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Friday, 01 January 2021

Fortunate Cookies: A Father-Daughter Adventure in China - Page 2

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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The World’s Largest (and Most Controversial) Public Square

As we approached Tiananmen Square, our guide warned us not to talk to openly about politics. Although we saw no signs of oppression during our visit, it still exists today, and tempers flare when the subject of the student protests in the late 1980s is brought up. We were here to visit history, not create it, so we refrained from making any statements and simply looked for the sights to leave impressions on us.


Tiananmen Square is the world’s largest public square of its kind. Perhaps it’s most well-known feature is Mao’s Mausoleum, where the refrigerated body of Chairman Mao rests beneath rose-tinted glass and is raised for public viewing on a daily basis. In the center of the square is the picturesque obelisk, the Monument to the People’s heroes. Closing in the sides of the square on either side of the mausoleum and monument, are the China National Museum and the Great Hall of the People—a grand museum and seat of the Chinese legislature, respectively.


On the far ends of People’s Square are perhaps more notable sites that date further back. On one end is the Qian Men, consisting of an Arrow Tower and the Zhengyang Men, together forming a double gate. The second is now home to a museum of Beijing history.


The other end of the square is Tiananmen—the Ming Dynasty gate to the Forbidden City, where Mao’s enormous portrait hangs. This is where Chairman Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It seems the appropriate place for such a declaration, appearing to draw a stark line between the concrete of industrial Tiananmen Square and the elaborate adornments of Imperial China’s Forbidden City.


Among the Chinese, it also happens to be the most desirable photo op. Vacationers have snapped photos of themselves and their families, friends, and colleagues with Mao’s portrait hanging on the Heavenly Gate behind them for decades. Most people think of the enormous portrait as “original,” but it actually needs to be repainted and replaced every year due to the effects of weather.


Today, Chinese tourists from around the nation asked to have their pictures taken in front of Mao’s portrait with us. Touristy Mao caps crowning us, we let them take some selfies.


Permitted Stroll through the Forbidden City

After we explored Tiananmen Square, we approached Mao’s enormous portrait, and walked through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, entering the Forbidden City.


Here in the heart of the city, we toured the main line down the center of the official Palace Museum. Completed in 1420 and designed with the harmonious principles of yin and yang, with an eye to nature, the Forbidden City is China’s most masterful work of architecture.


Every building we crossed in this magnificent place looked fit for an Emperor, from the gates and halls to the offices and storehouses—all decorated in the same style. Even the bathrooms were beautiful. In fact, they were designed to be fit for an emperor.


After passing through Meridian Gate, we crossed one of the five marble bridges and proceeded up to the Gate of Supreme Harmony, where the Emperor would receive visitors and sometimes host banquets. Beyond the Gate of Supreme Harmony, we took in the larger courtyard and climbed the stairs to the Hall of Supreme Harmony—the largest hall in the palace and the Emperor’s main throne room. Between the sets of stairs was a long carriageway of carved marble; in the carvings were the images of dragons and pearls and clouds. This carriageway was for the Emperor alone.


At the top of the stairs and carriageway, outside the Hall of Supreme Harmony, we marveled at such details as the statues, sundial, bronze cauldrons, and the roof guardians that looked down from the corners of the halls like Chinese gargoyles.


Next in the imperial line was the Hall of Middle Harmony, a smaller hall where the Emperor would go before entering the Supreme Hall for ceremonies. All the while, as we took in the halls at the center of the long courtyard, the sides of the palace area was closed in by decorative walls of buildings, making this much like an much classier and more majestic version of the Hutong’s courtyard apartments. It’s said that the Forbidden City features 9,999 rooms and antechambers. It felt as though we stepped back in time to Imperial China.


Beyond the Hall of Middle Harmony, we passed by the Hall of Preserving Harmony, and then exited through the Gate of Heavenly Purity. As we left the Palace Museum, we were given one last glimpse as one of the four beautiful arrow towers towered above us and stayed with us—in the distance—for some time as we walked away.


Although we were captivated all the while, we spent hours walking through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, not realizing how much time had passed until the sun was setting. All this after visiting the Imperial retreat at the Summer Palace. Such a day could only end with a meal fit for an Emperor. Back at the private dining area at our hotel, we were in for a treat.


Peking duck is the region’s specialty, and one of China’s favorite dishes—sort of like a holiday turkey dinner in the United States. After snacking on enough dishes spinning on our lazy Susan to make a meal in itself, our Peking duck was served. The duck was cooked to perfection in a painstakingly precise way to keep the inside juicy and the outside crispy—while allowing the grease to fall away.


Once we finished our feast, we were ready to sleep. Duck may not have the same reputation as turkey for making people sleepy, but combined with all of the impressive sights and activities of the day, it certainly sent us quickly on our way to a deep sleep fit for a king—or Emperor.



Jade-tinted Glasses

After another hearty breakfast, we began another eventful day in Beijing. At the Jade Museum, we learned how jade is harvested, intricately carved, painstakingly polished, and how to tell the difference between real and fake jade. (Notice a trend here? First lessons to detect fake pearls, then jade. Knock-off bags and watches aren’t the only counterfeit items readily available from Chinese street vendors—visitors must watch for fake jade, pearls, and jewelry as well.)


So how do tell whether your jade is true? Real jade is much colder and has a higher pitched sound when you flick it. Jade has the some of the same symbolism and emotion that the western world associates with diamonds. Our guide explained that when a Chinese man proposes, he uses a solid jade bangle (or bracelet) instead of a diamond ring.


And don’t worry if your jade bangle breaks—it’s actually good luck (especially for the store selling them). The longer you wear a jade bangle, the darker it becomes. The oil from your skin causes the color to change. That’s a far cry better than cheaper jewelry that can change the color of your skin green.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 13 January 2021

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