Dave Barry

Want harmony? Try Forbidden City

BY DAVE BARRY

The most popular tourist attraction in Beijing is the Forbidden City, which gets its name from the fact that my mother-in-law has forbidden us to ever take her there again.

The Forbidden City is a gigantic walled complex smack dab in the middle of Beijing where, back in the day, the emperor lived. The emperor needed a big place because he had an enormous entourage, including many lackeys, concubines and eunuchs. Much like Donald Trump.

The complex consists of 980 buildings, with 8,704 rooms and approximately one bathroom. The scale is vast, with many of the buildings a full football field apart (the emperors were huge football fans).

The biggest buildings have names like The Hall of Supreme Harmony, The Hall of Central Harmony, The Hall of Harmonious Harmony, The Great Big Hall o' Harmony, etc. The emperor would use each of these halls for a different purpose. For example, he might eat in the Hall of Dining Harmony, but then if he wanted to pick his teeth, he would head over to the Hall of Dental Hygiene Harmony, and then maybe work out at the Hall of Treadmill Harmony.

All this moving around was no big deal for the emperor, because he had people to carry him between halls. Unfortunately, those people have all retired, so my mother-in-law had to manually walk across the football fields. She was not at all happy about this, because there was nowhere to sit, and the outdoor temperature was many degrees in Celsius, which is even hotter than our kind of degree.

If my mother-in-law had been around in the 17th century, she would have given the emperor an earful about the layout of the Forbidden City. And if you think that a commoner would not have dared to march up to the supreme ruler of China -- a person considered to be a divine descendant of heaven, with the power of life and death over millions -- and give him a stern lecture about the need to install benches, then you do not know my mother-in-law.

Nevertheless, the Forbidden City is very impressive, and if you get to Beijing, you should definitely go see it. Allow two months, and take a Sherpa.

Another tourist attraction you do NOT want to miss is the Chinese acrobats, who put on an amazing one-hour show. It's like the circus, except they leave out all the boring parts. Animal acts, for example. I don't know about you, but when I'm at the circus, and the elephants or horses come out, my reaction is, quote, zzzzzzz. Because basically the horses and elephants are doing something that I can also do, namely run around in a circle, and occasionally, in the case of the elephants, emit poops the size of Dustin Hoffman.

Whereas your Chinese acrobats do things you could NEVER do. They don't even walk normally. They basically get around by back-flipping. At one point 12 of them were riding on a single bicycle. (Actually, this would not look particularly odd in Beijing traffic.)

The best part is, whatever amazing trick the acrobats are doing, they keep making it even MORE amazing. Like, one guy will balance on a roller-board on the floor, and a second guy will get up on his shoulders, and then a third guy will get on the second guy's shoulders with a couple of women acrobats hanging off him sideways for visual effect, and then they'll toss a table up to the third guy, and he'll (why not?) put it on his head, and then a FOURTH guy will climb all the way up there and put ANOTHER roller-board on the table, and while he's balancing on that, he'll put a dish on his head, and then he'll put a spoon on one end of the roller-board, and then -- while standing 25 feet in the air on top of this impossible wobbling tower of people -- he'll emit a poop the size of Dustin Hoffman.

No, seriously, he flips the spoon up and somehow catches it in the bowl on his head. This feat gets a big hand from the crowd, which consists mostly of western tourists lacking the physical coordination to operate chopsticks without injuring themselves.

On the topic of Beijing tourist attractions, I should note that there are also many historic temples here, as well as a number of museums featuring important works of art. So in planning your itinerary, you should definitely skip those, and go see the acrobats again.

©2008 Dave Barry

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