July 7, 2005

Tianaeman Square and The Forbidden City

Today we hired a guide who took us to Tianaeman Square, the Forbidden City and a silk factory. It is very humid and hazy today, which you'll be able to see in the photos. We started our tour in Tianamen Square, which has Mao's tomb at one end. Across the street from the Square is the Forbidden City, which was the Imperial home for more than 500 years. It's a series of courtyards and buildings that are truly breathtaking. Much of it is currently being renovated in preparation for the Olympics.

At the entrance to the Forbidden City is a large gate with a giant portrait of Chairman Mao hanging above it. It was here that Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Eric and I thought it was so funny that there is a Starbuck's inside the Forbidden City. I'm sure there's an emperor or empress rolling over in their grave somewhere . . . what was once off limits to anyone outside the royal family or staff now houses an American coffee house!

It was incredibly crowded at the Forbidden City with Chinese tourists on summer holiday. We learned first hand that there is no such thing as waiting in line in China. People push and shove to get to the front of the line and no one says "excuse me." It's just an accepted way of doing things! So, I pushed and shoved to get to the front and take this picture of one of the thrones used by an Empress.

We next visited a silk factory and saw how silk is spun. This woman is drowning pupae inside the silk cocoons. They can't be allowed to turn into moths or they'll make a hole in the cocoon and make the silk completely worthless.

A silk cocoon is literally unwound into one long thread. Eight of these threads are then twisted together to make a single useable thread.

Tonight we had dinner with Chris and Ileana Payne and Joe and Regina Lahsin; they are also from Chicago and part of our travel group. We ate at an Imperial-style restaurant located in a BaiHai Park beside a lake.

The cusine was very interesting... The dish in the center of this picture is camel paws! Yep, you read that right. And the dish in the top right is sea cucumber. Needless to say, Eric ate the camel but I didn't. His assessment was that it was "too chewy." Many of the other dishes were wonderful though!

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