On a not-so-summer like day...
10.13.2007 - 10.13.2007 64 °F
After exploring the marvels of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, as well as experiencing the simple pleasures of lunch in a Beijing hutong household, and a visit to a 4th grade class room just the day before, this day was at a disadvantage from the start. On the 13th, we had rain, drizzle and haze to start the day; a bit ironic for a visit to the summer palace. In spite of that, the summer palace was incredible. Built in 1420 and rebuilt after the British burned it down in the late 1800s, it is a “must visit”. It was rebuilt by the reigning empress in the 1800s who spent money designated for the Chinese Navy for this spectacular palace. Larger in sq km than the forbidden city, (though mostly lake) the palace is opulent by Chinese standards and fabulous details and colors abound. We walked in on foot and took a boat out – which should give you some sense of the scale. We climbed hundreds of steps to the top of the Buddhist temple that sits atop the palace. The view was gray and rainy – but you could imagine an empress years ago looking across her dynasty from the temple.
We went to lunch in a cafeteria style restaurant where a mostly “minority” clientele hung out – a Muslim neighborhood as our guide called it. In most of the places we’ve been eating meals. We’re the only light “European” faces in the place or for that matter the neighborhood. This is one of the real treats of having a great guide with an intimate knowledge of Beijing neighborhoods. By the way – all the things you’ve heard about Beijing food being awful is wrong. We’ve been impressed every night by the variety, quality and the great tastes.
We also visited a soho-esque area called “798” art space which is where the Beijing artists hang out. We saw some excellent work and some fantastic talent. We could have spent more time there but the kids …. the kids found some walls to jump off of, if that does a reasonable job of explaining what they thought of the place….. We finished the night with a visit to a kung-fu theatre that was part Broadway performance and part martial arts spectacular. It was a fun show chronicling the growth of a young boy as he transforms into a man in a Buddhist monastery. The athletes in the show did things that make my body hurt just thinking about it. Breaking stones over their heads, laying on spears, and swords performing incredible acrobatics. Ouch.