I rose at 0630, awakened my friend, and we headed out. On our way to catch a cab, we stopped at the street vendor, where for RMB 1.50 we had a hot pancake filled with egg, coated with spicy sauce and filled with lettuce. Very tasty. The cab dropped us off on the west side of Tiananmen Square, a place already famous before 1989 simply for being the world's largest public square. We arrived around 0715, but already the square was packed with people waiting in line to see Mao. We first headed south to see the Zhengyang Men (northern gate) and Arrow Tower (Jian Lou), then cut around the Maosoleum on the east side to take photos of the Olympics countdown clock on the side of the China National Museum. The line to see Mao was 5-6 people wide and stretched from the south side all the way to the north side of the Maosoleum. We decided that waiting so long to take a photo on our way by a possibly wax head wasn't our cup of tea that early, so we moved on.
Past the Monument to the People's Heroes, where young soldiers were posing for photographs, and on toward the Gate of Supreme Harmony, where hangs the famous portrait of Chairman Mao. Here, he proclaimed the People's Republic of China, so here hangs his head. We posed for photos, first smiling, then braving a salute. By now, I had noticed people staring at my legs. I was wearing knee-length shorts, Teva sandals, and a large fleece for warmth. Oh well.
Under the street through the pedestrian tunnel; then under Mao's head; and into a courtyard to buy tickets for Forbidden City, a huge complex of palaces where the Ming and Qing emperors lived for 500 years. We ate Pop-Tarts while waiting to buy tickets (we arrived before the ticket office opened), then headed to buy our "Automatic Guide" earphones, through the Meridian Gate, and in we were.
We went through amazing areas of courtyards, side buildings, massive gates, gardens, and palaces until they all ran together and our legs ached from the walking. I'll try to add some detail to the photographs, but it would be impossible to describe it all here. We left, totally sated with palaces and the like, our heads filled with useful stories of concubine selection, the intrigue of empresses, and the many tragedies that befell the emperors who had ruled from these massive buildings. The Forbidden City is so-called because it was literally verboten for civilians to enter without invitaion. After the last emperor, Puyi, was ousted in the 1920's, the place was turned into the Palace Museum and gradually renovated for public viewing. It was beautiful.
We headed back toward our dorm but had the cab driver drop us off a few blocks away so we could go to McDonald's. My first visit to a Chinese McDonald's was almost ruined by a young boy being sick on the floor while I was eating, but I didn't care. Even though I don't usually eat Mickey D's in the States, it was so delicious that day in Beijing! The double cheeseburger was exactly the same, down to the two pickles and dehydrated onions, but the fries were a little soggy--we think they're fried in peanut oil here (like everything else). My coke was tiny, 8 or 10 ounces, and my fries were the size of Happy Meal fries in the States. I didn't care. I inhaled the food, and even had a small chocolate sundae for dessert. My grand total: 21 RMB, or $3 American.
Back to the dorm for R&R and massive photo uploading. Dinner at the Tourist Restaurant, and an early night in bed. I'm exhausted.