Forbidden City

During my stay in Beijing, I of course had to also visit the Forbidden City, a remarkable place and the center of power in China for several hundred years. I thought I already knew it, having watched The Last Emperor several times when I was growing up. Somehow it made it onto television around the winter holidays a few times. I’m not really sure how to convey my feelings about the sprawling palace complex — timelessness and serenity mixed together with mass-scale tourism and consumerism left me perplexed. At once grandiose and terrible, majestic and despicable.

See the other Beijing galleries and blog posts about streets in Beijing and the Fayuan temple.

throngs of tourists

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looking back out toward Tianenmen squareIMG_6542 IMG_6547 IMG_6552




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colorful roofs

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emeperor’s throne

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selfie with 1000 of my friendsIMG_6583

some roofs are not as manicured as others…IMG_6593 IMG_6594

drawers for jade stampsIMG_6598

residential quarter

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If I had to live in the forbidden city I would live hereIMG_6619 IMG_6622 IMG_6640 IMG_6643 IMG_6648 IMG_6341


First day in Beijing. A lot of it feels strangely familiar, having spent half of my childhood in another sprawling metropolis of a similar size. Chaotic traffic, thick haze, people in the streets. So far, though, Beijing feels calmer somehow and less frantic. I’m staying in a hotel that is a converted courtyard house in a hutong (old-style alley) neighborhood of Dongcheng — apparently the grid of these alleyways was initiated after the Mongols leveled the city. They have been bulldozed in recent years in lots of other parts of the city to make space for new developments, but particularly in this neighborhood they prevail. The hutong feel like real neighborhoods, densely packed with residential dwellings and businesses and people seem to spend a lot of time conversing outside, sitting  on make-shift stools. There is food everywhere. Sometimes small grills are installed on the sides of buildings. Many people eat on the street, bent over low tables, drinking beer. Mostly, I’m blown away by the complete lack of noise — the hutong are narrow and although I would guess that occasionally driving a car through here is unavoidable (my taxi dropped me off in front of the hotel, but it would’ve been faster to walk from the main road), it seems that 90% of the traffic is either bicycles or some sort of electric bikes. In other words, all this adds up to basically zero noise apart from the occasional bell or horn, which is impressive given the density of the population. The low traffic also makes these alleys a nice place for a stroll…

taxi at the Bell Tower

peering through the fence at the Bell Tower

the variety of bikes is quite impressive — these have some sort of attachement from the top of the headset to the axle whose function I don’t understand… 

delicious cold yogurt drinks

finally got a picture of these two boys, when the ladies walking by decided to pose as well

entrance to the Nanluogu Xiang street — note the squadron of 15-year-old policemen on the right

one of my favorite kinds of bikes so far, they’re like a mini car

lots of vegetable sellers just off Nanluogu Xiang