Friday, July 11, 2008

Entering the Forbidden City

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called present.” – from the movie ‘Kung-fu Panda’

I think about this as I am walking through the Forbidden City in Beijing. It’s easy to live in the past and the future, but to really appreciate the present can sometimes be a challenge.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the Forbidden City is an extensive collection of preserved wooden structures. It is an exhausting excursion: 720 000 sqaure metres of halls, squares and almost nine thousand rooms makes it the world’s largest surviving palace complex. The palace was built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and used as the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties.

It’s hot, my colleagues are irritable after a tough day and although there are picturesque corners in this endless complex of structures it seems that we are walking and walking and not really getting enough visual rewards.

Not all the rooms are open to the public and only a few of them hold treasures and art. Apparently Puji, the last Emperor of China, sold many of the original treasures to finance his extravagant lifestyle, while other valuable items were simply stolen.

What’s more; a part of the former collection is now hosted by the Palace Museum in Taipei. That doesn’t leave very much for the visitor to see here, especially since this complex is so large and so much walking needs to be done to see it. We’re trying to do it in half a day, although setting aside a whole day would have been wiser.

Interestingly enough, the locals enjoy hanging out here with their children, sitting around on benches in the squares, walking through the gardens and having lunch. Spending the day here at leisure seems to be the status quo. The food prices are not tourist orientated and it seems that the Chinese really do relish their cultural heritage.

The Forbidden City is called such because no one could enter or leave without the Emperor’s permission, which meant that many people lived out their whole lives within these palace walls.

I am counting my blessings, for my past, my future and the honour of being here, now, free.

No comments: