Tuesday 11 September 2007

China: The Forbidden City

The taxi driver was completely flummoxed by Mrs M's homemade flashcard with the word 'Forbidden City' in Chinese and English, but somehow we got the message across and arrived at the south entrance to the delight of a few postcard and Rolex watch salesmen.

We purchased tickets and audio guides and entered the palace into the outer courtyard. The magnitude of the task ahead became apparent as we looked ahead at some of the 800 buildings concealing 8000 rooms. We were only going to scratch the surface. We made our way along the western edge of lavishly decorated red and black buildings accompanied by our automatic audio guide which eventually became annoying background noise.

Some of the buildings are wrapped in scaffolding due to frantic restoration for the anticipated Olympic rush (hint - don't go then), but everywhere is beautifully clean and well organised. We rested mother's weary bones in a café near the northern gate before heading back to exit into Tiananmen Square. An enormous road prevented further progress to watch the famous kite flyers (who appeared to have been on a tea break). Hence, we lumbered back to the south gate for a taxi to the hotel and a medicinal cold beer.

Dinner plans were hampered by poor guidebook maps (do these cartographers ever use their maps?) and assistance from a policeman with a no sense of location and an inability to read a map. Nonetheless we stumbled upon a street full of restaurants. The place was full of energy; bright lights, orange lanterns, chaotic traffic, bikes and scooters, music and characters trying to entice us into their establishments. At one point a woman grabbed a fish from a tank, flung it on the pavement and began to whack it with the net. Can't say it wasn't fresh.

In our chosen restaurant, we entertained a team of young waiters in pink silk jackets using three words of Mandarin and international hand gestures. We were rewarded by a hot and sour pork dish, mixed vegetables and eventually, plain rice. There was no problem with the word for beer.

We retraced our steps back to the hotel, intrigued by some of the small shops selling items of an 'intimate' nature.

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