Beijing must be in a middle of a heat wave or something, cuz the temperatures are getting warmer each day since we've been here. I'd shed my jacket and one outer layer by the end of our tour of the Forbidden City today. Maybe tomorrow will be colder on the Great Wall.
This morning we started by dropping off near Tiananmen Square, near the 正阳门全聚德烤鸭店 that our tour guide and the concierge said was less likely to be crowded and less confusing to navigate to/from the hotel. We dropped by to the store to make a reservation for tonight, then continued on to get some photos of Tiananmen.
However, it seemed that today was not our day, since it seems that the Italian president was visiting, causing most of the square to be cordoned off. I did have some fun taking shots of the security, and I wasn't the only one. There was a pair of military security guys with bright shiny helmets (space helmets!!) who marched by to stand next near Tiananmen, and who quickly got swarmed by tourists taking photos of them. One daring (Chinese!) lady practically snuggled up to one of them, actually pinching on his uniform sleeve. I think that was the last straw for these guys, and since they couldn't start up an international incident by shooting the offending woman, they quickly
The same thing happened when I tried to take a pic of a duo of military police (no shiny helmets this time, but the twins insisted their belt...thingy looked like a lightsaber handle), they took one look at me (or my camera) and marched away. :P
Right... Forbidden City... Um, not much to tell, since it hasn't changed all that much since the last time I'd visited. Well, except for maybe the very obvious new paint jobs on the eaves of some of the main buildings (they didn't do a good job on the blue swatches, IMO). We took some photos of the main halls, and walked through the Clocks Gallery and the Jewelry Gallery (where my aunt was unhappy that they had far less pieces on display than the museums we'd been to in Shanghai/Xi'an).
We had a quick lunch at a fast food place in the Forbidden City. The fare was mediocre, but it was fast food after all. After that, we took a walk through the imperial gardens, where the girls and I had fun chasing after the fat cat that apparently lived therein. ^_^
Then the tour took an odd turn. Our tour guide said that there was a visiting world-famous calligrapher who was at the Forbidden City these few days, who was actually the half-nephew of the last emperor (Puyi). She asked if we wanted to visit and take a look. My aunt said sure and we were taken through this side door which was not being used by any of the mainstream tourists to this small courtyard and a special room where we were introduced to the man and his calligraphy. They were a couple thousand RMB per piece, and the other antiques in the store were on the expensive side too. It quickly became obvious that we were brought there in hopes of buying something and no other purpose. After a few awkward moments, we finally backed out of the place after making a token donation of 100 RMB.
At that point, the tour guide said it was time for us to leave. But we (and everyone else) couldn't leave since half the Imperial Gardens got cordoned off while we'd been in that shop. Apparently the Italian president wanted to take a short tour through the gardens too. I joked with the twins that we were trapped in the garden just like the concubines of old. However, I was able to take a few more shots of the security. XD
In retrospect, the incident with that calligrapher guy was strange since my aunt had specified with the tour agency when setting up this expedition that she did not want to do any commercial/merchant side trips at all in her tours. Indeed, in the one day we had with our tour guide in Shanghai, the two-three days with our guide in Pingyao, and the week with our guide in Xi'an, none of them had brought us specifically to commercial places, and indeed rushed us past the stores that were on the path of our main attractions to get to said attractions. My uncle thought the whole deal was kind of fishy and wondered if it might have been some kind of scam to begin with. Hrm.
Anyway, on the brighter side, we did indeed have dinner at the Quanjude duck shop. Yes, their Peking duck was yummy, and I left the place stuffed. ^_^ Unfortunately, I think I gained weight overall on this trip to China, which I might somehow need to find a way to work off. :-/