this morning saw us headed off to the forbidden city, an UNESCO world heritage site and the supreme origin of all of the images the western world conjures when they think of chinese style. we started off at the north end, rather than the more popular huge south gate, so our wanderings started off in the labyrinth of smaller buildings in the rear of the palace complex. by “smaller,” i mean that they ranged in size from a large western house to a mansion – these were still grand in scale.
these smaller buildings, homes of concubines-to-be and empresses dowager, really illustrated how this was in fact a city’s worth of buildings within the walled off enclave, not solely the huge courtyards that cinematographers are so fond of. what makes the site so impressive (other than it’s venerable age and sheer size, of course) is how intricately handmade everything is. each ridge of each rooftop is tipped in a ceramic finial of imperial yellow.
each corner of each rooftop has its own collection of guardian beasts – more beasts for more venerable structures.
after we were thoroughly impressed at the minutiae of detail on a smaller scale, we wandered through those epically huge courtyards, too.
after another massive lunch, we headed out to Beijing’s other super tourist destination, the silk market. slightly shady dealings within innumerable stalls go on for 8 stories or so, selling everything from tea to clothes to toys. bargaining is the modus operandi, a skill i am sorely lacking in (Chris tried to coach me before i left, and our guides were immensely helpful, but still). apparently, the rule for tourists goes that when quoted a price, you should counter-offer only about 10% of it, and stick to your guns. agreeing at less than 1/3 the start price is good, less if you can swing it. amidst the whirlwind of haggling and the overwhelming selections available, we sat down on some tiny stools for a while to sample some tea.
the tea shop had a variety of things available loose in large bulk canisters. you selected what you were interested in and sat down at a wooden table with the vendor. the table itself was a marvelous object carved out of a huge single tree knot, with smooth curvy shelves that sloped gently down towards each other. the final destination for these broad channels carved into the wood was a drain located near the seller, so you could apparently dump it out if you weren’t interested, like as in a wine spittoon. she had a pot bubbling away at the highest point of the table, which contained a bunch of tiny teacups kept hot. she made a sample of each kind of tea and poured it out for everyone in these piping little cups, then repeated for each different one. the tea was probably the stuff i spent most on today, since there was no way to pick just one.
it’s been a super weekend…back to work tomorrow.