Last week, Scarlett Stahl shared Part One of her adventure as she and her friend toured Beijing, China on their own. Today we join them as they visit the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and meet a panda at the Beijing Zoo. ~~Rick
The Forbidden City
Mid Autumn Festival was September 30, which coincidentally was my birthday. Our tour, which was arranged by the concierge at our hotel, started at 8:00 a.m. and lasted until after dark. First we went to the Forbidden City, which we chose to see on a tour in order to hear about its history in English.
Sightseeing is fun but sometimes you want to hear about the history of important places from an expert. The Forbidden City is second only to the Great Wall for sightseeing. It is also the best-preserved Imperial palace in China, as well as the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.
Scarlett and Linda
Cobblestones in Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City
Room in the palace
Animal figures on roof of the palace
Guard at Forbidden City. Someone told me later that we weren’t supposed to take pictures of the guards or military. I don’t know if that is true or not but I am glad I took my pictures.
I think this was the Empress Birthday Celebration room?
Scarlett and Linda outside the Forbidden City
I know these are a lot of pictures but what do you expect of Imperial grounds with 9999 rooms!
The palace was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Building in 1987. It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the construction of this group of buildings took fourteen years from 1406 to 1420. In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was the imperial palace where twenty-four emperors ascended the throne. The Forbidden City is said to have 9999 rooms because only the celestial emperor could be so well qualified to have an entire 10,000 rooms. The emperor declared himself the son of the celestial emperor, so his palace couldn’t be larger than the celestial. We were able to look through the glass into the interior rooms but were not able to enter them. The cobblestones we walked on required a certain caution as they were very uneven. And one of the members in our tour group reported that while she was looking in at one of the Imperial rooms with a crowd around, she looked down to see a old woman trying to unzip her purse. When she pulled her purse away, the old woman faded back in the crowd.
Next was a visit to another government owned factory, which sold pearls and jade, amongst other items and had lunch there.
Jewelry Factory…..Saleswoman opening oyster
Inside of oyster which had 30 pearls
As I said, Linda and I were not traveling on a tour in China but today we were taking a day tour. The tour was arranged through the concierge at our hotel, which is part of a well known worldwide chain. And since it was my birthday, I rewarded myself with a couple of pieces of jewelry, with the help of our tour guide. Both pieces were purchased separately, but at the same factory. Both Linda and I heard the sales girl quote a price in US dollars for the second piece and I signed my charge receipt, which had the right numbers. However, later I only found a receipt for the first piece of the jewelry and it was shown in Chinese Yuen, which was the same amount they had quoted me when I converted it into US dollars. The receipt for the second piece was not in my bag. Unfortunately when I returned home and checked with my credit card company to see the exact rate of exchange, I was shocked to find that the second piece of jewelry was considerably more than the price that I was quoted! At first I thought it was a misunderstanding. But after I emailed our tour guide, who never responded and emailed the hotel, which never responded, and couldn’t find an email for the factory, I took both pieces of jewelry to be appraised at the Jewelry Center in Los Angeles. I was told it wasn’t worth my money to get a written appraisal! This is on dispute with the credit card company. I only mention this as I wouldn’t want our readers to have the same unpleasant experience as I did.
Afterwards, still happy in my ignorance, we went to the Summer Palace which is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China.
Hand painted ceiling of the Summer Palace walkway
It began as a luxurious royal garden for royal families to rest and entertain. It later became the main residence of royal members at the end of the Qing Dynasty. It really was a lovely place to visit with a walk along the lake through a enclosed area with lovely paintings on the ceiling and pillars. Looking at the boats in the lake, we all longed for a boat ride ourselves and our journey down the path culminated with a dragon boat ride in the lake!!
Scarlett and Linda and our Dragon Boat
We drove to another silk factory, again with demonstrations and silk comforts, as well as bedding available for sale. After that we were taken to the Temple of Heaven, which is where the Ming and Qing emperors came to pray.
Temple of Heaven
The three story round temple building rises from a platform surrounded by acres of old trees and is quite impressive. Nearby was a small store, where we went to taste different types of tea in a tea ceremony, where tea was for sale.
Back at the hotel we found waiting for us a small birthday cake and also two chocolate round moon cakes.
Scarlett with Birthday Cake and Moon Cakes in hotel
Birthday Cake and Moon Cakes
After all this was not only my birthday but also the Mid Autumn Festival. The festival is for lunar worship and moon watching, with mooncakes regarded as an indispensable delicacy. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important Chinese festivals. We had purchased some wine and brought it back to our room and ordered in some pizza from room service for our dinner. It was different but tasty.
The next day we learned to use the subway as the holiday continued and cabs were scarce. With our maps, we were able to get some help from attendants on the platforms in the subways.
Luxury Shop in our hotel neighborhood. See the beautiful gown and the neighborhood reflected in the glass.
