The Forbidden City and Why China Desperately Needs Proofreaders

We woke up to a nice rain on the windows of our hostel and Lynn and I decided this would be a good day to visit the Forbidden City.  We walked there from our hostel about 2 miles away and purchased umbrellas along the way to supplement our rain coats because it was really starting to come down.  We cut through a mall at one point and popped out on a major market street full of vendors selling all sorts of foods and snacks.

We took this opportunity to try the yogurt drink that they seem to sell all over Beijing in little ceramic jars with paper over them attached with a rubber band.  It was basically yogurt and a little sugar.  Lynn noted that it tasted a lot like the yogurt from the stop on the Bosphorous ferry in Istanbul.

Doug enjoying a Beijing yogurt drink.
Doug enjoying a Beijing yogurt drink.

We continued on and stopped for a proper lunch of fried eggplant, stir fried pork, and hot and sour soup at a little neighborhood restaurant along the way.  The eggplant was pretty good, even for eggplant, which I normally don’t care for, albeit a bit coated in oil and the rest of the food tasted like the Chinese food you get back in America.

Lunch of fried eggplant, pork stirfry and hot and sour soup.  All of this was $11.
Lunch of fried eggplant, pork stirfry and hot and sour soup. All of this was $11.

We got to the Forbidden City as the rain was letting up and were excited to use an audio guide that Lynn had downloaded from the Museum of Virginia.  We bought our tickets, walked in and started listening, only to realize that the guide was for an exhibition of items from the Forbidden City at the Museum of Virginia.  Oops.  We made do with the signs around the palace instead, which turned out to be a constant source of amusement for us.

I’m sure most people are already aware that Asia has some pretty terrible translations into English all over the place.  What has surprised Lynn and I is the extent to which this goes. I would think that you would at least hire someone to make sure the signs at your major international tourist attraction – the Forbidden City – would be okay, but no.  Maybe they are going for humorous signs to add a lighthearted vibe to such an otherwise formal place.

Our favorite English things we have seen so far have been a hat that said

One Day!! He tooks my hand could be.

and, on the t-shirt of an old woman riding a bicycle

Guilty Pleasures. Fuck this life.

Every time I see one of these I’m reminded of a story my mom told me once about a girl who got a tattoo of a Chinese character that she thought said princess until she finally met someone who could read it and told her “Well sort of. It means the Emperor’s concubine.”

At the forbidden city itself there were two signs that stood out above the rest as my absolute favorites.  One was just a fantastic description of a tree root.

As a precious tree grown in China, Lacebark pine matched perfectly with the imperial palace and garden.  With mottled and milky trunk, the “white-robe general” is noted or its longevity.  Its protruding root looks like a crouching dragon.

I have no idea where they get a crouching dragon out of the roots.
I have no idea where they get a crouching dragon out of the roots.

The other was this translation of the phrase Yun Zhe Jue Zhong. Either Mandarin is the most information dense language on Earth or someone is fluffing this phrase up a bit.

The Way of Heaven is profound and mysterious and the way of mankind is difficult.  Only if we make a precise and unified plan and follow the doctrine of the mean, can we rule the country well.

Signage aside, it was still a very interesting experience to walk through the former palace.  We were both impressed by the very bright colors of the paintings and tile and sheer size of the buildings.  Last time Lynn was here, ten  years ago, everything was very faded and run down.  It turns out they are in the middle of a very extensive restoration to return the palace to how it looked in 1911.

Old unrestored palace.
Old unrestored palace.
Restored palace.
Restored palace.

We walked through gate after gate after gate further into the palace before we finally reached the living areas  and wandered through some outdoor corridors and the gardens for a while before deciding that it was all starting to look the same and we were ready to go do something else.

One of the many layers of gates into the Forbidden City.  The large stones in the center of the stairs were brought in by freezing the streets and sliding them on the ice.
One of the many layers of gates into the Forbidden City. The large stones in the center of the stairs were brought in by freezing the streets and sliding them on the ice.
Every throne room (there were 4 I believe) had throngs of people trying to take pictures.  I'll save you some jostling if you ever go.  You can look from the side doors and it looks the same.
Every throne room (there were 4 I believe) had throngs of people trying to take pictures. I’ll save you some jostling if you ever go. You can look from the side doors and it looks the same.
A very happy looking, lion/turtle/dragon.
A very happy looking, lion/turtle/dragon.

