Friday, July 20, 2012

Struggles in Shanghai & The Forbidden City

Preface: This will be a really long post.

Part 1:
Lesson learned this weekend: Shanghai is crazy. 
If I was a true Beijinger, I would have already known this, but it took me being stranded without accommodations and having to deal with extremely unfriendly Shanghai-ers to learn this.
Let's start with some background info:
Beijing and Shanghai HATE each other. Think the LA-New York competition taken to the next level. These two cities cannot stand each other. In the eyes of Beijing, Shanghai is a sell-out city that sacrificed it's cultural relics for money and foreigners. To Shanghai, Beijing is a ruralistic "wannabe" city that only wishes it had the glory and money Shanghai has. Nobody gets along from the two cities, and people in China either like Shanghai or Beijing better. You absolutely cannot like both. 

Regardless of the warnings of my host mother talking about how awful Shanghai is, I decided to travel there for the long weekend. Shanghai is one of (if not the) largest city in the world, and I wanted to take part in that. Some friends from my program and I organized a group, and we took the bullet train to Shanghai (it takes 5 hours going nearly 200 mph). We got there around 10pm and went to check into the hostel we had booked. They asked for our passports and I realized I had forgotten mine. In China, not carrying your physical passport around is fine as long as you have a copy, secondary ID, and have registered with the Chinese police (all of which I had). I wasn't concerned, so I provided the copy of my passport, secondary ID, and police registration number to the person behind the counter. Then I heard it: "You can't check in here without your physical passport." Ridiculous. I calmly explained to the woman that Chinese law says otherwise, but she was firm. In Shanghai, foreigners cannot do ANYTHING without their passport. This includes buying tickets, staying in hotels, etc. I literally could not stay in ANY hotel in China. Oh dear. 
After panic-y calls to my parents and the embassy, I had determined that the only way I could check in was if the head consulate at the American Embassy, the Chinese Director of Foreigner Affairs in Shanghai, and a couple other really, really important people all came with me to the hostel. Seeing as it was by this time nearly midnight, I did not want to be the person to rouse them from their beds. The consulate on the phone (an incredible human being) offered his couch to me at the Embassy (USA! USA! USA!). 
So I went to the American Embassy, and passed through to where are the consulates live with their families. When I woke up, his wife (a really nice Japanese woman) made me croissants and orange juice. PS: Consulate housing is AMAZING. Literally some of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen. After breakfast, I bee-lined to the train station and went back to Beijing. According to the Embassy (who I called again in the morning), I'm not even supposed to be in Shanghai without my passport. Whoops. 
In the end. It was a really weird situation that makes me realize I am a Beijinger, not a Shanghaier. 

There is a funny joke that my Host Mom told me that has to do with the differences between Shanghai and Beijing (and Hong Kong, which is a whole different story).

"Aliens come to earth, and decide to land in China. 
Beijing says: Let's take the aliens to the universities to be studied, maybe we can learn something new.
Shanghai says: Let's take the aliens, and build a brand new museum in dedication to them. Then, let's build an alien shopping mall next to it. Then, let's sell tickets to see the aliens. It will be very expensive, and we will invite many foreigners. 
Hong Kong says: Aliens? I've never tasted that before. Perhaps it could be delicious?"
So much truth.

Anyway: Here are the photos from that half of the adventure. 

The Beijing South Train Station. HUGEEE. This is the waiting area. 

The cabin area of the Bullet train had a sign that showed the current speed. The top speed of the bullet train was 303 kph, the same speed as a Bugatti Veyron.

Strange hill-art as seen from the train.

Shanghai! There were lights everywhere. It was truly a western city.

 The Shanghai Hongqiao train station. Also, HUGEEE. 


Me self touring campus on a recent nice day. The lake behind me is really famous and is one of the most beautiful spots on campus/in Beijing. 

Me on the rooftop bar I've been dreaming about for a couple of years. The photo is really poor quality, and the only way to see anything was to make it black and white (also artsy!)

Part 2:
Since I have a couple days to myself in Beijing, I decided to go tour the Forbidden City. I had to cut through Tiananmen Square to get there and I witnessed my first instance of Chinese Police in action. I have no idea what happened, but I witnessed a Chinese police officer sprinting after a running Chinese woman. He tackled her, and the chase was over. I thought it was pretty exciting. Today also seemed to be "Look, it's a foreigner, let's take pictures with her!" day. I must have taken 50 photos with touring Chinese people. I didn't mind, but I felt bad for the Chinese teenagers whose parents were obviously forcing them to interact and take photos with me. 
The Forbidden City is literally ginormous. The height of the buildings, scale of statues, and the size of the compound itself is unreal. I thought I would be able to see most of the Forbidden City today, but after spending around 5 hours walking around, I hadn't even seemed to scratch the surface. I will need to return a couple more times to feel satisfied with that particular landmark (admission is cheap, 20 Yuan - around $5 - for students).

