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Reiland: At the center of it all

BY JORDYN REILAND | JULY 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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BEIJING — The air was so clear up there.

The sky wasn’t coated with a gray blanket of smog, and the Sun poked and prodded its way through a few clouds, shining onto my back. Even without directly seeing the Sun, it felt close to 90 degrees.

I was still in the capital city, but something felt different.

The Forbidden City is the largest and most complete imperial palace in the world, according to the English voice in my ear that was connected headphones and a small yellow box. I purchased this device for what equaled $7 at the beginning of the tour figuring I might enjoy it more if I actually knew more about the very old statues and architecture I would be staring at.

The structure housed 24 emperors who ruled for more than 300 years in those quarters. Eventually in the 1900s, the last emperor was evicted, and the Chinese turned the palace into a museum. Much of the existing structure remains the same, and as you walk through each gate, it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s been around for a really long time.

Hundreds of tourists and locals flocked to the site, and it seemed all of us were conversing in different languages. Yet we all had two things in common that was slightly comforting: We were extremely hot but very excited.

I first learned about China and the Forbidden City in depth in my high school’s world history class. I had this great teacher who was in love with the subject of history, and he’d been so many of the places we talked about. I had always envied his travel experience, and six years ago, I had no idea I would be in China experiencing a lot of the same things he did.

I was about as interested in the subject of China as any high-school freshman could be, but now, as I scoured the palace, I was racking my brain trying to remember anything I learned in that classroom.
No such luck. I relied on the little yellow box to tell me everything I needed to know as we quickly made our way through each gate.

I was entranced by all of the golden dragon statues, the Imperial garden home to hundreds of ancient trees and flowers, the gold pottery, and rooms filled with gems and various artifacts.

But what I truly anticipated was the trip up through Jingshan Park. It wasn’t adorned with gems or statues, but weeping willows stretched along its path, welcoming guests in with open arms.

The sweat dripped down the back of my neck as I reached the first of many steps. The walk seemed daunting, but I knew what was waiting for me at the top would be worth it. The park is located no more than a few steps away from the exit of the Forbidden City.

As we made our way up the worn-down, often fragmented stone steps, I worried I may not make it all the way. My Toms were not the best hiking shoes, but I was convinced that with each step I was one closer to the top.

My breathing started to get heavier from the combination of my lack of exercise here with the change in altitude, and both the air and my patience were wearing thin.

Yet right as I felt myself giving up, we reached the top. I did a complete 360 and could not believe my eyes. It was as if all of Beijing was at my fingertips, and I could see for miles and miles. The entire Forbidden City was neatly laid out below almost like Legos, and kitty-corner to it, the people in Tiananmen Square looked like ants.

I immediately pulled out my iPhone and snapped away as many others did, though we all knew that even these pictures wouldn’t be able to capture the awe and complete sense of relaxation I was feeling as we overlooked the city.  

I walked over to a golden circle on the ground, with a smaller circle in the center indicating that particular point was the most central point of Beijing.

I stood over the point and took a deep breath as I looked out onto the horizon one last time before we made our way back down the hill.

I was literally in the center of it all.

Daily Iowan staffer Jordyn Reiland is spending the summer interning for the China Daily in Beijing. Look for her weekly columns each Friday in the DI.


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