Growing up in nanyang (south of the ocean, typically refers to Singapore and Malaysia), there was no shortage of Hong Kong TV series. I remember watching a lot of period dramas and kungfu series, many of which were either set in the Forbidden Palace or had it as the backdrop to the story. I was intrigued by the power and history that lies within this forbidden compound. So when I was in Beijing, I couldn’t pass on a chance to have a peak inside.
Silly me, I chose to visit this immensely popular touristy site on the 1st of May. I found out later that there are 2 holidays where the Chinese go traveling, en masse; 1st of May and 1st of October. These are the worst time to travel around China. Imagine my surprised when I was literally swept along by a wave of people into the huge compound of the palace.
Once inside, the large crowd was reduced to ant-size by the expansive plazas and grand halls. Walking on the stone paths and peeking into the ceremonial halls, it wasn’t hard for me to be transported back in time; images of people in imperial clothes, maids and eunuchs walking about, soldiers stood guard by doors started to pop up in my head (scenes from all those years of TV series). This is where history was made, the centre of Chinese culture for ages.
I looked around and saw that 99% of the tourists there were Chinese. And I realised that this ancient Chinese monument and their stories are as unrelated to me as to the present day Chinese. The ghosts of the past, with their traditions and cultural practices were buried by the Cultural Revolution. Material wealth and personal successes have replaced the millennium-old Chinese etiquette, manners, properties and customs.
I’m glad I was there. I’m glad I stood gawking at the grandeur of the buildings, walked on the stones that were laid centuries ago and touched the wall where whispers could still be heard through the passage of time.
Wish you were here,