Sunday, December 23, 2007

Forbidden Places and Acrobatic Positions



Those words either invoke images of people in coolie hats, roast duck (more on that later), or The Forbidden City depending if you ever have watched the movie, Last Emperor. (incidentally my great grandfather was briefly portrayed there, and not in a flattering way).

It is sort of hard to realize why they call it the Forbidden City until you actually step within the walls. The Forbidden City was where the Chinese Qing and Ming dynasties held court, it was the place of power, and only official court personnel along with the Emperor were allowed in the city. And, that is exactly right.. a CITY. The place is huge, and it has its own history and an innumerable number of buildings.. way more than my aching feet could handle.

Rather than rely on my dad attempting to give me his personal tour, i got this automatic audio guide thing that triggered a lovely british voice when i got to certain areas of the city. Sadly, a male voice shared duties with a lovely female one. Did i mention i love accents on women? Such a sad cliche, ah well. Enough of that, here is a picture of me in front of the Forbidden City.

Anyhow, we went in the back entrance and hence we started with the Imperial Garden. My dad laughed at me since i practically took a new picture every 3 steps, but i couldn't help it. The overwhelming power of the Forbidden City, wasn't its vastness, wasn't its layout, or the history behind it all. The power of the place laid with the art. The entire city was suffused with artistry and craftsmanship, from the celing tiles, to eaves, to the very ground. It was absolutely amazing, and impossible to describe. I tried to keep up with the details, but because i was running low on battery power i didn't take as many as i could.

Here are some examples of what i am talking about.. here is a typical eave, and a ceiling tile. Mind you, neither were uncommon.

This is a celing beam, and a center tile of one of the outlying garden structures.

I am going to share some random images i liked..

here is a bat design on the ground.

A kickass Kirin (a mythical chinese animal kin to the Unicorn)

This is one of the "roads" of the city.

These appear ALL around the city roof tiles, sort of gargoyles. You can't see it here, but they are usually gold and absolutely gorgeous

This is a giant single stone carving with dragons on it, this is where the Emperor was carried over, and no one else was allowed to be over it.

I am glad they kept my seat in nice order until i got around to coming back...

Btw, this was like only 1 of 5 thrones... the Emperors over the years chose different locations to rule, one emperor chose to the whole, "Concubine administration", I guess he wanted to see if he keeping ALL his concubines satisfied would bring the country some comfort... he almost died as a result.
One of the fascinating parts of the exhibits and buildings of the Forbidden City is the story of the last Empress Dowager, or Cun Xun. She was something else... she first entered the Forbidden City as a low ranking concubine (there are 6-8 ranks) and she quickly rose in rank, gave birth to the Crown Prince, than the Emperor mysteriously found himself dead, and the Emperor's Mother became the ruler of China. They called it "ruling behind the curtain" but everyone knew who held the power. I expect this to be made into a Lifetime Movie very shortly.

Some final images..

Here i am trying to give some perspective over how vast the city really is..

It is much bigger than the view shows, if you squint you can see the red tile eaves that stretch out.

And here is an amazing guard lion. It has a matching Male version with a ball under the paw, this one has a cub under her paw.

After the Forbidden City, my dad and i got tickets to see the Beijing Acrobats. I don't know why, but i was very excited to see a group of people contorting and flipping for my amazement.

We got to the acrobats' theatre and were quickling joined by about 20 or so patrons. This worried me, but i was quickly soothed by the complimentary hot tea, and the not-as-complimentary kettle pop corn. (but mmm!)

As soon as the show started, my mouth hung open for way longer than was healthy. The first impression that hit me was the youth of the performers... they came out in two groups, the boys and girls. The girls did all sorts of balancing, and flexibility acts, with the youngest girl being about 10-11. The boys did the majority of the strength, and leaping acts, with the youngest being about 8. Yes... 8 years old! I couldn't shake the occassional image of a 3 year old being torn from their parents, and being forced to practice positions and suffering under a whip, or made to skip meals while they learn how to balance plates, and glasses. I think this was one reason i kept looking for the performer who appeared to enjoy themself the most and smiled the biggest.

I felt bad about the small crowd, and especially bad because the crowd didn't quite know when to clap for the girl performers.. It wasn't that we couldn't appreciate their feats, but we were a bit afraid of when to clap and mostly were just amazed at them. The boys on the other hand were easy to clap for, when they land after their 8th flip, or jump from the top pole, we clap. But when do you exactly clap for a girl contorting their body into a pretzel, all the while holding separate pyramids of glasses with each foot, each hand and even her teeth?

The ubiqitous plate spinning

Boy jumping and flipping..

I can't even do a handstand...

These outfits led

led to this outrageous routine

an unreal position.

a ribbon dancer

Anyhow.. i am sure this is enough for now.

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