Wednesday, August 31, 2011

KOTA KINABALU: 02 - You, Beach!

Tanjung Aru’s beach is not the cleanest one you’ll encounter in this lifetime. Locals and foreigners would tell you that if you’re looking for an awesome beach experience, you should ride a jetty and go to one of KK’s many islands. Tanjung Aru? Laughable. Well, not for me. Now let me defend my favorite Sabah beach.

While you would see cars coming in and people swimming, I think what they are really after is the vibrancy of the area: the social activities, the night life. With a lively bar and some resorts that double as golf clubs or videoke bars, there’s too much to observe or experience. The promenade makes up for the so-so brown sand. The muddy water smells a bit, but the kids don’t care. Just some ten minutes of walking from the airport and half of that from my guest house, this beach proved to be very accessible. In fact, I was wondering why I did not go there earlier during my stay. Perhaps, this is also the reason why people tend to frequent this beach. Besides, who would shell out 17 ringgit each time for a daily dose of Gaya or Manukan, right? Not to mention that jetties to those islands have some sort of curfew Tanjung Aru is open to everyone who wants to come, and the bar does not close until 2 in the morning.

It was at that bar where I had my first taste of alcohol in a very long time. Out of curiosity I ordered a cocktail called Screwdriver, which is just a stylish nickname for a rather bitter orange juice. Wikipedia would tell you that it is 1/3 alcohol and 2/3 orange drink. In short, Tang na may tama. Whatever, I don’t like it, and I don’t get why people would pay that much for it. Those people would also probably think that me eating Tang Grape Powder straight from the sachet without water is weird, or that Cry Baby and Sour Skittles are inedible. The feeling is mutual. Let’s weird each other out, but to each his own.

What I like about beaches is the calm that it brings you despite the chaos happening everywhere. You have the noisy kids, their equally noisy parents, the smooching couples, the resident weirdos, the stereotypical tourists. I don’t know why, but when I sit on a log by a beach all sounds seem muted, and what’s left are the gentle clap of waves against the shore, accompanied by a magnificent sunset that my eyes would definitely capture if it had a memory card embedded in it. At Tanjung Aru I did nothing but sit on that log, look at the horizon, and reflect on a lot of things. In fact, the creative juices were just flowing in my brain all the time while I was there and I could have written a beautiful short story altogether, but recording my thoughts would have interrupted the free flow of thoughts running around my head, so I decided against it. I promised Tanjung Aru, though, that if and when I write my first novel or screenplay, I’ll write one chapter while relaxing on her shores.

I guess that would explain why in my Budget and Itinerary article for Sabah I had a lot of “Tambay at Tanjung Aru Beach” entries. Beaches make me feel this way, regardless of their cleanliness or appeal (unless they truly stink, which would be plain distracting). But Tanjung Aru was accessible, so very accessible and I would like to thank her for sparing me some space where I could organize my thoughts, clear my head, and just relax. And so I don’t give a rat’s ass if your favorite Sabah beach is in Sipadan, Pulau Tiga, or Manukan. Tanjung Aru is mine.

KOTA KINABALU: 02 - You, Beach!

Monday, August 29, 2011

KOTA KINABALU: 01 - Borneo BeacHouse

There are better guest houses in Kota Kinabalu but Borneo BeacHouse is not that bad. The edge it has over the others is its location 10 minutes away from the airport, on foot. Whoever wrote that wasn’t lying but walks faster than I do. I completed the route in 12 minutes, but I had a big backpack with me. I’d give slow people around 15 to 20 minutes. More than that and you must either be crawling or in a sack race. Seriously? The Tanjung Aru Beach is closer to this guest house, less than five minutes of walking for me.

