Monday, March 25, 2013

Beijing Day 4: Summer Palace in Spring

Looking on Trip Advisor, we noticed lots of enthusiasm for the Summer Palace as a Beijing highlight. We figured we had to check it out. We made the trek out to the northwest of the city, thrilled to find a ton of sunshine greet us as we climbed out of the underground. 

One thing we noticed about the way Beijing was measuring up against our expectations: the immense size of everything is very hard to convey in pictures. The scale of the city's attractions is insane. And now I look at the pictures WE took and I see the same problem. The pictures just don't do the size justice. You have to stand in these places to understand their sheer enormity. 

The Summer Palace is huge. 

After paying (the incredibly reasonable 50 yuan) admission, we found outselves on Suzhou Street. 

The Summer Palace was full of eunuchs and concubines. Unlike the armies of servants, who were no doubt run off their feet with work, the eunuchs and concubines had nothing to do. So, what do you do with a bunch of idle people to keep them occupied, un-bored and less gossipy...? Why, make them a pretend town, of course.

Suzhou Street was created to allow the palace idle to play pretend. They would take turns manning stores and pretending to be customers. It was a taste of common life, enjoyed in small, clean doses.

Today, the stores are filled with touristy crap. The merchants aren't pretending. And they don't take fake money.

In fact, this little spot took our 30 yuan in exchange for three beers, which we enjoyed in the sunshine on a bench overlooking the little frozen river. That's less than $2 each.

We left Suzhou Street and headed up the hill to the main part of the palace. It was tough for us to know what all the buildings were for...some were locked up, some were temples. None of it looked very livable.

Hilariously, they had a picture studio set up with old-time costumes, just like the sepia pictures you can get taken at country fairs.

Beijing was laid out below us. I suppose the emperors enjoyed gazing down on their people. Here's Eric, also gazing down on...very imperial, huh?

The level of detail in every square inch of this place is enough to make your head spin. Every tiny thing, handcrafted and unique.

There was an entire building covered in these figures below. Each one was different. But only slightly.

There was beauty in every nook and cranny.

Natural and man-made beauty.

We reached the top of the hill. I am not sure what I expected, but, wow. Everything you see below, right to the other side of the lake, is part of the Summer Palace. There are pathways and buildings, temples and gardens the whole way around.

And this giant temple building, right at the crest of the hill (which apparently is man-made in an effort to elevate the emperor, quite literally).

We were like the bears who went over the mountain, to see what we could see.

The view to the lake

There was a covered walkway the entire way down. Each piece of wood was painted. By hand. Individually.

Some were family scenes, some pastoral, some imperial.

The view down
The view up

The view down to the lake

And at the bottom, this little guy greet you:

I loved the details. Apparently, before the start of the 20th century, everything gold coloured was actual gold. And all the symmetry was auspicious. The number nine is the highest single digit odd number and therefore, the most powerful. There were a lot of rows of nine things. And since odd numbers are associated with men, the most powerful number of all is all the single digit odd numbers added: 25.

Everything has meaning.

The bottom of the hill looking up
There was another long, long covered walkway at the bottom. More paintings.

They obviously can't protect and preserve them all. Some looked like this one:

Even the stone work, so many kilometres of pathway edging, looked like art.

The thought, manpower and artistry contained in the grounds is...astonishing. I can't even make our 1000 square feet thoughtful and artistic...or all clean at the same time.

My Dad and Eric walking ahead to the island

There were bronze things in the museum area that were thousands of years old. Things made by human hands.

Down at the bottom of the hill, we bought more beer (cheaper this time...5 yuan each). We found a sunny spot by Kunming Lake and gave our legs a rest. There was a pocket incident. With my Dad. And a beer. I promised him I wouldn't write any more than that...but trust me, it was funny. And I don't want to forget it.

There were about a half dozen people flying kites from the bridge. It was beautiful.

We visited the catchily named temple below:

Eric had his picture taken many times on this trip. I only caught it on camera once.

View from the bridge towards the palace
After a spectacular day on the palace grounds, we had a lengthy walk back to the subway station. Along the way, we freaked out a local fire department by poking our heads into the hall and asking for a picture. They didn't speak any English and we felt fairly certain the photograph request made them very uncomfortable. Of course, we took it anyway.

Eric headed home for a workout and swim. Dad and I carried on to a restaurant we'd both read about online. It was a bit of a hike to Dali Courtyard. And the address we had listed in our book was wrong. We wandered down a section of a hutong that more or less landed us into someone's small kitchen. Even when we found the real place, it was a sketchy entrance. It was worth the hunt, though. Seven courses of delicious, including the best two chicken wings I have ever eaten.

And this lemongrass chilli tilapia.

It was a very good day.

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