Saturday, January 23, 2010
En route to the start point of my guidebook walking tour I noticed that a few stops down the line was the Military Museum. I do enjoy displays of military hardware, so making that my first stop was a natural choice. While the various tanks, jets and missiles were of interest, what was even better was the Party slant to everything.
On the upper floors were displays dedicated to China in the Second World War, as well as the civil war that followed. Going through the WWII displays was fascinating, as mixed in with plenty of real history was plenty of exaggeration and even a few outright falsehoods. Going through the chronology, one would think that Chairman Mao whipped the Imperial Japanese Army all by himself!
After my perusal of the Military Museum, I headed back to the center of town to start the walking tour. Following the directions in the guide book, I walked to the right of the vast Mao portrait on the main entrance to the Forbidden City. Along the side there is another, smaller entrance that leads to the Imperial Ancestral Temple.
This complex, while not as large or epic in scale as the Forbidden City itself, was still quite large in its own right. The layout is very similar, and the vast plazas and gardens were quite empty, as all the tourists and sightseers head straight for the Forbidden City.
While I didn't quite have the whole place to myself, I certainly had far fewer people to contend with when framing my shots, which is certainly a rarity in China. The warmer temperatures and blue sky helped raise my spirits after the chill gray of the previous day.
I find that there is a delightful contrast between Ming Dynasty imperial architecture and the Japanese styles from the same time period. The Edo era Japanese styles you see are almost black and white compared to the brilliant reds, yellows, and greens that cover the historic sights in Beijing.
After exiting from the temple and skirting the side of the Forbidden City and its moat I headed into the twisty neighborhood hutongs that abut the east side of the palace.
These central areas do keep the old courtyard house style of living, but most have been heavily refurbished and are now stylish homes for government bureaucrats. While there are remnants of old Beijing still to be found, they are increasingly more difficult to track down, especially in the wake of redevelopment for the Olympics.
Footsore and tired, I came to the end of the tour, the trendy pedestrian mall of Wangfujing street. My hotel was located quite close to Wangfujing street and its plethora of upscale department stores, book stores, shopping arcades and restaurants. Though footsore and a little chill, bedtime came fairly early. I was eager for the next day to arrive, as I was off to the Great Wall!