From the airport, head to the exit up to the “highway” which is Jln Mat Salleh. You will see a park named Perdana. This park is hard to miss because it’s big and there is a large electronic billboard there. Take a look at the left and you see a big archway. If you still need more clues there would be a big blue sign saying TANJUNG ARU and an arrow pointing to where it is you must go to reach it. The place is a house which reminds me of my father’s family house in Bulacan. The garage is huge and the lounge has a pool table and a counter. The spiral staircase leads upstairs to the living room. The kitchen is free for all, except for the food. Eat only your own food, please. There is a bathroom with a tub but there’s just one. There are two shower rooms at the garage next to the toilets which are separate for men and women. Yes, you could use the bathroom upstairs but sometimes the water pressure is not too strong.

The four-bed mixed dorm is cramped and the double bunk beds are made of bamboo, not the common wooden IKEA’s you see in most youth hostels. Because of this the bed is shaky, and since I got the top bunk I probably disturbed the Japanese guy sleeping on the bottom bunk enough for him to contemplate murder. Joke. Who knows! I would recommend this guest house if you are just in transit in KK and you have an early flight the next day. With just 10 minutes of walking, it would really benefit even the worst crammer you know. Another reason would be if you like quick access to the beach. Tanjung Aru’s is not the cleanest you’ll get to visit in this lifetime but they have a bar there which is just as lively as those in the city center. And then there’s Perdana Park on the opposite direction. To get to the City Center, take a bus. 15 - 20 minutes.


KOTA KINABALU: 01 - Borneo BeacHouse

One Day


A foiled one night stand leads to long time amity between college friends Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess). The story of their enduring love and friendship is narrated through various events in their lives unfolding every year on the 15th day of July.

The said date and the corresponding year flashes on screen and is presented in such a way that it blends with the background. This seems cool at first because it gives you some sort of perspective as to the time frame the story follows. However, given that the story spans twenty years, the trick eventually turns redundant after a while, especially in some years where nothing significant happens like that of 1997 (open to correction) where Hathaway is only shown swimming before the following year makes its inevitable appearance onscreen. That was fast.



As a young kid, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) witnesses the murder of her parents in her native Colombia. With prior knowledge and preparation, she survives the massacre and makes it to America to live with her uncle and grandmother. Fifteen years later she is a serial killer with a distinct MO, a clueless painter boyfriend (Michael Vartan), and an unquenchable thirst for payback. However, one minor mistake leads her to cross paths with FBI agent Ross (Jordi Molla), who begins to track her down. Her quest for revenge brings her to various places and gets her to do some kickass chick stuff like swimming with sharks, dodging bullets, and all that jazz.

The initial chase scene is peppered with excellent panoramic shots of Bogota's slums and a lot of Parkour that complements the frenetic change of pace in the plot. In fact, it is that sudden 180 degree turn of events that grips you and automatically keeps you hooked. Later on, our heroine tells her uncle straight to his face that she wants to be a killer. By then you would know that you are in for a thrilling movie experience. Think Salt meets Hanna a la Latina minus Cate Blanchett and her weird accent.

Crazy, Stupid, Love


Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) are about to have a divorce. Disoriented and dispirited, he begins to frequent a bar where he meets resident Casanova Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) who decides to take the poor guy under his wing. Given a quick makeover, Cal soon becomes a smooth talker himself and starts picking up women, one of which is English teacher Kate Tafferty (Marisa Tomei). Emily, on the other hand, continues to go out with co-worker David (Kevin Bacon). Meanwhile, Jacob starts to fall for a lawyer named Hannah (Emma Stone), and turns to Cal for advice. Together they try to survive this crazy and stupid phenomenon we call Love.

What is noteworthy about the movie is that all of the characters, except maybe for Bacon and Tomei who have minimal participation (more like extended cameos), have their own stories which are not left unresolved (almost) by the end of the movie. Enough exposure is given to each one of them for their stories to come full circle, unlike some movies where the support cast are just that, support. However, the most interesting thing about the movie is the plot. The climax is plain awesome in that it is a riot, in every sense of the word. It is funny, touching, and well executed, which is how the entire movie is. It is amazing how it could make you laugh, almost bring you to tears, and give you some realizations about life that come in handy in the real world, all at the same time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sweet Charity (9 Works Theatrical)


Charity Hope Valentine (Nikki Gil) is a dance hall hostess who seems to have nothing but bad luck when it comes to love, but still maintains a cheerful demeanor in life much to the chagrin of her dancer friends who see her as some sort of insufferable naive girl. En route to some lecture which she thinks she needs to turn her life around, she gets trapped in an elevator with claustrophobic bachelor Oscar (Kris Lawrence). Is he the answer to her prayers, or just another heartbreak waiting to happen?

