Beijing, Monday morning, 29 September
Touring with a group, even a small group, is not the way I like to travel. I need to go at my own pace, to stop and really look, to immerse myself in the experience, or not, and not be distracted by someone telling me what is supposed to be important about a place. So, yesterday was a frustrating day at Prince Kong's mansion, at Tiananmen Square, and in the Forbidden City.
Favorite memories of the day. (1) a group of young people wanting to take our pictures and pose with us (while we waited out someone's toilet stop) in a pavilion in the midst of a pond at Prince Kong's house.
(3) An adorable little princess of a girl of perhaps five, wearing pink roller blades with ruffled socks, a frilly dress and a small backpack with brightly colored streamers. A bit unsteady, she clung to her father's hand. I asked him if I could take her picture, and he asked her. She shyly turned away,which meant no, then she gave me a lovely smile and little wave as she as they moved away. I did find a young couple with a baby huddled under an umbrella who allowed a photo, though. But that little girl captured my heart, the future of China.
(4) I again loved the big basket of birthday flowers, loved watching couples and groups and numerous selfie-takers posing there. Tracy, our guide, said the flower vase came out every year for the National Holiday. It seems such a lighthearted, whimsical and exquisitely beautiful contrast to the severely monumental totalitarian grandeur of the square and the solemn occasion it commemorates.
(5) Everyone but Kent and me chose to go to a quite expensive ($40) hour-long acrobatics show. We found a friendly little family-run hole-in-the-wall where we shared two beers and a delicious, piping hot bowl of spicy noodles (total cost 22 yuan -- les than $4) and enjoyed visiting across the table (just the two of us), and watching the friendly and curious little boy doing his homework (pages of arithmetic and characters), checked with great seriousness by his father.
The Forbidden City: it was overwhelming, crowded, and monumental. Also beautiful. I lost count of the courtyards, stairways and palaces. I could imagine visiting again after some more reading, on a cold winter day with fewer people and perhaps a touch of snow, so I could let it all sink in. I know nothing else like it. It dwarfs Versailles and the Taj Mahal.