear people from the opposite end, about 200 meters away, when they are talking in a normal voice. The temple itself was similar to the others we've been to, with the obligatory big statue of Buddha in the middle. These temples are incredibly beautiful and serene.
 After the temple, we went to an acrobat show. It was incredible! All of the people were so talented, I can't figure out why they didn't all go to the Olympics. Seriously, they were doing tricks that I had never even thought of. One guy balanced on a ladder with another guy and a little girl on his back. He then proceeded to pick up two other little girls while balancing solely on his two small metal ends of the ladder. There was another whole group of girls twirling the plates. They spun plates on long sticks and did tricks, never letting even one plate fall. They climbed on each other, did walk-overs, and one girl bent over backwards to grab a flower out of a bucket with her teeth. There was a couple that did the ribbon dancing like they do in Los Vegas where they have two thick banners of silk coming from the ceiling and the dancers wrap themselves in it and then fly over the stage while dancing. It was beautiful to watch, but a little frightening, too. There was one point where the woman wrapped a rope around her neck and then was hoisted into the air while spinning at about a thousand rpms. The most amazing of all, though, was the motorcycles in the big round cage. These crazy Chinese people rode their motorcycles in a round cage and fit five motorcycles in there. Every time they came out to add another bike, the entire audience went insane! They were certainly dare devils.  We had one more show left, a traditional Beijing opera. While I'm glad I had the chance to try it, Beijing opera certainly is not for everyone. After watching the insane motocross, the shrill and slow-moving opera was an altogether different experience. We all really liked the fact that there were subtitles in English! The actors were really talented. One of the stories was about a sword fight in the dark. Both men were turning flips and practicing complicated sword play while singing, it was impressive. The opera was worth going...once.
Beijing is a huge city full of life, there is just so much to see. I can't wait to see more of the city and explore the area.

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