The thing about Nikki Gil is that you could see her just enjoying her role. Do you sometimes notice how some theater actors tend to grandstand during a musical number that somehow they cease to be the characters they are portraying and instead become just singers for a while as if in a solo concert? This does not happen to Gil. What you see is the character singing, not the actor. She does not need to hog the spotlight because she nails her character, mannerisms and all. Members of the audience are also convinced, the proof of which are the plenty of cheers and applause they give every time she drops a one-liner or does something wacky. She also looks good in wigs. She should consider starring in a Cathy Garcia Molina movie.

Noli Me Tangere: The Musical (Tanghalang Pilipino)


We would assume that you have already encountered Rizal's social satire in a variety of media: some movies, TV specials, and the novel itself. Now, Tanghalang Pilipino adds some music and voila! You have a historical musical. With nothing onstage aside from a flight of steps and windows on the walls, the actors are able to move freely and are well equipped with the necessary props to further establish what is needed for the scene. The steps are maximized for effective blocking, while the traditional windows complement the lighting well enough for some dramatic effect. A furniture is added in each scene when necessary. This, however, becomes a disadvantage when a scene calls for bigger space, like when Ibarra ran up and down the same set of steps twice just to depict distance. This is unintentionally funny and drew some giggles from the audience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BEIJING: Budget and Itinerary

MONDAY: August 15, 2011
555.00 - G140 (Shanghai - Beijing)
35.00 - Train Lunch (Rice Meal)
2.00 - Line 4/2 (Dongzhimen)
65.00 - Hua Tong Xin (Sanlitun) Hostel (1 night/1 bunk)
83.00 - Hostel Bar (Pizza + Shake + Coke + Cookies)

SATURDAY: August 20, 2011
189.00 - Happy Dragon Hostel (3 nights/1 bunk)
54.00 - Happy Dragon Cafe (Fried Rice + Fries + Coke Can + Choco Milkshake)

SUNDAY: August 21, 2011
15.00 - McDonalds (5 pcs nuggets w/fries + coke)
2.00 - Line 5/10/8 (Dongsi - Senlingongyuannanmen)
3.00 - Olympic Park (Mineral Water)
2.00 - Olympic Green (Mineral Water)
23.50 - Yoshinoya (Beef Bowl + Pepsi)
2.00 - Line 8/10 (Olympic Sports Center - Beitucheng - Sanyuanqiao)
2.00 - Line 10/5 (Sanyuanqiao - Huixinxijienankou - Dongsi)
38.00 - Chinese Resto (Fried Rice + Coke can x2 + Ham)

MONDAY: August 22, 2011
19.00 - KFC lunch promo (Chicken Fillet w/rice w/coleslaw + coke)
3.00 - Forbidden City (Mineral Water)
60.00 - Entrance (Forbidden City)
10.00 - Entrance (Hall of Clocks)
10.00 - Entrance (Treasure Gallery)
10.00 - Snacks (Lays + Coke)
2.00 - Line 5/2 (Qianmen- Chongwenmen - Tiantandongmen)
25.00 - KFC (Chicken fillet w/ rice + Coke large)
30.00 - Souvenir (Pearl Market)
2.00 - Line 5 (Tiantandongmen - Dongsi)

