Double Whammy: The Forbidden City & Wángfǔjǐng
While a singular, first encounter may set the tone for an experience, it’s a series of encounters that ultimately composes a symphony of revelation.
Despite our poor navigation through treacherous umbrella whackings and beads of sweat blinding our eyes, we made it to the Forbidden City. It’s a bit of a trek to the city’s innards, but a necessary Hajj-like endeavor (or so I imagine it to be). Though we didn’t wear traditional garb and we weren’t driven by a religious devotion, something divine must’ve been motivating us through the crowds, close spaces and past the public defecation. Two hours after our departure from campus, we’d finally reached the official entrance line to the palatial grounds. The entry guards, however, weren’t quite satisfied with our admission tickets, saying that summer studies at Peking University certainly don’t warrant discounted entry. “Would Chinese study abroad students receive discounted tickets in America?” they wanted to know.
Yes, in fact, they would.
I don’t know just how we ended up assuaging the guards, but eventually we received the wave of consent and were urged to quickly move ahead. Like cattle, we mooed, moving through the arched entryway in a dumb heat-induced swagger before officially reaching the promise(d) land. Admittedly, we didn’t make it too deep into the labyrinth, cutting our trip short after a visit to the Imperial Gardens. While it’s always (usually) worth visiting these monumental, historically rich sites, I’ve just about reached my pagoda threshold. You know how it is—once you’ve seen one French Gothic cathedral, you’ve kind of seen ‘em all. No? Besides, anticipation is no longer an activity I enjoy. I thought lines had seen their heyday, that we’d moved on to E-ZPass, but apparently the Forbidden City has only opened its doors to modernity. The gate remains heavily guarded.
We exited the grounds with remarkable ease, however, sniffing out the way to Wangfujing’s exotic-specialty lined “Treat Street.” This little side street’s implanted amidst one of Beijing’s most-trafficked shopping centers and home to international haute couturiers Hermes, Longchamp, Gucci, TAG Heuer, amongst others. I’d heard what bizarre foods were in store, but I hadn’t quite expected kebab sticks of scorpion, starfish, swallows, goat penis, or tarantula to be lining the street like carpet fringe. The food varied in color, fragrance and apparent freshness, but was all foreign and fascinating. Admittedly, the street’s a quintessential tourist trap, but hearing squeals of fellow adventurers is well worth the clichéd experience. If you’re ever on the verge of jadedness, a quick bite of fried scorpion might be just the remedy you need. A salty taste of almost-nothing, and the arachnid will stir your mind, reactivate that mojo, and, who knows—maybe it’ll even settle that oft-angry travelers’ belly.
Encounter. Engage. Experience.