Beijing (4)

Wednesday 06/09

We have an appointment at 8:30am with our Belgian friends to visit the Forbidden City. There are many (rather long) controls to access the Tian’anmen square.

We enter through Tian’anmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace), north of Tian’anmen square. Characterized by a giant framed portrait of Mao Zedong (the only one still on public display), it is a potent national symbol. It was from this gate that Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. Once reserved for the sole use of the emperor, the entrance is flanked with the twin slogans “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” and “Long Live the Great Union between the Peoples of the World”.

We arrive 45’ late but our friends are still there, waiting for us. Thanks.

We take the tickets (we need the passports but fortunately they accept the scans that Isabelle has in her phone).

A few facts about the impressive Forbidden City:

  • The Forbidden City is China’s most popular singular site tourist attraction.
  • The construction of the Forbidden City was ordered by Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty in 1406. It took 14 years to build. The Forbidden City served as a fortress to protect the emperor and his family, and it is surrounded by a wall and a moat.
  • 24 emperors of China ruled from this impressive fortress over the course of nearly 500 years, until the abdication of the last Qing emperor in 1912 at the creation of the Republic of China.
  • It’s twice the size of the Vatican; thrice the Kremlin’s size.
  • There are 15 million visitors per year (the maximum daily number of visitors is 80,000).

The visit of this magnificent architectural complex is impressive, despite the number of people. In fact, outside the main “path” where the flow of tourists is concentrated, there are many areas where you are basically alone… The kids have fun with their Belgian friends but we still try to show (and explain to) them the most striking things. They are also very popular with locals who like to take pictures of them (mainly when they play and sing on the floor) – see pictures…

After the 4-hour visit, we walk to find a restaurant. We can’t find a suitable place rapidly so we decide to walk up to the Wajinlun street where there are plenty of restaurants (as per our friends, whose hotel is in this neighborhood). We eventually go to a typical Chinese restaurant and order some rice, noodles, skewers and some vegetables. Not great (especially the meat skewers) but the noodles are good. Kids love the turning platter in the centre of the table, but it doesn’t facilitate the serving…

We take the metro to our apartment where we stay for the rest of the afternoon (from 5pm). Kids are tired and they relax on their screens (the last 2 days have been quite hectic; we walked 14 kms each of these 2 days) while we prepare a bit the programme of our stay here. It’s really complicated. The first 2 days in a new city (mainly when it’s as vast as this one) are always a bit difficult but I’m must admit that this city is particularly complicated. We still don’t know how to take a taxi (where are the rickshaws of “the good old days”?). It’s the third country in a row with a difficult language (and a different alphabet); it probably doesn’t help. But we are not very successful in organizing our stay. It’s difficult to connect to the websites (vpn is not always working properly) and when you get into them they are usually in Chinese. We have both a WeChat account, which enables you to do whatever in this country, but we can’t use the Money/Wallet option since we don’t have a local bank account. Same for the sim card: we still haven’t managed to find a China Unicom shop to buy 2 sim cards (we found China Mobile but they apparently don’t sell prepaid sim cards for a limited duration…). Same for the bikes: they have different networks of bike rental but we apparently need a local bank card to use it.

It’s a pity because they have a pretty cool system (better than in Europe). Users do not need to go to a specific parking lot to pick up a bike or return it. Whenever riders want to use a bike, they can open the app on their smartphone and search for the nearest available bike. With the embedded GPS system, the app will show the user the available bikes. They can scan the QR code on the bike, the bike will unlock and is free to use. When the trip ends, users can park the bike in any public area along the street, and scan the code to pay for the trip. This system aims at aiming to solve the “last mile” problem in mega cities such as Beijing.

It’s frustrating. I’m not even able to book an acrobatics show, which we want to attend with the kids…

We want to go and see the snack street and the night market near Wajilun. We leave the kids at home. But we can’t find a taxi (again…). After 10’, we give up and decide to eat something nearby before going back to our apartment. We find a nice veggie restaurant (Suhu), where we eat well (light, healthy and very well presented).

We come back around 10:30pm and we “work” until midnight.


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