TUESDAY: August 23, 2011
2.00 - Line 5/2 (Dongsi - Yonghegong - Dongzhimen)
12.00 - Bus 916 (Dongzhimen - Huairou)
3.00 - Eatery (Grape Juice)
6.00 - Bus 867 (Huairou - Hongluo)
13.00 - Bus 867 (Hongluo - Dongzhimenwai)
2.00 - Line 2/4 (Dongzhimen - Xizhimen - Beijing Zoo)
23.50 - Yoshinoya (Beef Bowl + Pepsi)
19.00 - DQ (Blizzard Brownie Chocolate)
20.00 - Entrance (Beijing Zoo)
5.00 - Entrance (Panda House)
2.00 - Line 4/1 (Beijing Zoo - Xidan - Wangfujin)
35.80 - Books (Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore)
23.50 - Yoshinoya (Beef Bowl + Pepsi)
2.00 - Line 5 (Dongdan - Dongsi)
2.00 - Line 5/2 (Dongsi - Yonghegong - Dongzhimen)
25.00 - Airport Express (Terminal 2)
5.00 - Airport (Ganten 570 ml)
565.34 - Cebu Pacific (Beijing - Manila)

CNY2, 007.64
PhP14, 053.48 - TOTAL

******Estimate of CNY1.00 = PhP7.00

MONDAY: August 15, 2011
G140 (Shanghai Hongqiao - Beijing South) 13:00 - 18:30
Line 4 (Beijing South Railway - Xuanwumen) 18:40 - 18:50
Line 2 (Xuanwumen - Dongzhimen) 18:50 - 19:10
Check-in (Sanlitun Youth Hostel) 19:50 - 20:00
Dinner (Sanlitun Hostel) 20:00 - 21:00

SATURDAY: August 20, 2011
Check-in (Happy Dragon Hostel) 22:00 - 22:15
Dinner (Happy Dragon Cafe) 23:00 - 23:30

SUNDAY: August 21, 2011
Lunch (McDonalds) 12:35 - 13:00
Line 5 (Dongsi - Huixinxijenankou) 13:00 - 13:15
Line 10 (Huixinxijienankou - Beitucheng) 13:15 - 13:20
Line 8 (Beitucheng - Senlingongyuannanmen) 13:20 - 13:30
Sightseeing (Olympic Park) 13:30 - 16:30
Sightseeing (Olympic Green) 16:30 - 17:00
Dinner (Yoshinoya) 17:05 - 17:30
Sightseeing (Bird's Nest/Water Cube) 17:30 - 18:10
Line 8 (Olympic Sports Center - Beitucheng) 18:15 - 18:20
Line 10 (Beitucheng - Sanyuanqiao) 18:20 - 18:35
Getting Lost (Chaoyang) 18:45 - 19:45
Line 10 (Sanyuanqiao - Huixinxijienankou) 19:45 - 19:55
Line 5 (Huixinxijienankou - Dongsi) 19:55 - 20:15
Dinner (Chinese Resto) 20:25 - 21:00

MONDAY: August 22, 2011
Lunch (KFC) 11:50 - 12:20
Sightseeing (Tiananmen Gate) 12:35 - 12:45
Sightseeing (Forbidden City) 12:50 - 17:10
Sightseeing (Tiananmen Square) 17:15 - 17:55
Line 5 (Qianmen - Chongwenmen) 18:00 - 18:05
Line 2 (Chongwenmen - Tiantandongmen) 18:05 - 18:10
Sightseeing (Temple of Heaven Entrance) 18:20 - 18:25
Dinner (KFC) 18:30 - 19:00
Sightseeing (Pearl Market) 19:00 - 19:10
Line 5 (Tiantandongmen - Dongsi) 19:10 - 19:25

