So, today I headed off to the Forbidden City. The trouble with the Forbidden City is that, being no longer Forbidden, it is instead Bloody Rammed. Most notably with tour groups in matching baseball caps.
That, together with the fact that most of the insides of the halls are barricaded off (so you can only squint through a little fence or bit of grubby glass) meant that I didn't see much of the insides of the 3 main hals, because I didn't fancy doing elbow-shoving. My misanthropic streak was taking over, when I happily discovered that the tour groups largely go straight up the middle, while in fact there are a whole bunch more halls, gates, pavilions etc down both sides, which are a lot less crowded. And also which have lots of free exhibitions in. So I pottered round those and cheered up enormously.
The halls are all intensively decorated - the beams are all painted , and various bits of wall tiled or decorated. Some bits of these have been renovated and are all shiny and birght; but I kind of like the bits that are a bit more decrepit. There are lots of dragons painted, and occasional flowers. And little golden animals perched on all the roof-ridges.
The exhibitions of Treasures Collected By Emperors was quite good - I particularly liked th scientific/maths stuff collected by Emperor Kangxi (late 17th c) who was dead into his astronomy. And recruited European missionaries to teach him astronomy and maths. There was a really lovely exhibbition of painting and calligraphy, as well, which made me want to find more out about Chinese calligraphy. (I liked this especially as I used to do Western-style calligraphy many years ago.) And a fascinating exhibition on Empress Cixi, who spent a fair chunk of the 19th c ruling "on behalf of" various emperors (starting with her son, who was 5 on ascending the throne. She and her fellow Empress, Ci'an, arranged before the kid was even crowned to have the ministers who'd been delegated by the previous Emperor to advise the new one, arrested. Good work. Curiously, the kid died within months of achieving majority... and a cousin of some sort took over until Cixi deposed him and ruled on her own behalf for a while. Anyway: I now wish to find out more about her, as well.
Finally headed out about 2 (having got there around 9.30), after a brief detour to another exhibition, this one of Court dress. All most impressive; one wonders if they ever got fed up and wanted something a bit less elaborate; even the "leisure" robes were pretty ornate. Cycled over to Wangfung St (had different bike this time - free one from hostel. The saddle kept slding incrementally down; I hate QR seatposts.) for food. Found the street-food alley; sadly all the street-food seemed to be meat-based. Fetched up instead at a restaurant over the road where they produced rice & mushrooms and Green Veg. Thus fortified, I went in search f the International Post Office. This was an epic hunt, involvin the v polluted Beijing Ringroad. When I located it, the poste restante had shut 20 min previously. Grr. Will return probably Thursday... By now the smog was increasingly obvious, and I was eeling a little grumpy again, so I decided that the thing to do was to locate a park.
Jinsheng Park was the park of choice - just north of the Forbidden City, and featuring a pavilion on a very high hill. Once upon a time this was intended for Emperors to look out over the surrounding countryside and admire it. These days what you can mostly admire, at least at 5pm on a warm afternoon, is the afordementioned smog, but it's still a very nice park. Many many trees. I wnt UP the hill, duly admired the smog, and went back DOWN the hill in search of a bench on which to sit & write my journal. Halfway down, I heard music, so detoured in that diretion. To find an impromptu concert of what I think was various popular Chinese songs (as passers-by kept humming and looking pleased), with a singer & a keyboard & a flautist. Which was fab, and just the sort of thing that I really love coming across at random.
My aim for tomorrow is to get up early, catch a bus and then a minibus, and hike 10km of Great Wall (the bit that isn't at Badaling, which everyone tells me is hideously over-touristy). Alternatvely, the whole bus thing will go Horribly Wrong & I will return to Beijing, give up my opposition to organised tours, & fork over some insane sum of money to the hotel to sort things out for me. But I hope it will all work out.