Wandering the Summer Palace
On our third day in Beijing we took a more leisurely pace after having spent so much time on the Tour of Indefinite Stops. Henry’s fever was gone and he was feeling well again.
After breakfast and some planning by my wife, we went out and rode the subway to the Summer Palace. The subway stop is a 10-15 minute walk from the palace. There are plenty of rickshaw cyclists offering to take you. We opted to walk, despite the usual protests from Meredith. (Yes, one of the nice things for us about the Summer Palace, is that we didn’t have to deal with the First Class Hassle of getting a Beijing taxi driver to agree to take us there. I have no problems picturing a Beijing taxi driver looking at the address to the Summer Palace and making a face as if he’d never heard of the Summer Palace before.)
One of the exits from the subway stop Xiyuan opens to a small upscale outdoor mall with a Starbucks and an Ethan Allen store. I was looking to get some bottled water, so I went into what I thought was a convenience store. It wasn’t quite that. It seemed to be selling upscale body products and revitalizing liquids and creams all sorts of other “natural” bodily improvement products. The only bottled water for sale in that store was Evian, at 12.50 Yuan per bottle. Which, given that I had now been in China for over a month, I thought was outrageous. I knew I’d be able to buy bottled water down the road for two, three, or four Yuan per bottle at most. Mind you, 12.50 Yuan is about two US dollars. Shows you how I’d come to view prices. But I did end up buying two bottles of water from a street-side store/restaurant for 6 Yuan.
The Summer Palace, covering roughly 70,000 square meters, was originally built in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty. It was burned down in 1860 by the English and the French. It was rebuilt in 1888. (The English and French burned down a lot of things in China before getting their Concessions.)
The Summer Palace sold maps in English, so we were able to easily find our way around. It’s a beautiful place.
We found the restrooms first, then wandered around some buildings before heading over to see the Kunming Lake.
We looked into renting a four-person paddle boat on Kunming Lake but there were no more available for rental. Or at least that’s the best my wife could make out when she went to the ticket window.
If we couldn’t be on the water, then we decided to see the Long Corridor and the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. To to do that, we had to walk along a narrow pathway set next to the lake and the lotus plants.
The Long Corridor is exactly that, a long corridor. It’s 728 meters long with 273 sections. It’s the longest corridor in a classical Chinese garden. We did not walk the entire length. We walked about half of it. Well, we tried. There were a lot of people and we ended up walking next to it.
Each beam was painted with a unique image.
At about the halfway point in the corridor we entered the Hall of Dispelling Clouds and climbed up the steps to the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. It offers a panoramic view of the lake and much of the park itself.
Henry didn’t make the trip up to the tower. He’s afraid of heights and the steep steps intimidated him. So I stayed behind with him while Stephanie carried Meredith to the top for a look, then back down. Here they are on the way down. Can you see them?
Then it was my turn.
Inside the tower is a five ton statue of the Buddha, cast in bronze and gilded with gold that somehow managed to survive the destruction of so many of the buildings by the English and the French. You’re not supposed to take pictures inside the temple. There are signs prohibiting it. So I didn’t. As an agnostic, I’m not a spiritual person. But that doesn’t mean I want to disrespect someone else’s religious beliefs. But there were plenty of Chinese and loawai tourists taking photos. (I was actually offended at all the picture-takers at the Lama Temple the following day. It’s a working temple; there were many people burning incense and praying to the Buddha in all of the temples.)
When I came down from the tower, it was time to make our way back to the entrance gate to the park (East Palace Gate) and back to the subway. My wife and I would have liked to have seen more. With 70,000 square meters of space, there is a lot of beauty to walk around. But we had plans to meet up with a colleague of my wife’s for dinner.
Amon is someone my wife knew from her doctoral program at USC. He was teaching for the same program as my wife, except in Beijing. He came to our hotel and we went to a restaurant across the street for some dinner. The cold duck dish we ordered wasn’t very good. But the spicy lamb dish Amon had picked turned out to be quite delicious. There wasn’t a scrap left on the serving platter.
While we ate, Amon and my wife swapped stories about teaching in the program and of our experiences living in China. Amon had rented a bike for the month or so that he was there in Beijing to get around, saying it was quite easy, once he figured out the flow of traffic. He also told us how after the nasty rains which caused all those floods that killed three dozen people, the next day the skies were clear in Beijing. He said, “I didn’t know Beijing was surrounded by mountains!”
Me neither. We never saw them from the city.
We fended off many many attempts and requests to take pictures of our kids. Though at one point, my wife tried to accommodate two very nice middle-school aged girls who kept running by and saying, “Hello! Hello!” while waving at Henry and Meredith. Just before we entered the Hall of Dispelling Clouds so we could climb up to the Tower, Stephanie decided to humor them and let their parents take a picture of the girls with our kids. Well, as soon as the girls’ parents got their camera ready, at least a half-dozen Chinese tourists took out their cameras to snap photos, too. And that was the last photo request from a stranger that we accepted in China…