TUESDAY: August 23, 2011
Line 5 (Dongsi - Yonghegong) 08:35 - 08:45
Line 2 (Yonghegong - Dongzhimen) 08:45 - 08:50
Bus 916 (Dongzhimen - Huairou) 09:00 - 10:10
Bus 867 (Huairou - Hongluo) 10:30 - 11:05
Sightseeing (Hongluo Temple Entrance) 11:10 - 11:35
Bus 867 (Hongluo - Dongzhimenwai) 11:35 - 13:20
Line 2 (Dongzhimen - Xizhimen) 13:30 - 13:55
Line 4 (Xizhimen - Beijing Zoo) 13:55 - 14:00
Lunch (Yoshinoya) 14:05 - 14:45
Sightseeing (Beijing Zoo) 14:50 - 16:15
Sightseeing (China Exhibition Center) 16:15 - 16:30
Malling (Ito Yokado) 16:30 - 17:00
Line 4 (Beijing Zoo - Xidan) 17:00 - 17:15
Line 1 (Xidan - Wangfujing) 17:15 - 17:25
Malling (The Malls at Oriental Plaza) 17:30 - 17:45
Bookstore (Wangfujing Bookstore) 17:45 - 18:30
Bookstore (Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore) 18:30 - 19:35
Dinner (Yoshinoya) 19:40 - 20:10
Line 5 (Dongdan - Dongsi) 20:20 - 20:25
Retrieve Things (Guest House) 20:30 - 20:40
Line 5 (Dongsi - Yonghegong) 20:45 - 20:55
Line 2 (Yonghegong - Dongzhimen) 21:00 - 21:05
Airport Express (Dongzhimen - Sanyuanqiao) 21:10 - 21:40
Check-in/Immigration (Capital Airport) 22:00 - 22:40

WEDNESDAY: August 24, 2011
Boarding (Cebu Pacific) 00:30 - 01:00

XUANWU: 01 - Even Pandas Plank Nowadays

I was supposed to go to the Miutanyu section of the Great Wall today. Wikitravel says that this is less crowded than the more popular portion at Badaling, which they dubbed as the "Great Wall of Tourists". Another interesting thing to note about Miutanyu is that they have a cable car going both ways, but that's not the real deal yet. Hold your breath. Okay. They have a toboggan! This means you could slide all the way down! This sealed the deal for me. So, what happened? Laziness. I arrived at Dongzhimen at exactly 9 AM, the last trip of the 936/867 bus going straight to Miutianyu. I couldn't locate the bus. I took a chance on the 916 bus going to Huairou, and then I took bus 867 which ended its run at Hongluo Temple. No wall for me. The taxi was asking for a hundred yuan. No, thanks. I boarded the same bus going back to Dongzhimen. I'll just add the Great Wall to the long list of victims of my laziness. I know this won't be my last time in Beijing. My Mandarin studies will bring me back to this city one day. Then, I would have my stroll on that wall. Hopefully the toboggan would still be in operation by then.

I took the necessary transfers by metro to arrive at Beijing Zoo. Thankfully there was a Yoshinoya branch nearby! They are not paying me to advertise them, by the way. It’s just that Yoshinoya seems to be enjoying some popularity in China and compared to McDonalds or KFC, at least Yoshinoya has Beef Bowl. I’ve eaten so much chicken in the past few weeks that I might just grow wings tomorrow. Black Swan? White Chicken? Black and White Planking Pandas! Black and white planking pandas are waiting for you inside the Beijing Zoo, but I don’t guarantee that they would be cooperative. They are a lazy species. You’d also be if you are in captivity all your life and do nothing but try to impress the tourists ogling at you. I’d probably be grumpy too. I feel you, Pandas. I’ve been to Ulan Bator. I know the feeling of being stared at.

The prices are displayed on a board but they are in Mandarin. There are translations in English but are not very helpful because they seem to have been written by a seven year old child. Or at least, that’s what I thought of it. Train lag? It’s been days, hello. Just ask the guy at the counter. It seems a bit complicated because they also offer tandem tickets for the aquarium and some boat ride that feature crocodiles doing ballet. I made that one up. The crocodiles doing ballet, not the boat ride. Of course I went to see the Pandas at once!

