Kelly Jones, University of Illinois, China, June 8, 2013

After meeting in the lobby at 8am, we all boarded a very nice bus and met our amazing tour guide, Peter.  Today is a foggy day and we are scheduled for a Beijing Highlights Tour covering many of the most popular sites in Beijing.  Our first stop was the Summer Palace.  Peter informed all of us that the Summer Palace was the home of many Chinese Emperor’s during the summer months when Beijing can get extremely warm.

Boat ride to the Summer Palace

We spent 20 minutes exploring the Summer Palace and then made our way back to the bus in order to ride to the Forbidden City.  Peter explained the meaning of the name “Forbidden City” according to the ancient Chinese people’s belief’s, and then explained what it meant to be a eunuch working for the family of an Emperor and a concubine chosen to live in the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City is quite large, so as we entered each unique huge section, Peter explained the structures, how they operated, and the way the family lived.  I found it interesting that ancient Chinese people at the Forbidden City even had their own heating and cooling systems – my favorite part being that in order to stay cool, they would store blocks of ice gathered during the winter in the cellars below ground and then bring them up to place in the rooms to cool them down when the days were warm.

Foggy Forgotten City

The architecture at the Forbidden City was amazing and the rooms were all decorated beautifully.  When we finished our time at the Forbidden City, we walked up many steps to the top of Jingshan Hill to see a temple that housed a humongous sculpture of Buddha.  From the top of this hill we were able to see a panoramic view of the Forbidden City hidden slightly by the fog which imparted a mysterious element to the scene below.  After bounding down the steps we boarded our lovely bus again and headed to lunch at a local restaurant to eat family style and chat about our interests and the happenings of the day.  Next we headed to The Temple of Heaven.  We were told that during ancient times, this is the location where the Emperor would go to pray for a good harvest.  There were even very tall lantern poles on which a lantern would be raised when the Emperor prayed.  The people of the town would see the lantern and pray for a good harvest along with the Emperor.  There was a marble circle at the top of the temple that the Emperor would stand on to pray and the placement of the marble circle allowed for magnification of the Emperor’s voice.  We all climbed the steps lined with symbols of the Emperor (the dragon) and the Empress (the phoenix) and shouted out from the marble circle just like many Chinese Emperor’s once did (the only difference was that Emperors were carried up the steps!).

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO Heritage Site

Inside of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Our last stop of the day was the famous Tiananmen Square.  We spent time exploring Tiananmen Square looking at the monuments and the beautiful floral decorations that surrounded it.  It was a fast-paced, enjoyable day.  In the last few minutes standing in Tiananmen Square it had just barely started to rain as we ended our Beijing Highlights Tour.  It was an amazing day.

Foggy Tiananmen Square