Sunday, July 01, 2007

Behind The Walls

I make my escape into the Forbidden City leaving behind the noise and relative chaos that surrounded me in Tienanmen Square. The Imperial Palace has been the home of 24 Chinese emperors since 1420 during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Most of these emperors rarely if ever left the palace grounds. The City is 720 000 square metres (nearly 2.6 million square feet) and the walls surrounding the complex are more than 30 feet high.

I continue along the “Imperial Road” until I step forth into a huge courtyard. The stillness is deafening. Ramps lead up in four directions towards different pavilions within the city. I hear the rustle of a broom as a simply dressed woman in a charcoal grey dress rhythmically sweeps the cobblestone in the far corner. I imagine this scene wouldn’t have been much different than when China’s imperial rulers walked these grounds. The tension from Beijing’s busy streets slowly begins to roll off my shoulders as I breathe in the tranquility. I turn the corner and find a shady spot to sit and rest.

I am there for not more than a couple minutes when a teenage girl approaches me. She politely asks me if I would pose for a picture with her family. I look over to see her parents and beside them, two sweetly smiling grandmothers sitting upon a ledge. I don’t have to look hard to notice their tiny, tiny feet. Their feet have most obviously been bound. I ask the girl how old her grandmothers are. Through a series of hand gestures, (the Chinese have the most fascinating system of hand gestures for indicating numbers which comes in very handy when bartering), I surmise that the grannies are 92. Through some further gestures, I ask the girl if I could take a picture of the grannies. They are delighted.


37 comments:

The Fool said...

It is amazing the sanctuaries one finds in the midst of the hustle & bustle of Asian cities. I found similar "quiet spots" in the cities through Japan.

Foot binding. Now there's a bit of cultural nuance that's hard for me to digest. I'd best stay mum, as my thoughts are certainly prejudiced in that direction. It's difficult for me to comprehend and accept.

Thank you for continuing your fascinating travelogue. Question - is it common when meeting folks in China that one of the first exchanges is an establishment of age? Establishing such right away was a very important aspect when meeting people in Japan - regardless of gender. Just curious...

Have a great evening, Nomad.

Steffi said...

Carla, I can write always the same!It´s fantastic to read about your travel!Thank you!

Beccy said...

I've enjoyed reading about your trip. I remember being appalled reading about foot binding when I was about 11, are feet still bound?

rowena said...

I love that last photo with the two grannies! It's not very often that I'm able to take shots of elderly locals in any country, but I think they make the most interesting subjects. Their expressions say so much, often times making you wonder of all the stories that they could tell.

thailandchani said...

Loved the pictures of the old grannies. :) It is hard to imagine there are still people alive who experienced foot binding. I guess it really wasn't all that long ago.

Peace,

~Chani

Carla said...

Fool, Not just in Asia, but anywhere if you know how and where to look. But the truth is that it always surprises me in such a busy place where all but the tiniest corners are chaotic.

Yes, foot binding is a tough one. I think even most Chinese people now would be horrified by the act. Many elderly woman with more extreme binding suffer a slew of health issues because of the experience. I've been thinking of doing a whole post on foot binding.

I think age probably is an important aspect when meeting / greeting people in China. I know that the elderly garner a lot of respect. However,the most important is that they have sons so that they will have a family to care for them in their old age. Not always easy with the one child rule. The fabric is changing. It's hard for me to say if establishing age is the same and as important in China as Japan because of the language barrier. It was not so important for them when trying to talk with me. Then again, China is not nearly as orderly as Japan...in fact, it's not at all.

Mark said...

You are very blessed to have this opportunitiy. I am enjoying what you write about your visits.

Carla said...

Steffi, Thank you. You are very kind.

Beccy, Foot binding was abolished around 1911 I believe. It was an appalling practice and usually left the women disabled. Women have suffered a lot in the name of what they thought to be beautiful.

Carla said...

Rowena, I totally agree with you. The stories that could be told in the faces of the elderly...they make for most interesting subjects. That picture of the two grannies is one of my favorites.

Chani, Depending on the age of the person, there are some out there who have witnessed a lot in their lifetime. It's hard for us to imagine. Those grannies really were delightful.

dawn said...

Wow, the change in settings is astounding. I was very moved, by the conversation and subsequent photo of the grannies. The feet binding thing is very sad, and thankfully not practised anymore, although some traditionalists may still be buying shoes for their girls that are too small. Cultural beliefs often take a couple of generations to eradicate even when laws are instituted.

tkkerouac said...

Carla
why don't you post the foot binding photographs from my blog here? I think it would be a great learning experience to actually see what it is and the long term disfigurement it creates.
thank goodness, women have come along way since then. You are welcome to take them. It ties in nicely with what you've just posted.
Great post by the way. How long is your stay?

Dan said...

What an adventure!! I so envy you. China's been on our list of places to visit forever. You're moving it higher on the list!

Anonymous said...