The Panda House has a separate entrance fee of 5 yuan. Surprise! Along the way you would see some peacocks (Katy Perry probably drew inspiration from here) and birds, neither of which are Pandas, which makes me wonder why they were placed in the same “house”. Maybe they don’t have enough birds to build an aviary. I wanna see your! Panda. I wanna see your Panda! And so you see what they call “Lesser Pandas” which I think is derogatory. If I were a Panda and you call me a “lesser panda” just because I am not big, white, and spotted, but just as lazy, I’ll defecate and throw excrement at you. This is Panda racism. Or just plain classification. Or Chinglish. Bear with me for I’m not making a lot of sense here.

Bear. Bear? Bear! Are Pandas bears? Or are bears Pandas? The experts are still discrediting one another so let’s leave that for a future discussion. The first big Panda I saw was weary and kept on loitering by the grills where the staff should be. I don’t know if it was hungry or it just needed to go to the toilet. When it wasn’t snubbing us, it would go to its playpen, climb the bars, and stay there for a minute or two before going down again to head for the grills. This is the reason why I don’t have a lot of shots. While I wanted to jump in there and get a closeup, my senses were telling me that it wasn’t a very good idea. The signboard with information about the teeth was a clear sign too.

The next Panda in line was just by the grills. Now this one was the total snub. It just had its head on the mud by the grills. Either it was lazy or it died there I had no idea. Either way I pity the poor animal. Solitary life. Spectators all day long ogling at you. Not even a Wii in there for some simulated bowling exercise. That’s depressing. The next Panda was in the Olympics Game Panda House. This one was unconscious and just sleeping there, probably just finished brushing its powerful teeth with a bottle of Jack. You know what Ke$ha does to people, what more, to Pandas. I feel for you, Panda friend. I feel for you.

The Asian Games Panda House has more Pandas. The one at the entrance is separated from tourists by glass, and I was in front of it but since it was only sleeping I just snapped a whatever photo of it an moved on to the next glass cage when there was a sudden commotion because the said Panda suddenly woke up, and jumped towards the glass window before settling there to plank. Of course the other tourists were quick to respond until it became another “evacuation center much” situation, much to my chagrin. What’s with me and wrong timing? That was like half a minute! I need more patience. And yes, the Panda was planking. The follies of human beings are apparently contagious, although it makes more sense for a Panda to hold this position than for a human being.

The next cage has a pair of younger Pandas that are insanely cute, especially when they lie on their backs while chewing on bamboo. Cute. This is a more popular spot, so you would have to contend with many tourists to get a photo in here. You want to pose in front of them? Good luck. The last cage was depressing because the Panda there seemed old, sick (the skin surrounding the eyes have little fur and seem swollen), and had no fans. After that oldie, there are no more Pandas for you. It’ time to move on to the monkeys, the werewolves. I mean WOLVES, those that look like not so cute dogs that DON’T transform into human beings to battle vampires. The aquarium has a separate fee so, no, thanks. I like eating fish more than staring at them, unless they start eating each other. That would be more interesting to watch, like, so Jaws.

Since Xicheng to the north and Xuanwu to the south have since been merged into one district, you could also ride the metro to go to the Summer Palace, where I did not go because I was out of time and it would mean a lot of walking again. This could expand your itinerary for the day. The National Library is one metro stop away. There are also many universities in the area if you want to check out some campus grounds. As for me I just went to a department store, and then later stared at the China Exhibition Center building, which seemed unique.

Monday, August 22, 2011

DONGCHENG: 02 - The Forbidden City of Tourists

The first thing you’d see before you enter the gate is a portrait of Mao. Similar to gates found in palaces in South Korea, this one is rather big and you could climb it if you want, for an extra fee. Entrance to the area is gratis but be ready to get pushed and shoved. What would be a great day to visit Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City? I wouldn’t know. I went on a weekday hoping that the crowd would at least be thin. Well, it was probably thinner than it would have been if it was a weekend, but there was still a big crowd in there. Whatever the board of tourism is doing, it’s obviously working. People are mostly obsessed with structures that have witnessed the intriguing events of the past, and the Forbidden City has a lot of interesting figures in history to back it up, from the 24 emperors who lived in it all the way up to the infamous Empress Dowager Ci Xi.

