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May 17, 2005

Beijing Photos: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and Dashanzi Art District (798 Factory District)

Sorry we’ve been quiet lately; all is well. We’ve been in remote parts of western China, and what little web access we did have didn’t allow us to upload photos, so we’re a bit behind in our posting. This post contains four sets of photos from Beijing: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and Dashanzi Art District (798 Factory District).

After these Beijing photos, you can expect Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors; Urumqi (a western, part-Muslim city); an overnight hiking trip to Heaven Lake including a night sleeping in a local’s Yurt; a 24 hour train ride to Kashgar on the far western edge of China near Pakistan and Central Asia; Kashgar; and photos of the wild, amazing, weekend market there.

Today we’re back in southeastern China, in the city of Chengdu in the heart of the Sichuan province. We‘ve got a few more creature comforts, including broadband in our room. Thursday we fly to Thailand. I hope to get more posts up before then.

Forbidden City (29 photos)

The Forbidden City was crazy - tons of people, lots of construction going on, etc. There was even a Starbucks  located within the city walls! It’s pretty funny when you think about the history of this place and how it was so off limits, only to find an American company within it's walls less than a century later. The complex is comprised of 9999 buildings/rooms. It was kept under 10,000 because 10k meant infinity and had other religious meaning. Many of the rooms contain various museum collections, such as metal work, sculpture, art and pottery. We breezed through a bunch of them; they were all fairly crowded and I’m not well versed in the art so it didn’t grab me too much. Some of the larger buildings were pretty impressive and imposing though. Long sweeping rooflines, with good colors and shapes. As you can see on some of the photos, the eves of each roof have various generally-animistic sculptures and decorations. Lots of people and it was pretty hot so we kept moving.

Tiananmen Square (18 photos)

After a few hours at the Forbidden City, we left and walked south toward Tiananmen Square. We were there during Labor Week (May 1-6, and a country-wide holiday) so it was extra decorated and populated. It had been a long day in the sun, so Aimee went home before I did. I walked around for a while, and lots of people came up to talk to me and even take pictures with me. It was actually pretty funny, kids, teenagers and parents would flag me down and ask to take a picture with me. At one point, I actually had a line of people waiting to take photos. It was a pretty weird feeling, but everybody was nice and it was fun to help them practice English and answer various questions. For me it was a treat to have locals that spoke English to speak with and ask questions. I learned a lot that I wouldn’t have otherwise. (True to the guide book, after chatting with one 20-something couple for 10 or 15 minutes, he told me he was an art student and walked me to his gallery. That I was a backpacker with no way to transport things was my out, and he was very gracious.) I really liked the square. It was intense to be there and think about it's history and important. At the same time, it was nice to see so many people having fun and enjoying the weather and the public space. As evening came, literally 100’s of people brought out kites, and parts of the sky filled with all types. Also with evening came large groups of Chinese soldiers marching across the square in formation, preparing to lower the flags at sunset. Quite a sight. Quite a site.

The Great Wall (16 photos)

We opted for a “bike and hike” trip to a part of the The Great Wall that is free from tourists and unrestored. As a result, we got a chance to see the real wall in all its faded and crumbly glory. Much better than a reconstructed one with people chasing you down to buy postcards and t-shirts. The scale was impressive. The side walls were at least three big bricks/blocks thick and the tops of the sides have custom-angled tops instead of the much less labor-intensive flat standard top. It was definitely built to last, and it was clear that a vast labor pool was accessible (to say the least). Even though the dusty (smoggy?) air drastically reduced visibility, it was still awesome to see the wall dip behind a distant hill only to reemerge on the next and the next.

Dashanzi Art Festival, aka 798 Factory District (18 photos)

While we were in Beijing, they were holding the annual Dazhai Art Festival. Nate had read about it in some magazine at home (SF) so we were excited to see it. The coolest part about it was the area itself. Old brick warehouses, German designed, that were once military factories (some kind of Soviet-Chinese venture). The spaces were amazing, but the art was only ok. They also had performance art and other events to go to. Inside this district we ate at this delicious Sichuan place which was filled with local artists. It was cool to see how like-minded people live, eat, dress, and make art in China.


That’s all for now. So far, Chengdu seems to be one of my favorite cities in China (Aimee). We spent most of today at a monastery - ate at a vegetarian restaurant and slowing walked around the grounds - lots of trees and ponds filled with turtles. An oasis in the city. At night we met up with these Israelis we had met a few weeks ago and tried the local “hot pot”. This is where you order a broth, which is placed in the center of the table and is heated through a gas burner. The broth begins to boil and you order tings to cook in it - meat, tofu, veggies.  We had half mushroom broth and half chili oil - it was HOT and good. Highly recommended experience.

Can’t believe we are almost a third of the way through our trip. In both senses: it’s been a long time already with lots left still, yet a big chunk is now behind us. We are sad to leave China, (even though there are some thing we won’t miss -- more on that later).

May 17, 2005 at 08:57 AM | Permalink


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"It was cool to see how like-minded people live, eat, dress, and make art in China."

So were they wearing asics and riding fixed gears too?!!

Nice photos guys. Please, more shots of fashion...tucked in shirts with a snug belt and a little camel is soooooooo not here! have fun glad yer well, jesse

Posted by: jesse | May 17, 2005 9:27:06 AM

wow guys, that was great. i love to take long trips and have my senses nearly over-stimulated while sitting at my desk in milwaukee. pico just found out he is half-chinese.

Posted by: nick petty | May 17, 2005 10:43:03 AM

There`s nothing antique or precious in Forbidden City. Those are all taken to Taiwan since 1949 from the communist China.

That`s what I though when I was in Forbidden City.

Posted by: Hedger | May 21, 2005 11:09:36 AM

did people live in the old forbidden city?

Posted by: megan | Feb 29, 2008 9:45:29 AM

Glad you liked the hotpot - that's my favorite and common in Beijing too although the spicy version is a staple in Chengdu.

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