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Day 7 : Friday 16th March 2007

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Forbidden City

Having got to bed relatively late last night, I decided not to set my alarm and eventually awoke at 10:15am. Unsure of the hours of breakfast in the Club lounge (there was no information provided in my room about the Club lounge) I decided not to rush around and instead take lunch at one of the hotel's in house restaurants when I was ready. This ended up being just after 12pm, after a wonderful shower in my room.

Interestingly, as I was preparing to leave my room, I was watching an item on BBC World about the current National People's Congress taking place at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, my intended destination for the day. I was immediately curious whether this would mean any interference with my plans. Suddenly, as the correspondent was discussing human rights, something of sensitivity surely, the screen went black and the sound cut! My first experience of state censorship in action - someone somewhere had obviously pulled the plug ! I had noted the night before that several of my usual favourite websites, the BBC News and Wikipedia ones in particular appeared to be blocked from Chinese ISP's!

I got the lift down to the hotel's Monsoon restaurant, where a standard lunch buffet was offered. However, despite it being empty when I entered I was told it was fully booked! Indeed later a great many Chinese did indeed suddenly appear as if from nowhere and pile into the place! Instead I was offered a seat at the Cup of Chino coffee shop, from where I could still have the lunch buffet, or order something a la carte. Not sure I was that hungry, I simply went for a Club sandwich and an iced green tea.

Once this was out the way, I hit the streets and found my way to the local Subway station, Fuchengmen, and managed to easily purchase a one-way ticket to Tiananmen Square (where there are two Subway stations) for the bargain price of RMB3 (about 20p). Even though my journey involved changing lines at Fuxingmen, the subway system was very easy to use and navigate with all signs and announcements in English. I alighted at Tiananmen Xi (Tiananmen West), but it was obvious that the whole of Tiananmen Square was closed off, obviously due to the Congress that I had seen on TV earlier.

Instead I decided to head for the Forbidden City and was soon on my way through the main arch of Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) under a huge portrait of (Chairman) Mao Zedong. At this point I had noticed that the hassle factor was quite bad, with many people approaching me trying to sell me this and that, or simply trying to talk to me. It quickly became annoying, but as soon as I had bought my ticket (while being tapped fairly viciously on the arm by an invalid beggar) and was inside the Forbidden City the pestering ceased.

It took several hours to wend my way through the Forbidden City, the former palaces and playgrounds of the Chinese Emperors and their families. Unfortunately the curse of my travels was to strike again - at least three of the principle buildings were shrouded in scaffolding and obscured from view . This included Taihemen (Supreme Harmony Gate), the Hall of Supreme Harmony and Shenwumen (the Gate of Divine Military Genius). Having said that, the rest of the buildings were utterly beautiful and in a remarkably well preserved state and I enjoyed my leisurely stroll through the city immensely.

On exiting from the north side of the City, I crossed the road and entered Jingshan Park and immediately climbed the hill, which was created from the excavations of the moat round the Forbidden City. The views are stunning, back over the City and you can just about see Tiananmen Square in the distance (through the typical smoggy haze). After wondering round the park for a short while, I headed back to Tiananmen Square on foot, a rather long distance and upon reaching the square again realised I was rather weary after all this walking. With no immediately available alternatives, I headed back to the hotel the way I had come, on the subway.

Back at the hotel I had a refreshing dip in the hotel pool, which appeared to have been built specifically for doing lengths rather than wallowing, but nevertheless I enjoyed the dip. Canapés in the lounge as usual, but this time I deliberately decided to restrain myself and have something proper from the room service menu - a good decision as it turned out as I had a delicious dish of Singapore noodles with a nice bottle of free wine from the minibar!

Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace)

Forbidden City - Taihemen (Gate of Supreme Harmony)

Forbidden City

Forbidden City - Imperial Garden

Jingshan Park