The rain had started back up again and we headed back to our hostel for some hot tea and to figure out how to spend the rest of the day.  That quickly turned into hot tea and naps as the rain falling outside was just too soothing to not fall asleep.

After tea and naps we decided we were going to go to an acrobatics show that the hostel offered discount tickets and a ride too.  We went down stairs and purchased tickets and then killed an hour in the very empty hostel bar while we tried their Wi-Fi to see if it was any better than in our room. It was not.

We met up with our driver in the lobby at 6.00 along with a French couple and followed her down the street to another hostel where we picked up four more Americans before getting into the mini-bus. (Beijing has, by far, the most other Americans we have seen so far this trip.)  We then made our way to the theater stopping at a few more hostel and hotels along the way to pick up more folks.  At one point Lynn slid across the back seat to make more room for some people getting on the bus and her pants caught on a piece of metal protruding from the seat, leaving about a 2 in tear in her butt.  She was not nearly as amused as I was, though I tried not to show it.

We arrived at the theater and went in to find that it was mostly empty so we had our choice of front row seats available.  We snaked on some pretty bland sesame cakes while we waited for the show to start.

The show itself was simultaneously amazing, poorly edited, and incredible unsafe.  Lynn and I both decided it would be completely illegal to have performers doing some of these acts they way they did in the U.S.  We also decided they had to be students because there is absolutely no way this theater could stay in business given the low turn out they have every night if they actually had to pay these people anything. Another nice thing about the theater was they were very lax with their no photo and video policy so rather than describing the acts we can just show you.

IMGP6092
Yes, that is nine women riding on one bicycle.
These girls were kicking drums back and forth in the air.  It was a lot more impressive than it sounds.
These girls were kicking drums back and forth in the air. It was a lot more impressive than it sounds.
There were no safety lines for this guy at balancing on the top, and as far as we could tell those were regular chairs, or at least they sure wobbled like they were regular chairs.
There were no safety lines for this guy at balancing on the top, and as far as we could tell those were regular chairs, or at least they sure wobbled like they were regular chairs.
Contortionists to start the show, the ones in Mongolia were way better.
Contortionists to start the show, the ones in Mongolia were way better.

We’ll add video when our internet is less sucky but the parts that we only have video of were 5 motorcycle in a giant cage, and two guys running around a giant wheel, sometimes blindfolded.

After the show, which at points made Lynn and I so nervous our hands were sweating, we decided to walk to a hot pot restaurant famous for its hospitality.  I had read that they will do your nails and give you massages while you wait for a table, which sounded like just what we needed after a very stressful, though entertaining show.

We made our way to the address only to not be able to find the restaurant.  At this point we were both concerned we had found another gone-out-of-business situation.  Before leaving we decided to circle the block and in doing so found a small door to an elevator that took you upstairs to the restaurant.

It was quite a lively place and the hosts and waiters were indeed incredibly hospitable.  There was no wait so we didn’t get massaged but everyone was very accommodating, especially for no one speaking any English and us not speaking any Mandarin.  Lynn ordered us a split broth of spicy Sichuan soup and a milder mushroom broth for me along with various meats and vegetables.  We were then escorted over to a sauce bar where we mixed our own dipping sauces.

Hot pot.
Hot pot.

The food arrived and we began to eat.  The spicy broth was indeed very spicy and I also got to learn about Sichuan peppercorns.  Though not very hot, they do a fantastic job of making your mouth numb, maybe so you can deal with the heat of all the other types of peppers they put in the broth.  I stuck with mushroom broth after that.

Both full up on food, we decided to call it a night and took the subway back to our hostel.

Daily walking miles : 12.5

Fun Facts:

  • Sichuan peppercorns taste pretty bitter, but just one can make most of your mouth and lips numb.
  • The internet both over “4G” and at our hostel is truly abysmal.  We think maybe its all the firewalls they have.
  • The Forbidden City became the Palace Museum in 1925 when Emperor Puyi (of The Last Emperor fame) was expelled from the palace by a militant ruler.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *