Friday, April 10, 2009

Not enough time

There were thousands of people. People of all kinds, mostly Chinese, flowed though arches, gates and over bridges. A surging flood of humanity, they parted here and came together again, there.
But for all the people, the Forbidden City is a place of calm. Of cool breezes brushed with the heavy scent of Juniper blossom and quiet order. The palace absorbs chaos and channels it through spaces into wide courtyards ringed with red walls.
I could have stayed there for days.
It kept changing. First, it is magnificent and broad. It is the power of the Emperor and his people. And then it is quiet courtyards and cloisters. There are narrow walks behind rows of columns and secret gardens shaded by old pines.
And there are thousands of people. And it is quiet and peaceful. It is a good place to sit and think. To bring a book, perhaps.
"Feng Shui," says Eric.
It was a great tour that, alas, fell a little flat when, somewhat predictably, lunch at a tourist trap was next on the agenda. It wasn't too bad. A little Kung Pao and we were off again. This time it was to the Temple of Heaven but not before a stop at the Pearl Market. It's an official pearl store and they run you through a demo about pearls; how to tell if they are real, where they come from. Actually, Alice, our guide in that place, opened a freshwater oyster for us after prodding both Tracey and me to guess how many pearls were inside. I guessed one. Tracey said nine. Turns out we never counted them all up but there were more than 20 when Alice stopped picking though the stringy carcass of the late Mr. Oyster's body.
No, Catherine, I didn't get you pearls. I hope that you will forgive me (I did guess which string of pearls was the fake, though, with the old rub it on your tooth trick).
But then it was on to the Temple of Heaven which was cool but not quite like the Forbidden Palace. I put a bunch of pictures up but the most interesting thing I can tell you about the Temple of Heaven is that people come from all over Beijing to play cards there, sing and also dance to country-western music.
Huh. I didn't know that.
Next posting will be about the "real" Pearl Market. The one Eric didn't want us to go to.

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