Which was a shame, because the rock formations were those really sweet eroded limestone hills they have here, the ones with the random holes and wacky textures.
Anyway, it’s Midterms Week, which means it’s procrastination time, and therefore time to update my blog. I mean, uh, we went to the Forbidden City(故宫，Gugong, or literally Ancient Palace) and I want to share the experience with my friends, family, and schoolmates.
So when Kublai Khan conquered China, beginning the Yuan Dynasty, he moved the capital to Beijing, a former dynastic capital and provincial town. It was far south enough to be definitively in ethnic Han “China,” far north enough for the geography to be similar to Mongolia and good for cavalry. Over the next two dynasties it was burnt down and rebuilt a couple of times by conquerors, and the Ming eventually built this huge imperial complex in the heart of the city, where the imperial family and their army of eunuch servants lived.
This tradition of isolation for the imperial family was maintained until the fall of the Qing in 1911, to the detriment of the Chinese people. Some rulers (notably Empress Dowager Cixi, the last real monarch of China) never left the Forbidden City during their entire lives, and as such they lacked perspective and let internal power struggles undermine their ability to rule the country and effectively battle imperialism in ways that some smaller, more dynamic kingdoms (Thailand, the Punjab, Zululand, Japan) were able to. Cixi, in particular, was famous for this–fearing the growth of either traditionalist or modernist forces, she played off both sides against each other. She never left the imperial city and never really understood the poverty, corruption, misrule, imperialism, and banditry that was the late Qing.
Imagine a quarter of Carlisle, or an area the size of the Mexican War Streets, reserved for concubines alone. Another quarter or the North Shore for guard barracks. It’s that big.
We had a little semi-guided tour, courtesy of our old pal Gao Laoshi, not my host mom but the crusty old Beijinger. We also had these automatic audio tours that told us stuff. Weird occurence of the week–they had those little tour guide machines in like sixty languages, and of course everyone in our group was given an English one, except me, who got a German one, and I have no idea why. I was thrilled though, because I miss German. It’s a nice language and a cool culture, but isn’t very useful for what I want to do with my life. I could catch some of it, but my skills are quite rusty. It was nice to hear that nice, soothing Hochdeutsch baritone that all German recordings seem to use.
And as usual, all the names sound infinitely more impressive in German. “Die Verbotenstadt” and “Kaisernpalast” both sound like such impressive and more natural translations of “故宫.” While the Hall of Heavenly Purity sounds silly and pretentious, die Halle der Himmlischen Reinheit sounds like you’re going to get shot by a seven-foot tall Einsatzkommando named Jurgen if you track mud on the floor. Considering the kind of place it used to be, that’s a much more accurate translation.
The tour was cool, although repetitive after a while. A lot of the museums and landmarks here are quite static and repetitive, they don’t really engage you. They seem to rely on an unstated meaning and significance, and try to overwhelm you with their physical presence. You’re supposed to be impressed by their grandeur and power and authority, rather than be a consumer to be engaged and entertained. I suppose American landmarks are much the same way, places like the various war and presidential memorials. Culture is a very subjective and local thing, and it’s difficult to spread ideas, much less communicate values, across language and cultural gaps. Sigh, solidarity…
Afterwards we went out to dinner, which was interesting. As per usual, we were given concert tickets and snack food (large bags of Chips Ahoy/趣多多!/Very Very Delightful! and hawthorn jelly candies) and had a huge banquet of food ordered for us, which I personally thought was one of the better spreads we’ve had, although I may be in the minority there. At the end we had stinky tofu, which tasted nasty, although most other people had much more violent reactions to it than I did.
Anyway, little to tell beyond that. The concert tickets were for some early modern troupe–a harpsichordist, two cellists, and a cellist/violinist. Their last piece was a Beatles song, which should amuse Matt Michrina, although it will disappoint him that I don’t remember which one it was. Nina will bug me about it later.
Midterms now! I am so behind in my work that it is not very funny. I’m just so used to being my little pretentious “gifted” polymath self that having to just study one subject and stick to a couple of small tasks really bores me and I lose interest after a while, especially for longer written pieces above my comprehension level. I wish we were taking a more intensive cultural/political/socio course like some of the other roundeye kids here are.
Nose to the grindstone now! Hui tou jian!