Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Today was our last day in Beijing. Our flight back to Malaysia was late in the evening so we decided to go on some sight seeing during the day. We woke up early, checked out, and headed to the Great Wall of China.
Our hosts recommended that we go to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Badaling is a famous section of the Wall as it’s well preserved and accessible by cable car.
As we arrived, we noticed it’s quite a sunny day. Good thing they sell touristy hats at a nearby shop. After getting our tickets, we took the cable car up to Badaling. It wasn’t peak season so the crowd was somewhat manageable. The view up the cable car was excellent. It gives you a perspective of which part is being defended against (the ancient invaders came from the north, beyond the mountain).
The earliest part of the wall was built between 220–206 BCE by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Over the years, various emperors improved the wall by extending it further. The Badaling section was completed in 1505CE during the Ming Dynasty. The map of Badaling above was taken from here.
The cable car took us to one of the highest points at Badaling. We were greeted with a magnificent view of the wall as we arrive. The ancient wall spans as far as the eyes could see. We walked up to the highest tower for a better view of the area. My Chinese host proudly reminded us of the famous quote by Chairman Mao: “He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man”.
Given that it was late summer and a weekday, the crowd was somewhat manageable. I have seen photos of people visiting the Great Wall during peak holiday seasons. There was hardly any space to move!
After our tour at the Great Wall, we headed back to Beijing. Our next visit is to the Forbidden City.
On the way, we stopped by McDonalds to have lunch. It’s interesting to see the McDonalds in Beijing are equipped with the self-ordering machine, like the ones I’ve seen in Europe. This device hasn’t arrive in Malaysia yet.
After lunch, we made our way to the Forbidden City. To get there, we passed by Tiananmen Square. Like everything else in China, Tiananmen Square is massive. Tiananmen in Chinese literally means “Gate of Heavenly Peace”. From the Square, we passed by Tiananmen Gate to get to the Meridian Gate, the entrance of Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City is the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty (1420 CE) to the end of the Qing dynasty (1912 CE). Constructed by Emperor Yongle from 1406CE to 1420 CE, the complex consists of 980 buildings. It’s seriously massive!
We were given a set of audio guides that will automatically play when we are near an attraction. Quite useful as we don’t need to key in the codes as we move around. There is also a map at the back of the guide with blinking lights to show where you are.
While the structure and the scale of the place is impressive, what is lacking are the finer details. The palace doesn’t seem to show the accessories and tools that were used as part of the daily life in the palace. Most of the exhibition rooms are just empty, save for the description from the audio guide. Perhaps these items are stored in a different museum? It would be great to see them together in their historic places.
At the very end of the palace is the Imperial Garden (Yu Hua Yuan). It is the last part of the Forbidden City before we exit at the north gate. Built in the early 15th century, the garden was the an area for the imperial family to relax and meditate.
After the Forbidden City, I told my hosts that I wanted to visit Niujie Mosque, the oldest mosque in Beijing. The mosque was quite near from the palace, around 15 minutes by car. Niujie Mosque was constructed in 996CE during the Liao Dynasty. Niujie literally means oxen, and is well known for its unique old architecture.
While most mosques around the world tend to be of middle eastern design, Niujie retains its traditional chinese architecture. The mosque is still being used and is one of the main congregation area for the 250,000 muslims in Beijing. In China, there are 21.6 million muslims (1.6% of population).
After visiting the mosque, our host took us for dinner at a nearby restaurant and after that we headed to the airport for our flight. Although it was just a short trip to Beijing, I felt satisfied as I managed to see major historical attractions in the city and with that, improved my appreciation of China’s rich history.