The forbidden city must have been such a 'moving' experience - given its rich history and status.

One feels as if accompanying you on such a walk into the city and seeing and feeling too the emotions.

Such a wonderful journey all the more appealing with your photos.

Peter

Carla said...

Mark, It was an amazing adventure...I have been very blessed, indeed.

Dawn, Yes, isn't the difference in the setting amazing? It is true that cultural beliefs are sometimes hard to change. However, traditionally the Chinese have been quick to eradicate beliefs and customs from old dynasties when new ones take over. Although there is still evidence that it existed, my travels didn't reveal that these sort of practices still permeate the society. But, of course, I am sure that there are many things that I did not see.

Carla said...

Tracy, I just might borrow those photos if you don't mind. I think it would be interesting to look at what this practice actually entailed. I'm no longer in China now, but spent a month there.

Dan, China is fascinating and so very different from what we know and have been exposed to in our "western world." It's definitely worth the trip.

Carla said...

Peter, The one thing I learned about China, is that they do everything on a very grand scale. Even within the Forbidden City, different areas had very different feels. It was a wonderful experience.

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

I know I keep saying it, but your journey and your blog is wonderful and it is opening up this amazing place to us all.
It is wonderful to see and hear about the real chinese people. Thank you.

keep safe,

Annie

Carla said...

Hi Annie, I think what surprised me most was how friendly and curious the Chinese people actually are. It is a very different world and was a wonderful experience.

jillie said...

Your travel journal and pictures are just fascinating to say the least. I can't believe that binding of the feet is still practice. I've seen pictures of it and I am just stunned by the "mangled" look. The first time I saw them, I had no clue as to what I was looking at...I'll keep my big feet any day!

Sirdar said...

It wassn't that long ago that nobody was allowed in the Forbidden City. Did you feel excited that you are one of only a few people, in the whole world, who has been there? I know tourists go there now but really they are not that many compared to the population of the world.

Look forward to the next part of the trip.

Carla said...

Hi Jillie, Foot binding is not still practiced in China, however, there are still women alive who had their feet bound when they were children. Mangled is right. It's hard to comprehend why anyone would participate or want their children to be exposed to such a practice.

Sirdar, Yes, I suppose I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the Forbidden City. I hadn't really thought of it, but yes, it is true that not many people have visited this site compared to even the population of China.

paris parfait said...

Such a lovely account and wonderful photos!

Carla said...

Paris Parfait, Thank you. I'm glad you found it so.

JBelle said...

oh my word! this shot is one of your very best. What appealed to me about this was the teenager approaching you on behalf of the grandmothers. timeless. like the city.

Carla said...

JBelle, It was like manna from heaven...one of those moments I will always treasure.

Mone said...

Those two grandmothers have a deligthful smile, thats so cool!

The Fool said...

Happy 4th of July! Yeah, I realize you Canadians have a different date you celebrate, as I once spent it gambling in Dawson City...but hey, any reason for a party!

:)

Carla said...

Mone, I thought those two grandmothers were so cute. I just love that picture of them.

Diesel said...

Wow, they look pretty good for 92. Maybe I should have my feet bound.

They'd get more visitors if they'd call it the Happy Fun Welcoming City.

Carla said...

Diesel, When you live in a country of over a billion, I imagine that you don't exactly want every man and their dog showing up on your doorstep. Perhaps that has something to do with the name.

Yes, I hope that I look just as good at 92.

pandave said...

carla! (and how the r rolls off my tongue) i have taken the liberty of tagging you... please check my blog for details... can't wait to learn more about you...

JBelle said...

I wanna hear about your life in Kootenay Bliss. I think it would make a wonderful story. I think this everytime I see the picture that's your header.

Fede said...

When you mentioned the forbidden city's area, the engineer that is in me stretched to reach the calculator... and the square root shows that they were segregated in about 850mx850m. Half a mile! I am truly amazed.
But of course, there were other privileges though.

Foot binding is a torture. But still, those were the habits when for beauty they had a different definition. Still inexplicable for me though.
Good night and good luck.

Carla said...

Pandave, I will definitely do your meme. Sorry for the delay...my internet has been acting up.

JBelle, Life in Kootenay Bliss is, how should I say it, well...blissful. I will fill in the details shortly. I promised Tracy something on foot binding, but there is so much I want to share about life in paradise.

Carla said...

Fede, But one mustn't forget the Summer Palace...there was a summer residence. Although I don't whether or not everyone went. Other privileges, indeed, and in China, some of those privileges one would have to be absolutely crazy to turn down. Foot binding, unfortunately, isn't the only form of mutilation that women over the ages have subjected themselves to in the name of beauty. Hmm...I think there's a post in there somewhere.

Camplin said...

I hope one day I can visit. I understand that the contemporary art in China is ready wonderful. I would like to check out some of the galleries

Carla said...

Camplin, I did see some beautiful art in China and it is worth the visit. Thanks for stopping by.