The area is just across Tian’anmen Square and also shaped as such. If you have a metro map of Beijing, you’ll easily spot the Forbidden City area by locating the big square in the middle that no metro line would dare cross. That’s approximately the whole area, and since it is a national heritage it is bound to stay that way. The suggested stop would be Tian’anmen East if you want to start your tour with a peak of Tian’anmen Square before going to the Forbidden City. Why is it called “Forbidden” anyway? I’ll leave that to the history books. And Google. And Wikipedia. Knowledge is not unattainable nowadays for those who seek it. It’s called the Internet, my friend.

Once you enter Tian’anmen (the gate with the Mao portrait) you will find yourself in a big square facing another big gate called Duanmen. This one has three dummies on the veranda posing as royals to greet you. Enter that gate and you will find yourself in a much bigger square, this time with stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs which include those crawling toy soldiers with a Chinese flag pinned on their ass. Far north would be the biggest gate in the area called Wumen. That is the main entrance to the Forbidden City, the entrance ticket for which, at the ticket booth, would be tagged as a “National Palace Museum” ticket. Withdraw 60 yuan from your wallet.

If you want an audio guide, they come in various languages but are a bit pricy and require some deposit which would include your passport. If you are a History buff, this is a must. If you are not a History buff, this would still be a plus because three hours and a hundred photos after, you’d realize that the palaces inside (and wow are they not plenty) would all look the same to you. At least those high tech guides would be telling you what significant event happened in this palace, who got assassinated in that one, who got conceived in the other one, so on and so forth. You get to distinguish one among the many others. I was not able to do that. Trying to recall everything now all I could remember are the bright hues of red and gold, and how regal they all seemed to me.

The setup is pretty much the same. I guess East Asian Palaces are really built that way. There is a very big elaborately designed gate. There is a square surrounded by palaces to the north (usually the main palace) and on both sides (hall for ministers or temple for the arts, etc). Most of the time, there is a stream flowing under a bridge on the main square, which is almost always at the entrance. The succeeding ones would then have no body of water. Instead, they have footpaths at the center usually lined up with specially designed stones. If the main palace is elevated, there would be steps that would bear a unique design that further adds to the character of the place.

What you would see next would be more red and gold. Aside from palaces the Forbidden City also has many pagodas and pavilions, as well as some unique sculptures based on Chinese myth, or technical innovations during the early periods of Chinese History such as a sun dial. Other than that you would also find some large metal pots. And stuff. And then there are the tourists, but they are not part of the attraction. Or come to think of it, maybe they actually are!

It would be nice to roam around these palaces all by yourself, maximizing all opportunities for a photo op without having to wait for the crowd to disappear. But I think that would also be a bit creepy. I’d rather have people rather than Chinese History ghosts as companions while gallivanting. Give up your print modeling ambitions and just enjoy the view. Watch the people. Watch people watching other people. Be an observer.

If you are looking for exhibits, they have a few inside. For example, there is the Hall of Clocks, which is housed in one of the palaces. You’d be seeing clocks inside, obviously. Lots of them: with different designs coming from different nations and acquired by China through trade. If you love clocks you would have a great time in there. Otherwise, you’ll just nitpick on how ridiculous some of them are. Design had been prioritized over ease of use. Some of the clocks would be hard to locate because of all the artwork. In our house our clocks are mostly just ovals and squares, but they serve their purpose even if they are not aesthetically pleasing to look at. Then again, our house is not a museum for clocks.

What followed? More walking, more color red everywhere you look, and some dragons. There is this wall with colorful dragon designs, nine of them I think, which reminded me of Kowloon. If I remember correctly that means “Nine Dragons” in Cantonese. It must be a significant figure for them. I think emperors usually use it as a symbol for their power. That explains why they are everywhere. If you lived in the palace grounds back then, seeing all those dragons everywhere must have been an intimidating and constant reminder that you have an emperor who is supposedly a deity.

