I spent the morning walking and sweating through the Forbidden City, a fascinating place north of Tiananmen Square and the ritual center of two dynasties, the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911).
They sure built things well back then.
The Palace Museum alone houses more than 1.5 million objects, from paintings to jewelry to clocks to stone drums to jades to ceramics.
It is the world’s largest palace complex, covering over 1,000,000 meters. It takes about 90 minutes to stroll from one end to the next. And if you’re lucky like me, the humidity is beyond atrocious and your dress shirt within minutes resembles a soaked towel.
I’m pretty sure that’s why a bunch of school children asked to take their picture with me — an American with red hair is peculiar enough around here, but then throw in the fact he looks as though he just jumped out of a pool, and the kiddies really become interested.
They laughed a lot while talking Chinese during the pictures. I got the feeling the jokes weren’t all that flattering to their wet American friend.
The first person I met was Webbie, a 19-year-old female student from the northeast province of Fujian. She and a friend traveled 19 hours by train to see a place that was once off limits to average citizens.
“I am here for the history,” Webbie said. “It is our symbol of China. We have never been here. It is important to see where all the emperors lived.”
Yellow is the symbol of the royal family, so it’s the dominant color in the city. Also popular is the idea of gouging Americans. I now know why Ted Koppel called China the “People’s Republic of Capitalism.” One local offered a personal tour for 200 Yuan ($30 American), but I chose the audio version for 40 Yuan ($6, a deal my sports editor undoubtedly will applaud). At least five times, street vendors approached with this question:
“Good. I give you best deal.”
Translation: I’m about to charge you five times what this stupid fan is worth.
The clock is ticking. About five hours until the Opening Ceremonies, until China officially welcomes the world. I have a feeling we are about to see something unlike anything the Games have seen.