Today, with a different, and more friendly, tour guide and the same driver, we begin the day with a visit to the Temple of Heaven, the place where the emperors used to sacrifice animals to the Gods. The place now doubles as a public park, and on a sunny Sunday it was full of people exercising, playing cards, playing music and so on.

After a decent lunch, we moved to Tien An Men square to go see the Forbidden City, the imperial compound. Walking around the square, one notices a number of podiums (podii?) on which soldiers stand on guard, and each has a fire extinguisher next to him. What does a soldier need a fire extinguisher for, I ask the guide, in a square that is all concrete? Well, he starts explaining, quite flustered, there is this religion called Falun Gong…

So, what do you do when people, driven to desperation by their oppression, put themselves on fire in a public square? Well, you give fire extinguishers to the soldiers… Clearly, the problem is with the fire.

The square itself gives me the shivers, because the massacre that happened there was perhaps the international event that shocked me the most in my life. The students who died were about my age, and we all had a lot of simpathy for their movement in Italy. Maybe one day there will be a monument honoring the dead students in the square, just like now in Rome there is a monument to Giordano Bruno in Campo de Fiori, the square where heretics like him used to be executed.

The forbidden city combines an enormous scale with a sense of simplicity and good taste that is not seen in European royal palaces.

We later moved on to a museum of modern art, with unremarkable contemporary Chinese painting.

Dinner was soup of mushrooms with pork, a rabbit dish, and pancakes with bean curds, US$9 for two people.

Update 4/3/2006: Pictures

This gentleman is having a jolly time singing with his buddies in the Temple of Heaven

The guy with the cap is playing an instrument that has a single chord.

The soldier and the fire extinguisher

Yes, the red sign is for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

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