China for the New Year (3): Beijing

On our first full day in Beijing, we visited two major locations in and around the enormously expansive Tiananmen Square. The security in the square is phenomenal: one can only enter through guarded points where Chinese citizens have their identity cards electronically scanned; at a further security point, all bags are x-rayed; and everywhere there are police and military, not to mention the plain clothes personnel.

In the morning, we went to the National Museum of China. The building was completed in 1959 and the present museum – a merger of two former ones – was established in 2003 so everything is very modern. It receives 7.6 million visitors a year, making it the most popular museum in the world (just before the National Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.). There are 10 galleries presenting the history of Ancient China from prehistoric times to the Ming & Qing Dynasties – everything from a burial costume made of pieces of jade linked by gold tread and a couple of the world famous terracotta warriors.

Somehow I managed to drop my iPhone without noticing it and amazingly about half an hour later it was presented to me by a museum attendant who had searched the building for me. I have my name on the back of the mobile so it was clear that it belonged to a foreigner and, at this time of year, I was virtually the only foreigner in the place.

In the afternoon, we visited the Forbidden City, entering on the north side of Tiananmen Square where the entrance is still dominated by a huge picture of Mao. The enormous complex is said to comprise 9,999 rooms (only God in Heaven can have 10,000 – a special number for the Chinese). The palace was the residence of 24 Ming and Qing emperors and ordinary mortals were forbidden to enter which gave the location its unusual name.

This was my fourth time in this amazing location so I did not need to take many photographs and just savoured the experience as far as the cold would allow. But it was so bitterly cold (around -10C) that the wide moats were totally frozen and Hua’s iPhone literally froze up. Again I was almost the only foreigner in sight and I was asked to be included in a photograph with a local.

In the evening, we ate at a restaurant specialising in Beijing duck and enjoyed entertainment involving music, dancing, puppetry, juggling and more. A splendid end to a wonderful day.


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