on September 5, 2008
The feeling walking into the Forbidden City was intense. I am an American, a Westerner walking the halls of what was once not only once forbidden for many of the Chinese People, but especially to foreigners. Although the area is now protected as a World Heritage Site and has been open to tourists for a better part of a century walking the paths that the empress Cixi (a personal fascination of mine) might have once waled herself as well as 24 other emperors sent chills down my spine. I entered the city via Tian' AnMen Square.Once beyond the gates my group broken up and was given headsets. Out of the corner of my eye a small crowd of people drew my attention. Curiosity took the better of me and a friend and I ventured over to find that people were dressing up like emperors and empresses to have their picture taken. There was a small fenced off area that we were taken into and got to choose the robes and headdress that we wanted to wear. I almost felt like a true empress by all of the people who were fawning over us to help us dress. From there we were lead over to four different area (one was a throne, and the other some sort of gate) for our picture. I suddenly realized that we were rushed ahead of a line waiting to get their pictures taken and that a very large crowd had now gathered around the gate not signing up for pictures, but to take our pictures. Once we ready to undress a lady explained that it was exciting to see someone with our "skin color and hair color" to dress up in traditional costumes and that we had drawn a crowd. We didn't know what to think to sure felt like rock stars.The buildings that make up the palace are beyond description and were even set up to the principles of Feng Shui. Everything is on display here from the Emperor' s robe room in the Hall of Middle Harmony to the banqueting hall in the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The halls are all breathtaking, but without knowing the history behind them they all being to run together. Luckily I had a self guided tour head set that explained everything that I was looking at; a bit dry, but very informative. The Imperial Garden, towards the end, was a huge surprise to come across. It's rather small, but beautiful.Somewhere a long they way we met with a scam. "Students" pulled us to a side building where we were able to look at "original art work." Weary of the paintings and their high prices I politely refused, but my friend fell in love with a few pieces. Together we negotiated the price down for a set of four and left only to find that another "student" a little later had that same four "original" artworks for sale.When we reached the end we found that there was a mix up with the bus and that there was some time to kill. I took this opportunity to explore a small gift shops full of souvenirs. I bypassed most, but couldn't resist a small doll dress in the same traditional costume that I was photographed in only hours before. Still with some time left we gathered our group of 60 students and teachers together for a photo. This turned out to be the highlight of the day. While taking the picture several Chinese tourists stopped to take our picture as well. Then two Chinese boys jumped in the picture with us so that they could have their picture with us opened a flood gate. After about thirty minutes of picture taking my group was soon out numbered with more Chinese then Americans in the picture. Our bus pulled up ending the fun, but leaving the best memories ever.
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