Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Hidden Forbidden City

One of the nice things about being in a place like this (or Washington, DC for that matter) is that you can delve deeply into the city's culture and history. You know, go beyond the "A-list" set of spots to check out.

The Forbidden City is, no doubt, on the "must see" itinerary for anyone setting foot in Beijing. And so, in 2004, we passed through with our group. Unfortunately, as is always the case for tour travel, we were told be our guide we had "five minutes to take pictures" at each location before moving on. Understandable, as we had a tight schedule. But we knew there just had to be more than the handful of gates and palaces we were taken to.

So there we were, finally back in the Forbidden City...on our own terms. Plenty of time to take breaks and eat the snacks we had brought (chips, wafers, peaches, cookies, carrots). Plenty of time to watch the crowds wing by. Plenty of time to check out a few off-the-beaten-path spots buried deep in the Forbidden City. Like...

Nine-Dragon Screen. We've now seen two of the three such screens there supposedly are around China. Looks like it's off to Shanxi province!

The concubine's well. Legend has it, that when the Nationalists were closing in on the Forbidden City, the Empress Dowager Cixi ordered one of the palace eunuchs to throw this one concubine down a well and drown her. (Others say she jumped in rather than be taken by the rebels.) Looking at the size of this well, I'm skeptical about this rendering of history. But it does add to the lore of the Forbidden City...



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