As we entered the gates to the Forbidden City – Chang gave me a palm
sized device with a earpiece. It looked like an imitation game boy –
surely, their major tourist attraction was no so boring that one had to
pass time playing video games. I turned the device in my hands and
saw what looked like a map with some LEDs at various points on the
map. I looked at Chang questioningly.

“It’s an interactive map.” He said. “You wear the earphones, and the
device will tell you where in the Forbidden City you are at the
moment along with some information about it.”

I was impressed – last I had seen these things at the Louvre. They
looked much more sophisticated of course.

Imagine having something like this for the Taj Mahal…

“You are currently in the area where you can deface Indian heritage.
Please pick up a stone or any sharp and hard object, and inscribe
yours and your sweetheart’s name on these walls, to make your love
immortal. You want visit the toilet? Don’t bother, that’s what these
walls are for – and don’t worry, no one’s looking – probably they are
doing the same. And if you are chewing beetlenut and all that red
spit is hindering you from expressing amazement at this lovely
edifice, get rid of it now. Choose any wall of your liking and add to
the spit collage like millions of others have done before you! Doesn’t
that red look lovely on the white?”

There was no sign here in the Forbidden City that you should not spit.
Or that you should not attempt to dedicate someone else’s love
memorial to your sweetheart. One does not have to be instructed to
take care of ones treasures.

So we stepped into the spotless compound – and immediately the lady
hidden in the device fired up.

“We thank you for visiting the Forbidden City. We hope you had a
pleasurable experience and learnt something about ancient Chinese
culture. Please return the interactive map to the ticket counters on
your way out. Goodbye and hope to see you again soon!”
“Um, Chang”
“What please?”
“I think this device is not functioning properly. It is asking me to return
it to its master.”

Chang came close to me, and pressed his ear against my ear, on which
I was wearing the Earpiece. I could smell his breakfast through the
after shave. Garlic and Meat. And Soya Milk.
Chang shook his head and said, “It is ok. It is just that we are at the
back entrance, which also happens to be the official exit.”

I suddenly felt like an enema.

So my tour began… Not much to write about that. Except that I was
the only brown skinned, bearded human in miles. The buildings were
nice…typical pagoda style. But all of them looked the same to my
philistine eyes. The Forbidden City is a series of these buildings
interspersed with balconies with stone steps leading into huge
courtyards. Each building had a name like “Hall of Peaceful
Tranquility” or “Hall of Love and Harmony” or something – depending
on what that building was used for. I am sure they sound much less
silly in Chinese.

I soon lost track of which building I was seeing, and which I had
already seen. But here are the buildings that should have been there –
but were somehow missing…

Hall of Hypersensitivity – Where the queen was locked up during
“those” days…
Hall of Painful Senility – Where the royalty wasted away their last
days…
Hall of Surprising Agility – Where the royalty practiced the Kamasutra…
Hall of Hallucinatory Activity – Where the royalty smoked pot…
Hall of Collective Stupidity – Where the Queen and her friends held
their kitty parties…

So we trudged from Hall to Hall, Compound to Compound. I was
faithfully clicking, as a tourist should. We saw huge gold plated
cauldrons (The lady in the device called them “vats”. Obviously she
has never been to Scotland) where they used to store water, in case
there was a fire. The Gold Plating was scraped off by the Japanese
during their occupation…all that was left now were black “vats” with
dirty looking yellow-green patches.

I asked Chang, why weren’t these restored. “So, that we don’t forget.
And the Japanese tourists don’t forget.”

One can draw huge motivation from reminders of the unfairness and
cruelty of the past. It pushes one forward.

Finally we reached the official entry of the Forbidden City from the
wrong side. Like very slow moving vomit.

I was feeling a little tired and very hungry at the end of this long
walk…Chang realized that. He put on his benevolent look, pointed over
my head and said, “Today we will eat where He used to eat.” I swung
around and saw a huge mug shot of Chairman Mao hanging on the gates
of the Forbidden City. He seemed to be looking proudly at the view
ahead. The simply humongous Tiananmen Square. Flanked on either
side by huge edifices from the Communist Era…this huge courtyard of
stone and cement looks imposing.

It was a reminder of a large powerful empire that perished from its
own grandeur. But, at the same time it serves as a reminder to the
rest of the world – that China is rising again. And this time, they are
more sure footed than ever.

Of course all these are after thoughts. At that moment, as I glinted in
the sunlight reflected off the polished floor of the square – all I could
think of was food. I wonder, to the extinction of which mammal, will I
contribute today.

To be continued…

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