I consider myself fairly knowledgable around the subject of Chinese history, especially about the history surrounding the Forbidden City. However, I was lost with a lot of the references made on signage, and many buildings I had never even heard of. I'm 100% against getting a tour guide, but I might download a self-tour from iTunes and put it on my iPod. 
There is a lot of information I have about the photos I took, so I will go into that with each photo. I will also try to briefly touch on some of the historical significance (sorry if it gets boring).

The main entrance: "Wumen" which translates to "Meridian Gate."
This is the largest building in the Forbidden City, and was the ceremonial gate. Receiving prisoners of war, important officials, and events to celebrate holidays all happened here. 

Part of the Golden Water River that runs throughout the Forbidden City. In total, it runs around 2,000 meters. It was multi functional as rain collection, fire protection and of course, decoration. 

"Taihe" gate - The Gate of Supreme Harmony. The giant courtyard I'm standing in for this photo, and that is visible in the photo is called "The Sea of Flagstones." Soliders, foreign delegations, and groups bringing new concubines into the Forbidden City all stopped here for inspection. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Emperor would used this building to handle state affairs, meet officials, and issue imperial edicts. The first Qing Dynasty Emperor ascended the throne here. It's been burnt down several times, with the most recent rebuilding in 1894. 

More pictures of The Gate of Supreme Harmony.

The Lions in front of The Gate of Supreme Harmony are the largest in the Forbidden City. As discussed in a previous post, the two different lions - when combined - indicate Imperial Power. 

Tourists are not allowed to travel directly through The Gate of Supreme Harmony, and instead directed through one of two gates. I chose "ZhenDuMen" (which I cannot for some reason write in characters here) - "Gate of Moral Standards."

This gate was built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. It has held several different names over time, most recently "XuanZhiMen" (Gate of Law Promulgation) in 1562. However, it got it's final name in 1645. It was burned down in 1888 it was burned down, but was rebuilt shortly after. It was one of the places were imperial guards on duty lived. 
In the Forbidden City, they had the plaques you can see in the photo around many of the buildings. It talked about what the building was, and why it is important. 

The backside of The Gate of Supreme Harmony. 

The highly decorated steps that descend from the Gate. These steps were only for the Emperor. Even today, these are the only parts of the Forbidden City that are still fenced off. 

The Hall of Supreme Harmony. The is the building that is always in the photos and movies. The Emperor's enthronement, imperial wedding and title conferring all took place here. It is the first of the three major court halls in the outer court. It is also known as the Hall of Golden Chimes. It was first constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, and has since been rebuilt numerous times due to fire caused by lightening. The current building was built in 1645. It is one of the largest wooden structures in Beijing. It was built on top of a three layer white marble base, which you can see in the photo. The imperial throne is inside this building. 
To put it into perspective: The Hall of Supreme Harmony was originally built 72 years BEFORE North America was even discovered. 

Hall of Preserving Harmony. This was basically a waiting room fro the Emperor. In this building he would prepare himself for important events (i.e. naming Crown Prince, choosing the Empress, etc).

It was impossible to take a good picture because of where tourists were allowed to stand. However, this is the Emperor's throne. 

Palace Of Heavenly Purity. Originally constructed in 1420, it was rebuilt in 1798 during the Qing Dynasty. During the Ming and Qing dynastes, the emperor would live and work in this palace. During the Qing Dynasty, after the death of an emperor, his coffin would be kept in this hall during the memorial ceremonies to prove that he had died peacefully. 

This palace also housed the secret "Heir Apparent Box," a system set up by the first Qing emperor. Behind the board inscribed "Zheng Da Guang Ming" (The big gold and black  on above the throne) was a box containing the name of the emperor's successor, written by the emperor himself. After the emperor passed away, the secretly appointed prince would ascend the throne. 

The Forbidden City is covered in beautiful and intricate artwork such as this. 

Hall of Earthly Tranquility. This was the palace where the Empress lived. The middle section is a living area, while the left and right sides are bridal chambers. Emperor Kangxi, Emperor Tongzhi, Emperor Guangzhu and Emperor Puyi all lived in this hall after they married.

The living quarters. 

The bedroom. 

Bridal chamber/bedroom. 

The Royal Gardens. Concubines would often entertain themselves in the gardens as they wandered around playing music or gossiping. 

The Golden lions represent the severity of the emperor's law. 

A famous tree in the Forbidden City. The exposed root is said to look like a crouching tiger. 

I have over 200 photos just from today's adventure, and I'm obviously not going to post them all. These photos are just some of the highlights that I had today. 

1 comment:

  1. Great perspective: "It's been burnt down several times, with the most recent rebuilding in 1894." Wow. Most buildings here think 1994 is old. Wow!