We visited first the Pearl Market, where the building had multi floors of little stalls with all kinds of jewelry. It seemed best to go to the top and then walk down the stairs to the next floor and so on till we reached the main floor. On the top floor were the stores with higher class jewelry and one store, Sharon’s, had been recommended to me as they made jewelry to order. I had purchased a jade pendant at one of the factories we had visited on tour the first day and wanted to make it into a necklace but unfortunately had left it at the hotel. So we decided to come back the next day.
We then took the subway to the Silk Market, which was much the same as the Pearl Market, except the bottom floor was actually in the subway!!! To be honest, there was too much of everything, which made me not want to buy. However we did spend the day seeing all there was to see between the two huge buildings. While Linda was deciding on some silk scarves as gifts, I sat at another counter and had a glass of wine. The shop girl made a comment that America must be very rich and upon reflection, I agreed. On the way back to the hotel, it was really crowded in the subway, as it was rush hour. Luckily we had some left over pizza, birthday cake, moon cake and wine so we could stay in.
Next morning after our usual coffee and roll at Starbucks, we went back to the shop at the Pearl Market and had my necklace made for me. Then we transferred three times to get to the Beijing Zoo, as we really wanted to see the pandas. By using our map, which had both Chinese characters and english words, we managed to find the way to the back side of the Beijing Zoo, which was on a narrow road alongside a canal and was lined back to back with food carts.
The path on the back side of the Beijing Zoo with all the carts
A play area at the Beijing Zoo with the child sitting on Mickey
Photo op at the Zoo with a plant figure
Inside we finally found the pandas, who were close to the front of the zoo, by smiling and saying “Panda?”. People would point and we would continue on. After we found the Panda Building, which was located at the front of the zoo, it was a sea of bodies surging toward the glass wall and we just managed to push backwards to get out of the crowd. Both Linda and I have a mild form of claustrophobia and we were concerned about being caught in a crowd after learning about the incident with one of our tour members at the Forbidden City. We gave up and sadly we went into the next room, which surprisingly was almost empty and on the other side of the glass was a panda!
He/she? had a cute pudgy little bottom and I thought that was all we were going to see, when he finally stood up and waddled over to drink some water and he peed before he waddled to the back.
And Panda, well . . .
I thought that was the end of the photo op but he came back and began to eat some bamboo. Finally the bamboo was gone and I could clearly see his darling face.
Beautiful face of Panda..
Then the crowd discovered the second room and began racing in. As they crowded in, we went out and found our way to the front of the zoo, where we took a cab back to the hotel. As I said, we had a paper with the name and the address of the hotel written down in Chinese characters. That night we had hamburgers and fries at the hotel, which were good, as we needed to pack for a 3:00 a.m. cab ride to the airport for our long flight home, again connecting in Japan.
It took us three subway transfers to get to the Pandas and a long walk along the back path and then a walk from the back of the zoo all the way to the front, so forgive me but I earned these pictures and I love Pandas!!!!!
Traffic jam leaving zoo for hotel
Typical Chinese neighborhood
Some friends have asked for my thoughts re: China. I found it very interesting and did enjoy myself, especially seeing and walking on the Great Wall. However, it was like an alien world or even another planet. Caucasians are in short supply there so we were oddities on the whole. I am proud of us as we were able to navigate our way around but it was challenging and tiring.
Others asked if it was safe. The area where we were staying was quite upscale with a Louis Vuitton store nearby amongst many other luxury stores of its kind. We did see some sad and distressing sights. There was a woman living on the street with a boy about ten years old and a shopping cart nearby. The boy appeared comatose and when we first saw them she had cradled him in her arms and was feeding him a bottle. When we passed them again about 8 hours later, it was the same. Then there was a man, who appeared to have deformed legs, just sitting on the overpass from the subway side of the street leading to the Pearl Market. He wasn’t really begging, just sitting there as if he didn’t have the strength to do anything else and there was another woman, who looked like she was dying of some disease as she was so malnourished. Both Linda and I gave some money to them as they were heartrending sights. Possibly there were unsafe areas but we felt safe even in the subways.
But the episode with the jewelry at the factory did leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth. As I have worked for three major airlines during my career, I have traveled all over the world and I never had an experience as I did with my credit card at the factory. We were on a tour which took us to the factory and we didn’t just wander in there alone. After I returned home, I learned from a friend that his employees have had their cards copied over there and used fraudulently. I myself had my card canceled and a new one issued. I have decided to take travelers checks and not use my credit card in China again. However all the Chinese people I met seemed pleasant and helpful, as much as they could be with the difficulty in communication. I probably will go to Shanghai when the new Disney Park opens, as I have been to all the Disney Parks in the world. I am told they do speak more English in Shanghai, which should make it easier. So yes, I would recommend going to China, but don’t make the mistake I made, take travelers checks instead of credit cards.
Have you visited China or other exotic locations? Did you have trouble with your credit cards?