The Pleasure of the Forbidden

Day 24, Grand Asia 2017

Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017 – Tianjin/Beijing, China

“Happy group, sticky rice!”

That became our motto as our tour group of 12 walked the two miles today by Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City of Beijing. We knew just what our guide Sonia meant. The happy group stays together like sticky rice and doesn’t get lost in the throngs. If we had to search for someone, or wait for laggards, we wouldn’t see all the sights.

DSC07465We started out actually missing the sights inside Tiananmen Square. The world’s largest square, site of so much of China’s history, is closed to the public for two weeks for the Communist Party Congress. As President Xi Jinping was solidifying power in the Great Hall of the People, we were photographing the building from outside Tiananmen Square. The view impressed even from across the street.

The day started with a huge breakfast buffet in our downtown Beijing hotel – your choice of Western and Asian breakfast treats. We were glad we had spent the night. Breakfast was important – after climbing to the Great Wall the day before, we had a lot of walking ahead of us today, with numerous stairways and ramps to negotiate.

Because we had started early, we were among the few Caucasians in the crowds. Sonia said typically her foreign tour groups started later in the morning. Soldiers and police standing at attention guarded the blocks around the square. Large fire extinguishers sat by the side of many – we guessed to repel any disturbance. Of course there was none.

DSC07474aThe Forbidden City has three sections – administrative, residential and garden. Immense buildings line the center as you move through many sections. We walked to one side, which tended to have gently sloping ramps rather than stairs. More than one person in our group was appreciative.

DSC07533We explored the courtyard where the young boy emperor spent his days at the end of the Qing Dynasty (and where parts of The Last Emperor were filmed). He studied in rooms that overlooked the gardens.

DSC07558Our final stop of the morning was at the Temple of Heaven, a Taoist temple built in the 15th century. It is completely wooden with no nails, placed in a large park where seniors gather today to play cards (gambling? what gambling?) and mothers to seek spouses for their children who haven’t yet married.

img_0118 The temple is considered an iconic image of Beijing, perhaps only recently supplanted by the Birds Nest Olympic Stadium. It was a good place for a group photo. Our guide Sonia suggested all the women dip down for the picture, but we all agreed afterward that we looked more like we were practicing for the squatty Asian toilets. Thank goodness for cropping.

Again we had a delicious local lunch around a large table laden with dishes. The restaurant near the temple served a city version of the country meal we ate the day before, Sonia said. We didn’t hold back on the Chinese beer, knowing we could sleep it off on the long drive back to the port of Tianjin.

One advantage of a ship-sponsored tour is the assurance that the ship will wait if you return late. We planned to arrive at least an hour before “all aboard” because ships don’t wait for private tour groups. We hadn’t planned on a flat tire along the way.

After a lot of work to break the lug nuts, our driver and some helpers at the rest area where we stopped replaced the tire. While we waited, we were entertained by overhead flight formations by a group of six Chinese fighters. Perhaps they were practicing for the Communist Party Congress. We made the ship with 45 minutes to spare. (Our tour company had a second tour bus waiting with us and third on the way in case we needed to abandon the bus.)

img_0470Joyce, my friend who also is on this cruise, celebrated her birthday at dinner with a serenade by the Indonesian dinner crew. After two packed days, we are looking forward to two sea days before we arrive in Shanghai.