Wanderlust: Beijing Tourist Day

I called this post Beijing tourist day because it's the day I went to all the super touristy sites. Because the smog and pollution was higher than what was safe for babies, I went out and about on my own to see the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. Armed with pages from the Chinese taxi book, I navigated between the sites.

My first stop was the Temple of Heaven where there is an expansive temple and another large park. I did a walking tour with a headset of the temple, which provided a ton of information. The temple lies in the center, with park extending from all sides. People enjoy the same kinds of activities as I saw at Jingshan Park, and I was even lucky enough to catch a man practicing his calligraphy. Paths through the park lead to the temple, and one main stone path leads from the park entrance to the temple entrance. There are different "lanes" of stone (it varies in color) on this main path. The most fascinating thing to me was that the narrowest part of the stone path that leads directly to the temple was reserved for the gods and no one was allowed to walk on it. It runs right down the middle, with a path on each side of it, which were reserved for the emperor. Along with the temple, there is also a large circular wall called the Echo Wall or the Whispering Wall because if it is quiet enough a person should be able to stand in one spot and speak in a normal voice to a person in another spot on the wall to communicate. There are waaaaay too many tourists (not to mention a giant school field trip the day I was there!) to be able to properly test it out. 

After the temple I made my way over to Tiananmen Square. Words can't quite do it justice to paint a picture of the security. For at least a quarter of a mile in all directions from the square, the streets are lined with waist high white metal fences. In order to get in to square you have to walk under these tunnels that eventually come up at the square. The police patrol the square as well because it is known as the spot for protesting. Mao's body is on display there, but I did not arrive early enough, and the line was already hundreds of people deep. The most surprising thing, as a tourist, is that there is the Monument to the People's Heroes, which is pictured below, but no plaque or sign that explains the significance of the square. There were HUNDREDS of people there, but nothing containing information. Although the events of the square, particularly the June Fourth Incident, are well known to most people in China, the Communist party does not acknowledge its existence. Having never been to a Communist country before, it is eye opening and chilling to see parts of history ignored, but it also made me think about revisionist history in our own textbooks. How easy it is to gloss over harsh realities so students never fully understand the weight of it. 

The square sits in front of the Forbidden City (the palace). Although tourists are allowed in the Forbidden City, you are only able to move from one end to the other in basically a straight path. The city actually spreads out in all directions but those are closed to tourists. Although the architecture itself is impressive, especially the ceilings in certain areas you'll notice, the bigger awe is that it was built from 1406-1420. It's almost 600 years old! But don't worry, that does not stop people from taking all kinds of selfies (many where they shouldn't be I'm sure!) and to touch everything even if the sign says not to. I even witnessed a woman put her child into the fenced off area for one of the copper pots to get a picture. People watching all day was just as interesting as seeing the sites themselves!

Kendra Engel

K. Engel Photography, 527 Plain Street, Stoughton, MA, 02072