Hong Kong (Beijing) Day 18 (January 11, 2006)

13 01 2006

Beijing.

In the morning it was nice not having to pack all your belongings up and get ready to go  again.  This time we only had our day traveling stuff as we were staying in the same hotel again.  Of course, this meant that I’d be paying for Internet access again that night. 😦  We got up at 0630, and were into the routine pretty well by now.  At 0700 the wake up call came, and by 0730 I had the laptop locked safely away in the luggage, to continue its file transfers that night.  We seem to be taking pictures faster than it can transfer.  I noticed at this point that we had taken over 4GB of pictures!  We headed down for breakfast, and it was a buffet.  The food was good, albeit a strange mix of western and asian cuisine.  I mean do Chinese people really eat pork ribs in black bean sauce for breakfast??

The trip to the summer palace was slow (Beijing has a REAL traffic issue – It will be interesting to see how they handle 2008).  When we got there, it was quite large, and at the entrance to the palace it was guarded by a Kylin.  A mythical beast.  Cool looking and likel to scare away any evil spirits looking to get in.  The Emperess Dowager Cixi controlled 3 Emperors through their reign, and really was the powerhouse in the Chinese Imperial scene, using the emperors as puppets to do her will.  The palace was the usual assortment of Chinese buildings with a twist.  Cixi had the reservoir that was already there enlarged.  She  had 100,000 people work on the project. 

View from the lakeshore:

Gotta love being in power!  (And subsequently hate being a peasant!) On the lake was a “boat”.  Cixi had a boat built out of marble.  She liked the grandeur of it. 

If you were looking for excess in the imperial life, she was the poster girl!  Many foreign dignitaries visited during her rule, and there was quite a collection of western objects.  She also really like photography, so we got to see photographs of her in her summer palace in 1903/04.  Not colour, but very cool, 

One of the striking features of the palace is the “long hall” or Long walk.  It stretches for 728m, and every beam has a different art scene painted on it.

Two cross beams:

The idea is that you could walk along it, and enjoy the cool breezes off the lake.  The art work was of birds and trees, and some of the pictures described the various stories of old.  It seems also that one of the emperors that used the summer palace wanted to keep his concubines happy while he attended to imperial duties.  Since they liked to shop, he had a shopping street built into the palace grounds.  All the stores were designed to look like a real shopping street.  He named it Suzhou St.  The interesting part about this street is that all the goods in the stores already belonged to the emperor, and all the staff in the stores were imperial staff.  The concubines were buying things, and trying things on that they already could have without buying.  But, I guess if it keeps the ladies happy, that’s what’s important (then and now).

From the Summer palace, we headed to the Forbidden City, The imperial palace in Beijing.  It was immense!  Hall after hall, plaza after plaza.  Ornately decorated bridges.  Since we were visiting in the middle of winter, the tourist numbers were quite low, and I could even get some pictures that made it look like we were the only ones there.  The big thing about the forbidden city is its size.  It really was a small city all by itself, employing a multitude of staff to serve one man.  We toured the city from the South Gate to the North Gate, and proceeded through the different levels of the palace.

We saw huge brass cauldrons for holding water in case of fire. The invading Anglo-French armies thought they were gold, and tried to carry them away.  When they couldn’t carry them, they settled for scratching off what they could.  There were ornately decorated halls of Heavenly Purity, Earthly Purity, Union and Peace.  All designed to bring a harmony to the building layout.  The forbidden city is famous around the world, and was the scene of filming Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”  I have to go see it again, now that I have been to the grounds.  Breathtaking in the magnitude of its construction, the Forbidden City is truly remarkable. 

Incredibly it was only open to common people after 1949.  During the imperial days, no commoner was allowed into the city.  It must have felt something like this:

It was a short walk across to the park to the North of the City where in 1644, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty hung himself.  There was a peasant uprising, and he escaped the palace to the park.  While in the park he wrote a testament edict, and realized his best days were behind him.  In order to avoid the humiliation of being overthrown, he hung himself from a Chinese Scholar tree there.  Someone seems to have chopped the original tree down, and as such the ingenious Chinese have planted another in its place and put a plaque there.  Seems odd – Here is the tree that we planted to replace the one that was here, where an Emperor hung himself.  Meh. It was still interesting. 

Our tour guide suggested that we take advantage of the reputable tour service outside the park to take a bicycle rickshaw tour of the hutongs.  At 60RMB/person for an hour it seemed like a good price. I’m sure our driver/cyclist was thinking “Why did I get the big Gwai Lo?”.  The tour took us through the various winding alleys that make up the “hutongs” in Beijing.  They are small communities that are built in what used to be a Ming Dynasty Official’s home.  Back in the Ming days it held one family. Now it holds about 30.  We stopped at one point, and our (thankfully) English speaking guide talked about the history, and the Feng Shui that went into the design of the Ming home, including the outer walls, and various design considerations to keep out zombies and evil spirits.  We went in, met a lady who is a resident and were treated to some tea and snacks.  We had the opportunity to ask her many questions about her living conditions, and environment etc.  Nice to get to talk to a “local”.  After the meeting, our drivers whizzed us through the alleys, avoiding school kids, dogs, bikes and cars with some close calls along the way.  1700 we were back at the start, and it was time to go have dinner.

Dinner had been hyped for a while.  It was going to be “Peking Duck”.  Meh.  I like our Vancouver Peking duck better.  So, dinner was a bit of a let down.  We were running a bit late after dinner (Beijing traffic again), so we arrived to our acrobatic show, as it had just begun.  These guys and girls were incredibly nimble, and jumped through hoops, balanced one on the other using one hand, and did all kinds of contortions with their bodies that make you say “Ouch!”  A great show, it lasted about one hour. I took a lot of pictures.

Acrobat/gymnast balancing on a pole.  Great control:

It was easy to forget that these guys weren’t alive.  They were so well handled.  Lions:

Chinese Bicycle equivalent of “How many people can you fit in a Volkswagen”:

From the show it was home to the hotel, and a chance to write up previous days again.  I paid my 80RMB for Internet access, and got to sending my pictures up to the photo blog and home.  I got to bed at a very reasonable 2330 that night.

Pics:  http://www.fotothing.com/DragonSpeed/photo/bc841294c4e868fe79c03c2348c6826f/

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