Suitcase and World: Summer Palace.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Summer Palace.

appy 4th of July!! I’m the only American in the tour group so it’s a quiet celebration for me. The sightseeing plan for the day is to visit the Summer Palace in the morning and then we would have free time in the afternoon.

We arrived at the Summer Palace via bus. Once she had gotten our tickets, Jenny led us inside the complex and gave us our brief intro to the Palace. As usual, I really wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying so the little I know is that this is where the Emperor and gang spent their summer and that the place is four times the size, in terms of acreage, as the Forbidden City which to me means it’s h-u-g-e! Unfortunately, it was another hot, humid, hazy day in Beijing so the views were not as rewarding as if it had been a beautiful day and even worse, I was wilting in the oppresive weather the moment I got off the bus :-(

Today is Saturday and I figure it’s a popular day for Chinese to be out and about and I was right. The place was absolutely crowded, packed to the brim with locals as well as tourists. Any hope that I had of an easy, relaxing stroll through the park was dashed by the throngs…..and they were everywhere. Luckily, I would come back a few days to enjoy the park when it was much less crowded.

On my second visit back to the Summer Palace, I came across an older man practicing calligraphy on the sidewalk. As I watched the old gentleman dipping his brush into water and drawing strokes on the concrete squares, a young boy and an older woman came up to the man. It was so cute. The young boy was trying to practice his strokes and so the old man started to teach him by drawing the outline of a rabbit. The young boy tried to imitate the strokes. I didn't understand a word they were saying but I didn't have to. They were both enjoying themselves....teacher and student. Watching them just brought a smile to my face.

The focus of the Summer Palace grounds is a huge lake. High up on one hillside is a pagoda. Towards one end of the lake is an island that’s connected to the mainland by a 17 arch bridge.

Alongside one perimeter of the lake runs a long covered walkway that was built in that particular location to take advantage of the gentle breezes blowing off the lake. On this day, it was hot and hazy and there was no breeze but that didn’t seem to damper any spirits. The walkway was crowded. No matter what direction you turned your head in, you could see people. There were families out for a stroll, vendors selling food, friends gathered for a game of cards, and tourists being led around by a guide waving a banner. I think the Emperor would have been pleased to see the complex that he designed for his own entertainment to be so well enjoyed by future generations.

Looking out over the water, you could see lotus blossoms in full bloom and pedal boats dotting the lake.

Pagodas dot a hillside.

In a secluded section of the lake sits a replica paddle boat, carved from marble. It was built in 1893 by the Empress Dowager Cixi. I don't know why because this monstronsity does not float and is not appealing from any artistic perspective. If you ask me, it was a waste of time and money.

On the courtyard of the Summer Palace itself sits a huge rock. I have no idea what its significance is but throngs of people were continually around this thing so I snapped a photo in hopes that I could research about it later but alas, I still have not figured out what this thing is all about :-(

*Dragon* boats were ferrying passengers from one end of the lake to the island but it was the pedal boats that beckoned me. I somehow managed to convince the others (by now, we had also met back up with Jackie, Robbie and Miread) that pedaling around the lake would be an enjoyable experience. Jan offered to pay for the boat ride with the 100 RMB bill that she had picked up on the ground outside the Summer Palace….a generous offer that none of us could turn down :-)

We queued up to buy tickets but quickly realized that the line was not moving quickly. We didn’t have much time left before we had to meet back up with the rest of the gang so we changed our minds about the pedaling our way across the lake. Instead, we opted for a ferry ride on one of the dragon boats. We boarded the boat for the short ride to the island. From there, we walked back to the meeting
place....taking a few minutes to enjoy ice cream and to watch the scenery.

Everyone made it back to the meeting place except for Jackie and Robbie who decided to go back via subway so they could figure out how the system worked as they would be using it to go to the airport.

The rest of us exited the way we came in and started our search for the bus stop. Jenny had instructed us to take Bus 690 to its terminus which was Tiananmen Square. From there, we knew how to get ourselves back to the hotel.

Someone spotted the bus in the parking lot and we all sprinted towards it. The last one of us managed to get on just as it was starting to pull away from the lot.

On our previous bus ride, we had only paid 1 RMB but this time the conductor asked for 2 RMB each because of the distance of the would be 22 stops before we would get off. Still a ridiculously cheap price for a ticket but then again, this is public transportation and it should be priced so that even the poor can afford to take it.

We each found ways to *settle* back for the long ride. I started the ride standing but as soon as a seat freed up, I took it and spent the rest of the time looking out the window. I found myself snapping pictures of the ubiquitous bicycles that you see being ridden around everywhere in Beijing. Someone said that the streets are not filled with as many bicycles as they used to be. Not surprising as I would imagine that cars would be the transportation mode of choice for those who can afford them. Still, there were bicycles everywhere and they are of every kind, make, model and type imaginable. What was also amazing was that I never saw a lock on a bike. Having your bike stolen is obviously not a concern for anyone here....must be nice to not have to worry about such things.

Despite the fact that the roads are crammed with cars, I must say that the traffic in Beijing is pretty orderly though frequent blowing of car horns to indicate someone is in your way is a common practice. As a pedestrian though, you quickly learn that you do not have the right of way so repeatedly looking in both directions before you cross any street is a given. Alternatively, you huddle near a group of locals and only move across the street when they do!

Our 22 stop ride took us nearly 2 hours. The bus was not air conditioned so I was a bundle of sweat in no time :-( As we neared Tiananamen Square, it was rush hour so it took us just as long to travel the last 3 stops as it did the first 8!

The bus deposited us at one end of the Square and from there, we walked back to our hotel. Back in my room, all I wanted to do was dunk my entire body into a cold, cold shower! There was not much time to rest as we would all be meeting back up for an early dinner followed by going to a Kung Fu show.