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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



April 28. BEIJING "The Forbidden City" The weather was sort of misty and ethereal so we decided it might be a good day to see the Forbidden City.  Our hotel was only a couple of blocks from the East Gate and we made an early start of it to get there before other tourists.  We figured the Forbidden City would still attract a fair number even during the SARS epidemic.  We were wrong.

We passed one tour group as we arrived but otherwise the whole place was barren.  It was wonderful.  I had seen the Forbidden City over ten years earlier and at that time tourism within China was not as popular so we had a fantastic day wandering through all of the nook and crannies of the city without hardly encountering anyone.  With the growing wealth in China and the Chinese taking to touring their own country I was afraid that this visit wouldn't be quite as mystical as my first one.  But, it was very much like my last visit and it was so nice to experience the silence as we walked through the spacious courtyards of the Forbidden City.

Rob made a bee-line for the most talked about Starbuck's in the world.  He was hungry but also curious to see exactly what a Starbuck's in the Forbidden City would be like.  I was less enthusiastic.  When I last visited the palace I can't even recall there having been much in the way of concessions at all, let alone a food chain.  I was saddened at the extent to which American capitalism went in order to make a buck. Rob, on the other hand, thought it was the greatest thing (sigh). We passed through the main halls and gates before I spotted the Starbuck's sign off to the side.  It actually could have been much worse.  There wasn't any flashy green circle with a lady in the middle.  The sign was just white block letters on the window and there was a small stand at the door showing a cup of Starbuck's coffee.  It was not much more than a coffee counter at the end of a room full of souvenir vendors (which I also don't recall from my last visit).  Still, I couldn't really shake the feeling that it just shouldn't be there.  Do I really want to see a McDonald's when I come next time?

After a snack we backtracked to more slowly take in the main sights of the Forbidden City.  It was actually turning into a really gray day which was a bit disappointing but throughout the whole day we hardly bumped into other tourists.  The rear buildings of the palace had been made into some really nice exhibits on jade, porcelain, jewelry and other items.  Once you got past the main halls with the elaborate thrones the rest of the city was less exciting but these exhibits made a great addition.  It was one change that I could really appreciate.  The fact that many of the statues had been fenced in or wired over to protect against tourist was a downside.

We made pretty good time getting through everything but still only just finished the separate jewelry exhibit as the palace started to close and missed the clocks and watches exhibit.  It was a vast place with a room for everything, including a theater and and gardens.  One thing that I always remembered from my first visit we finally found at the very end, a convoluted trough that was carved into a patio, just wide enough to float a wine glass, which is what the idle dignitaries did as they composed poetry or pondered their greatness.  It always seemed like a good example of just how far you can go when you have all kinds of money and time to get creative.

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30