Beijing's Forbidden Kingdom and the electronic guide Part 2

Continued from Beijing's Forbidden Kingdom and the electronic guide Part 2

The coverage of the guide is excellent and the electronic narrator is surprisingly very clear and careful in speech. A true Sino-enthusiast will appreciate some of the anecdotes regarding the emperor's numerous concubines and the relationships between the mythical and real creatures (the Qilin, Phoenix, and Elephant being the most curious). The content is clearly written by mainland Chinese scholars with some pieces of information not found in Western historical sources (in some countries like Greece and Japan, some of the tourist guides are written by self-important Americans who think a degree and language skills make them native experts).

Note: Although I own a library of Asian literature and translations, there were some very interesting tidbits I hadn't known before that I learned from the electronic guide.

The electronic guide has a rough map on one side, and playback controls on the other.

On the downside, the electronic guide can be buggy. There were times that I had to shake the device in order to trigger the audio recording. I was briefly tempted to open the casing and fiddle around with the circuit board using the precision toolset in my satchel. Moreover, it's clear that they hadn't updated the audio content in awhile. During my visit, the Eastern palaces were converted into displays for ancient metal tools such as swords, hatchets, and household items similar to those on display in the National Museum of China across the street. However, when I entered the courtyard for that area, the electronic guide talked about one of the travails of the ministers instead.

The electronic guide briefly touches on the mythical creatures found all around the palace area.

The plastic over-the-ear monoaural headset kept slipping out of my ear, which made me wish for the common place  and cheaper earbuds instead. Even if I wasn't sweating from the April Beijing heat, the over-the-ear set didn't exactly fasten well on my Spock-like ears. Considering how most people carry around earphones or headsets, I hope the site organizers can add at least an audio jack on the electronic guide so visitors can use their own earphones.

My companion suggested I have my electronic guide replaced, and though there are small kiosks where you can have it exchanged, there was every likelihood that the transmitters/hotspots themselves weren't working properly. Suffice to say, I was probably only able to listen to 50% of the audio content despite traversing most of the currently available rooms and halls (the Hall of Clocks, treasury, and Archery Pavilion were undergoing maintenance during my visit).

There are a handful of sundials judiciously situated in front or on the side of the palaces and halls.

One of the issues with the electronic guide at the Forbidden Kingdom is that you can't really control the audio tracks, although buttons are available in the back panel. You can't listen to the tracks all the way through - playback is automated via the aforementioned wireless triggers. It is for this reason that you will see a lot of visitors, both local and foreign, not really wearing the electronic guides (that and their utter dependency on their smartphones).

If it wasn't so crowded, the Imperial Garden, which is located in the Northern Gate, is a great place for budding artists to try sketching the carved animals, buildings, and ancient trees. Unfortunately, the density of the visitors prevents anyone from sitting down with a Surface Pro 4 and working on a line drawing of a Phoenix or Chinese dragon.

As a final note, don't forget to return the guide and earpiece after exiting the Gate of Divine Prowess. There are signal scanners lined up on both sides of the North Gate. They trigger an extremely embarrassing klaxon if you cross it with the electronic guide in hand or in your pocket. If you're shoulder to shoulder with other visitors, all of you will exchange sheepish looks if you haven't returned the electronic guide. 

Note: I like electronic guides for museums quite a bit and find them immensely rewarding. My personal favorite is the preloaded iPod Nano offered at the Okinawa prefectural museum. The 2nd-generation iPod Nano issued by the staff was not only free to use within the museum, it came with an excellent pair of Sony earphones. The audio content was exhaustive and I barely completed 30% of the available tracks. 

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