so in an effort to make sure that ronda will have a good time her second time around in china, i've decided that she should repeat the past and visit the places she's already seen and not liked.
actually, this wasn't really my plan but it's what happened. since i hadn't yet seen the forbidden city (after living here for a couple months, just like any good local) ronda decided that we should see it and that she wanted to go back.
i finally, and a little reluctantly, agreed. i would probably have to see it before leaving anyway.
so we struck off to tianaman square to see mao first. this was my second attempt to see mao and it failed. first off, we didn't have any type of id on us and there were signs indicating that you had to carry id. then we also had backpacks on, and there are no bags allowed. we saw someone else try to go in and the guards indicated that they should leave their back pack on the ground near the entrance, where i'm sure it would be waiting for them when they got out. they intelligently declined the offer.
as it turns out, weeks later, i learned from someone over some drinks that there is a large bag check across the street, and these days no one really check for id.
regardless, we felt thwarted and decided to stumble on past mao to see the forbidden city.
the forbidden city was pretty impressive. you don't actually get a feeling for the size of it till you leave it and climb the hill in Jiangshan Park just north of it and look back at it from there. (which we did after we left.)
the entrance area consisted of extremely large plazas where an emperor could inspect his armies. moving back it got more interesting as we entered the living quarters, which housed different museums, exhibits, and a starbucks. the starbucks was the latest addition to the summer palace since ronda was there last so she was pretty anxious to see it... and she wasn't disappointed. to add the the western aspect of the palace, many of the signs describing things has a tag line at the bottom: "Made possible by American Express." i had no idea that american express was around back in the days this was built.
we wandered around the palace, sitting down in different areas, and reading different storied from our respective tour guides. (lonly planet and the rough guide.) in the end we didn't spend nearly enough time there to do the place justice and we missed many a museum inside. but to do so you'd really have to dedicate much more time than we were willing to.
one of my favorite areas was a small are surrounding a temple in the center back. it was filling with interesting shaped rocks, old contortionist trees, and a tiny temple at the top of a bunch of rocks which made me immediately thing of "the old thunder mountain railroad" at disney land.
this small area was at the norther most end of the forbidden city and after we walked around it, we left and went to Jiangshan Park park. after wandering around there we went west to beihai park to wander around and see the white pagoda.
visiting the white pagoda was the standard chinese park/temple/exhibit experience of "death by a thousand cuts". what i mean by this is that a lot of paper changes hands before you reach the pagoda. first you need to buy a ticket to get in to the park. then you need to but a ticket to get into the temple around the pagoda, then you need to by a ticket to walk up the stairs to take you to the base of the pagoda. oh wait, you want to go into the bell tower now? that'll be another ticket.
i have found this type of experience to be the pretty standard fare for visiting anywhere in china. if they can quarantine off any area and have a reason to believe that people might pay for admission they will. even if you thought you already did pay for admission. perhaps they are trying to discourage people from actually getting all the way to their desired site so they will buy the postcards?
once we reached the pagoda, we were considering vising the north side of the park but there was thunder rolling in the distance and rain was threatening so we decided to call it at day. we grabbed a taxi to head home, and we stopped by South Beauty (another favorite restaurant of mine) to make a reservation for dinner for ourselves and a few people from work.
we got home and it dumped rain for about an hour. this was great because afterwords it was no longer overwhelmingly hot and stuffy outside. we actually had a pleasant walk across the rain soaked streets back to the restaurant for dinner.