Like I said, the palaces all look similar to the untrained eye, although some features are distinguishable like the design of the doors, the balcony, and the roofing detail. They seem to follow only one theme. Of course, the more detailed the design, the more important the building is, or the person who resides in it. But since I had no guide, I had no clue. Poor me.

There is another exhibit on jewelry. There you would have an idea how they dressed during those days. I think you already have an idea from pop culture and historical dramas, but the pieces in this exhibit are said to be legit. I am only disappointed that there seems to be just a few in there to be seen, and the popular ones, such as that elaborate headdress of an empress, were very hard to capture on film because of the throng of people surrounding it. In ancient China they dressed to impress. In the modern world, you dress like that and snatchers will rob you at gunpoint under the stark daylight.

I am sorry if I could not give pointers as to where to go or what you should see. First, it is so easy to get disoriented with all those people areound you, so what I did was I just followed them wherever they went. And second, I did not have a map with, which would come in handy if you are OC. Otherwise, just follow the flow of the crowd, unless they lead you to another mini museum with a separate entrance fee. As for me, I was led to the theater.

Opera was popular during the imperial days. It had its highs and lows but we could say that it had its taste of fame. I was amused with the theater because of the design and the mechanism they used to hang actors from the ceilings, pretending they were divine. I suddenly remembered Moulin Rouge, hahaha. Just opposite the theater is a mini exhibit and it is free! You see some scripts inside, wigs, the spot where some royals would watch the plays, and a mini version of the theater outside in a glass case showing you how they made it work.

According to my photo stream I was next led to another museum, this time for the Buddhist arts. It was not as alluring as the one housed at UB’s Winter Palace, but the collection here is also impressive and further advanced my desire to get to know the religion, which I always say but never really had the time to do. Maybe when I finish wandering around Asia I would put this on top of my priority list.

And then came the gardens with the redundantly red pavilions and mini bridges over Koi ponds. One particular garden that might be of interest would be that with the concubine’s well in it. You have to read this, it i very Sadako. So the empress dowager felt that a certain concubine was influencing her son. She ordered for her to be killed by tossing her into a well. Obviously, she drowned. That’s, like, so Sadako, right! Luckily, there haven’t been any reports on long haired women in white crawling out from the palace wells. Well, the actual well that is there now seems to be just some sort of replica. Hello, that just seems small even for a kid to drown in. Anyway, this made me want to get to know Xi Ci more. She seems like your typical Pinoy soap opera villainess if you base it on accounts regarding her life. And I love them typical Pinoy soap opera villainesses.

And then I remember pausing for a while and grabbing a drink. Or was that an ice lolly? Anyway I sat inside a souvenir shop cum snack bar with a perfect view of a pagoda overlooking a Koi pond. Peace! And then I entered some of the Pagodas and checked the interiors. Some of them had cool ceilings and the doors are still, attractively bright red but just blends so well with the design.

I was just walking there with my toungue hanging out of my mouth again out of thirst when I found out that I was already in a familiar spot near the entrance. How many hours have passed? You might want to start your tour of the Forbidden City early in the morning. Gates are said to open by 8:30 AM, and if you are lucky, you might just get that perfect photo op. Just wear your running shoes and outdo the other tourists in their own game.

Wait! Your trip is not yet over. There’s still the Tian’anmen Square, which is just a square but built to impress the world. If you are still in need of some history tour, the Naional Museum would be the building to your left, if you are facing the square. There is an identical building on the other side but I am not sure what it is and if it is open to the public. There is a people’s monument, Mao’s Memorial Hall, two more big gates to the south, a railway museum. Lots to see!

I’d say you give the whole morning to the Forbidden City, the afternoon to Tian’anmen Square, and the evening to Wangfujing Street for some serious shopping. Wangfujing Street is Beijing’s version of the typical pedestrian shopping street meant to get you bankrupt. I’ll cut it here. This article is long enough as it already is. Just see the Photobucket album for more pictures. I think there are 90 of them. The video is boring but if you want to see what’s waiting for you inside, I suggest you watch it.

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