BEIJING: a Garden with no Plants.

It was minus 6 when we arrived here at night.. in contrast to the southern cities where the temperatures had been more like 18-22. Very dry also and dusty where they had been humid. I could tell the difference in the air very easily – instead of my hair standing out in a frizz and curling when I woke up, it was straight and smooth. In fact I didn’t get my hair straighteners out at all in Beijing whereas previously  I’d needed to use them twice a day if we were teaching in the afternoon and went back to change clothes from tourist to professional…

At mid day the day after our arrival it only reached 0 degrees and above when we were standing in sunlight, which was nice for that day as the two following days we had cloud, which meant that the minus degree temps stayed with us all day.

The Moat round the Forbidden City: Ice as far as the eye can see

The Moat round the Forbidden City: Ice as far as the eye can see

We learnt to cover our mouths and noses like the locals did with our scarves as this meant we breathed in slightly warm air! The moat around the Forbidden City and all the other standing water we saw, including a large lake at the Summer Palace, remained fully frozen.

We stayed in the Kapok Hotel, which was only 5 minutes walk from the Forbidden City moat but not the gate you entered unfortunately. We had to walk around the walls to get to the North gate which is the entrance and exit.

The Kapok  hotel was delightful in contrast to the previous 5 stars we had stayed in. For a start it was small, only 6 floors and many fewer rooms. There was not a huge bling lobby and whilst the room had all the necessities it was not a long walk to get to the loo and so on as previous rooms had had. At night the central courtyard had hanging lights down it which gave a magical air, rather than a bling chandelier, and it had bamboo growing in inner courtyards.

Magical lighting inside our hotel at night.

Magical lighting inside our hotel at night.

Going to the Forbidden City you will find yourself hustled a bit, but not if the police catch them. It seems to be illegal but the police just chase them off the grounds. They can’t enter without paying so once inside you are safe. Mostly they are trying to sell hats and gloves for the cold or masks to wear over your mouth.

It is probably worth renting one audio guide for the party as it does give you some location specific information and as they are gps linked  you don’t need to keep pressing and looking for the numbers. It all comes up automatically and tells you where you are and what you have missed…

The main items are however labelled in English or at least a version of it, so you can always tell which hall or part of the palace you are in.

Example of English Explanations in the Forbidden City

Example of English Explanations in the Forbidden City

The whole area is bigger than you can imagine and we spent hours in the freezing cold walking around and still we only managed to see less than half – but the major half of course.

We did have to have an extended coffee stop about half way round to warm up. There are several places where you can have coffee and snacks including the ubiquitous noodle soup but not for some time – they make you walk about half-way across before one appears.

Do take a drink and snacks with you. At least 2 hours of slow sightseeing and major camera action before you find one. And then the first coffee house was rather chilly as it had flaps of plastic instead of doors on both sides which move with the wind and let the chill air in.

Better coffee houses, we later found, were in the Hall of Mental Contemplation. Which also has a small shopping mall with a bookshop. The final set of shops you encounter as you exit the palace grounds. If you look prosperous enough, you will be invited into the painting gallery.

We bought grossly over-priced set of books about our Feng Shui fortunes for xmas presents, but then all books in China are very expensive and these do have lovely decorations and paintings in them. We hadn’t seen them in any other gift shops either…

We also bought ourselves some better gloves from a small shop near the hotel, with the usual bargaining, as the ones we had brought with just couldn’t cope with the cold. Especially as you have to take your gloves off every time you take a photo and there was much of that going on. Silk inners might work we think and if we have to come again to do this teaching then we shall know better. The fleece leggings were absolutely essential for me as was the fleece jumper, but I do think that I need to try and get a thicker coat in the luggage if I come again.. layers are all very well but a good coat is better.

Double trousers or trousers over the leggings seemed to work for the legs, scarves, and for me, a double hat were also necessary items. We realised after a while that in the past we had only ever experienced these type of really low temperatures when going for winter walks in the English Lakes. And then we never walked for more than 1.5 hours or 2 at the very most without a long coffee stop. Here we were walking for longer in this cold.

We can see why the locals wear fleece masks but… (although just recently here in London we have been sorely tempted to buy them as the wind whistles in from the Arctic – oh yes, it’s snowing again today – all day and the forecaster said just now, no change until at least the middle of next week or longer….)

The Forbidden City is one of the ‘bucket’ stops. One of the places you must see before you kick the bucket for sure.

It is such a pity though that the items inside the rooms are so dusty and uncared for. They have replaced all the fabrics with new yellow silks on most items but they definitely need a National Trust Housekeeper and some preservation specialists to come along and teach them how to look after these items.

Crowds in the cold of winter in the Imperial Palace

Crowds in the cold of winter in the Imperial Palace

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The museums at the side are worth a visit if only because they are lightly heated. We warmed our fingers through in each one on the radiators. But the British Museum and the V & A museums could help display and explain, especially if we got the Science Museum to explain the instruments. Apparently they keep most of their collection stored away and only display a small portion at a time. We have been told that it is the British Museum and the V&A that are where these items are stored! And displayed! So you can see most of them better in London! It would be better if they showed more though, as the displays are really rather dull at the moment, although the 2 pictures of the concubines and their recreational activities were interesting. We see similar games played by children, so we probably learnt them from the Chinese.

Items in the Palaces and the amazing stone carving up some steps

Items in the Palaces and the amazing stone carving up some steps

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After 5 hours our brains were completely blown, especially as the buildings are repetitive in shape if  not in size and decoration. You can tell some of the size differences by the number of animals in the roof, the more animals on the eaves, the bigger the building.

But the whole site is just full of steps and yet more steps. Indeed all China is about steps it seems, especially as feng shui says that you need a step at the house entrance to keep the evil spirits out, thus all older buildings have something you must step over to enter.

Oh, and did I say no plants?  Well the old Emperor’s Garden is largely no more – it has been destroyed. But I did manage to find one excellent tree – very unusual – to look at!

A tree in what remains of on eof the Emperor's Gardens

A tree in what remains of on eof the Emperor’s Gardens


3 thoughts on “BEIJING: a Garden with no Plants.

  1. andy1076

    wow that is one gigantic stone carving! amazing to think that back in the days of dynasties the only people allowed in those grounds were the emperors and the royal guards. Great shots! thank you for the ping back 🙂



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