by Niall Chithelen
1) I got to see a different side of the Forbidden City when I brought visitors to there on a Monday and learned that the Forbidden City is not open to the public on Mondays. The side of the city that I saw was the outside, because Plan B (improvised) was to walk around the Forbidden City to the park behind it, which amounts largely to walking alongside a large, wide gray wall. Truly remarkable, you know, the immaculate geomancy, the imperial wonders and golden roofs. And then the wall and then us on the other side, strolling around as though I did not just commit a grave and truly ignominious error—strolling in pained, weak silence.
2) On any informal tour I lead, I like to show people the real China, you know, not just the tourist spots. Some people might like to see the inside of the Forbidden City, but for most of its existence, common people could not see the Forbidden City, and so it is more appropriate, I think, to walk around it, as a person would have two or three hundred years ago in order to do whatever business or activity people did at that time in this city—perhaps involving carts, or administration, or workplace conflict resolution. I am not sure about this. This is a more legitimate experience—no ticket required—just a channel into Beijing, feet on the ground in this old city, eyes on those old buildings that have seen so many years of change, an injection of pure Beijing right into your goddamn veins, really. And I try to be informative and even-handed as I dole out history and explain contemporary developments. Is China perfect? No. Is the US perfect? Also no. It is so difficult to judge these things.
3) There are so many things we can see in Beijing—the hutongs, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Lama Temple, the Olympic Park, and much more beyond—why, just because we are at the front gate of the Forbidden City, should we be in such a rush to see it? There is time, there are other days, especially other days of the week. Really, we could see the world, you and I, I think we’re capable of this, the whole world, you and me, and yet we’re stuck at the entrance to the Forbidden City, on a Monday, no less, a great day (of the week, specifically) to not try to walk any further and instead leave for greener pastures, as they say, leave for the greener and truly higher-quality grass on the other side of the fence, as they say, or in this case, the wall that separates the Forbidden City from the rest of Beijing, which we could so easily walk right on back through and go see one of those other places I mentioned, all of which are “just as interesting to visit as the Forbidden City,” as they say. I’m not going to say I’m offended by your single-mindedness here, because I am deeply and powerfully open-minded, to an almost physically uncomfortable extent, but I urge you to open your eyes wider and truly see the world for what it is.
4) Actually, let’s skip the Forbidden City, seat of China’s imperialist emperor.
5) Dearest friends,
I’m writing to explain my recent absence from our group, as you may be asking after me. Life sometimes throws up waves—of emotions, of responsibilities, of stresses—and we all can but respond in our own way, and we all must overcome challenges and face adversity not just in order to achieve our dreams, but at times in order simply to make it through the day. We might do so by taking some time to ourselves to sip a tea, perhaps by joining a yoga class and practicing and improving our meditation, or by practicing affirmation and being more positive, or even by sprinting as fast as possible away from the entrance to the Forbidden City after noticing a sign about its visiting hours. We all have our own way of being present, being within, being and nothingness, being and time, etc. I cannot apologize to you for taking these steps to care for and indeed love myself, but I hope that you will now better understand my actions. If you happened to pick up my hat, please let me know.