24 Hours in Beijing – Part One, the First 12 Hours

A scheduled night in Beijing and a canceled flight the next day? I couldn’t believe my luck! I had had two weeks in China, not in Beijing though, because I was there for my ‘other life’ – massaging for a cycling team at a huge, ten day race in Qinghai province.   After the race, the teams were flown to Beijing, put up in the airport hotel, with departing flights for the next day – and who was the only one whose flight back home (actually, KL) was cancelled – score! We flew to Beijing from Lanzhou, and I was so keen to get to the Forbidden City and /or the Wall – not realizing just how huge Beijing was, that the sun would have been set by the time we arrived, that Id be tired and that Id resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get to see these great sites..

However, lady luck shone down – and the next day, the organizer broke the ‘bad news’ to me.

So, for that afternoon, I opted for a visit to the Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square.  I could have easily gotten a taxi, but I opted for the more adventurous route – free hotel shuttle to Beijing airport, airport train to the city and then tube to the Forbidden City. 

Which all went well, but let me forewarn you about the Beijing metro / tube system.  Take London tube, times the people by about ten (but don’t make the stations or the tube trains bigger) –and that’s not even during peak times and normal ‘give way’ rules don’t apply.  For the first time in my life, I was shoved into the train by a guard so that the doors didn’t close on my bag- and once inside I was ‘rolled’ around, by the throng pushing past me to get right into the centre of the carriage.  Lesson 1 in being ‘Beijing ruthless’ – don’t wait for a line to form to get on the tube, and don’t think people will wait for those disembarking passengers to get off before they begin the push to get on! 

I ended up getting off a station too early, which still surprises me, because I was watching the electronic map above the doors, each station to my destination being crossed off.. and I exited to early!?  Lesson 2 – communication. Don’t believe the Chinese people that tell you ‘everyone’ in Beijing speaks English!! It’s not true!

So when I did get off at the correct stop, what a sight to behold when you exit from the tube – I was facing the Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square was behind me!   Ok, time to explore! Now here’s where it got interesting..

I entered the main entrance into the Forbidden City (Tiannamen Gate) – once through the gate, you’re ‘in the walls’ and following the throngs of other people.    

Also referred to as the ‘Palace Museum’, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties.  Its construction began in 1406 – so its history is almost 600 years, and 500 of those saw 24 emperors ruling from within the walls. 

Its pretty much a fortified castle – its moat not only incredibly wide, but almost 4km long, the perimeter walls of the city 10m high – all protecting 9000 inner halls and rooms! So the lay out is: there are two parts, and outer court, where emperors handled court affairs and where different ceremonies were held, and the inner, where the emperor lived and handled day to day affairs.  There’s also the Imperial Garden, entered from either inside or outside the walls – I didn’t get a huge look around the garden (more about that in practicalities) but it does cost 2 yuan to enter!  Lesson 3 – making a mistake, id not knowing I needed a ticket to enter the gardens, went down like a lead balloon with the ‘ticket officer’ at the garden gateway.

Once you enter into the Forbidden City, you walk the first couple of sections free,  (the outer city) then you pay to go into the ‘inner city’.  And a lot of the sections look similar, if not the same – a big, central hall separates them, with a huge courtyard in between, and each side mirrors its opposite, with only slight, if any, changes.   

Entry is 60RMB, and my first mistake was lining up to buy a ticket and then realizing a) I didn’t have enough local money and b) I had forgotten to change my USD while I was at the airport!  Which is how I ended up in the Imperial Garden, thanks to a friendly security guy! He understood, I needed an ATM so I was to go to the ‘main gate’ of the park.. which I eventually found, but the ATM machine wasn’t having a bar of my card – no cirrus logo on it! L 

I almost cracked!  I went back to the tube station and was going to head to the famous Silk Markets instead of FC, but no one I asked could understand what I was asking directions to – and the huge tourist map in the tube station didn’t have the markets on it!  But, what I did find is that the police in the blue uniforms DO speak English, and there was a police office in the metro station.  And an ATM machine!  This was 3pm, and the FC museum closes at 5pm – so off I went again, this time I would get a ticket!

There was a hawker selling FC maps to people queuing at the ticket office, for 5RMB, which I highly recommend!

As you are walking through the FC, you are headed towards ‘Jingshan Park’, which is a man-made hill that over looks the FC.  Perhaps most famous more recently, for being the place where the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty ‘ Chongzhen’ committed suicide in 1644, by hanging himself.  Apparently his loyal aide followed suit.

The hill is only 45m high, but there are two pagodas on the way up, plus another at the top, and the one at the top is more like a religious building, housing a huge Chinese Buddha, and there was no shortage of Chinese up there counting their blessings and saying their prayers.   The purpose of a manmade hill? Its good feng shui – as all other dynasties were situated south of a hill, so when the capital was moved to Beijing, a hill had to follow.  It’s 2RMB to enter into Jingshan Hill. 

I didn’t move through the FC too slowly, as I was conscious of the time, but I think 2 hours is plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds of the FC plus Jingshan Hill.

If you are going to FC by tube, the station is clearly marked on the tube map (so don’t ask how I made a mistake! Really!) – and when you exit the station, you will come out on the FC side, to the Tiannamen Gate, and Tiannamen Square is across the road.  I did go over for a quick look – there’s not much there – a 38m Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and of course its history – the worst being that of the ‘Tiannamen Square student protests’ in 1989, which saw the death of hundreds of students.  However, TS has also been the site for various political events and student protests – not just that lethal one of 89. 

Going back to my hotel was interesting.  I decided on a taxi, from the bottom of Jingshu – which is a heaving mass of buses, cars and taxis – but none of the taxis were stopping for me! (even the empty ones).  A guy pulled up on the Chinese equivalent of a ‘tuk tuk’ and told me id never get a taxi from there, (id been told by two other Chinese guys that I would) and that he, for 20RMB could take me to a taxi.  His price to get me to the airport hotel? 150RMB – too much! When we got to his taxi stand, there were no taxis, so I agreed to pay him 150RMB, but then he had a problem with the engine on his bike, so he eventually found me a taxi – and charged me an extra 10RMB on his 20RMB ‘finders fee’ – however, he was helpful so it didn’t bother me paying him the extra.  The total taxi fare was 50RMB.


Stay tuned for part two – The Great Wall.






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