Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Summer Palace

October 18th, second full day in Beijing.

Big Plans
We had our beloved hostel western breakfast, booked a hike from Jin Shan Ling to Simatai along the Great Wall for Rod & Pavan on the 19th, and booked a show for the evening. The front desk girl was not sure what tickets would be available, and we did not wish to wait while she investigated, so we asked her to try for what we thought was a Kung Fu show, and if that was not available to book Chinese Acrobatics.

Summer Palace
Our big attraction for the day was the Summer Palace. We took a taxi out and wandered in the North Palace Gate and found a charming row of shops and little restaurants arrayed around the edges of a canal, aka Suzhou Street.

It was still pretty early so we decided to stop for tea on the side of the canal. One of the nicest locations to have tea so far, beating out fancy tea houses easily.

Next up was a delightful walk through building covering Longevity Hill. The Summer Palace generally has a very nice, sprawling, greenery-rich feel. It`s a little bit like the Forbidden City but sprawled over a much larger area. The effect is quite charming as the result is there is much more greenery and each building stands out on its own more rather than having to compete for attention with the ten other buildings immediately beside it. There is a pagoda, pavilion, hall, or garden for just about anything. Sadly we never managed to see the `Pavilion with Fish and Algae` but it was probably very nice. Past the crest of the hill are a variety of palaces and a view out of Kunming Lake. It was a bit gray but still quite nice. Normally you can take boats across Kunming Lake but the wind got pretty enthusiastic so the boats all called it a day.

The workmanship on all the old pagodas, walkways, and so on was rather impressive.

The biggest building is the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. Along the way up there are several bronze dragon and pheonix statues that are quite weathered except in the few spots people rub for luck (or whatever) so much they stay shiny.

Luckily the whole affair is kept safe by a bronze ox that prevents flooding. This suggests an election platform for the mayor of Richmond: "vote for me and I will install a bronze ox to keep us safe from flooding".

The Summer Palace was one of our favorite attractions and one we would love to visit again. It is quite large so you could easily spend the whole day there. We came pretty close. Tours sometimes try to take you to the Tien'anmen, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace in one day. This is a bit baffling as the latter two are worthy of a day each.

Off to the west on a hill, substantially outside the Summer Palace, stands a rather large and imposing pagoda. We couldn't figure out what this was while at the Summer Palace but later determined it to be the Yu Feng (or Jade Peak) Pagoda.

Fancy Hutong
After the Summer Palace we went to a very fancy hutong near Tien'anmen. Pavan stopped for a foot massage while Chris and Rod wandered the shops. As tea had been rather good thus far, the first stop was a tea supply (cups, teapots, etc) store. The gear was very nice and often reasonably priced but the store had about eight sales people and four customers. The sales staff eyed us from afar, jostled a little for position, and then the saleslady who somehow established dominance pounced like a wolf on wounded sheep. The result was we walked around with the sales girl frantically hovering over us, picking up any item we so much as glanced at to extoll it's virtues and amazing price. The novelty of this rapidly wore thin.

The next stop was a tea store. The pouncing of the sales was similar but the sales pitch was amazing. We had a private tea show for some forty minutes during which we sampled five or six teas. Each tea sampled was brewed in a small cup, then poured through a filter into a little teapot, then into our small cups. More hot water was then added to the tea leaves and the cycle repeated seven to nine times per tea! The ten year aged Pu'er was especially delightful. It was also VERY expensive. Six year old Pu'er was ¥200 per hundred grams. Ten year old was something like ¥300 (about $48) per fifty grams!! There was also the most impressive jasmine tea pearl ever, with one pearl expanding to around two inches wide complete with a flower in the middle. This sales pitch was far more effective as we felt like we almost owed it to them to buy something after all their efforts so we got some tea cakes and Chris bought some tea.

As we were near Fancy Street, we went to Tian Hi for dinner. Not exactly high-brow but delicious every time. We particularly enjoyed the Chinese Broccoli, which was some sort of leafy affair, sort of like asparagus with leaves at the end. "jie lan" in Mandarin, "Gai Lan" in Cantonese, or "Chinese Broccoli" in English, listed in Wikipedia as Kai-lan.

Kong not Kung
We had asked the hostel front desk girl to book tickets to "The Legend of Kong Fu", or the Chinese Acrobatics show (whichever turned out to have tickets available) in the morning, with transport leaving from the hostel so we had to get a cab back. Once again, finding a cab in the Tien'anmen was a bloody nightmare. We ultimately had to employ the "charge it and climb in" approach Pavan had pioneered the previous day. The cabbie didn't really want to drive out to the hostel but we eventually got one after some twenty minutes of excitement.

Once back at the hostel, we were given tickets for the Kong Fu show, then driven out to the show. We arrived and some sketchy little punk, supposedly son of our driver, tried to arrange to give us ¥30 for a cab home instead of providing the ride home we had paid for. As it was quite cold and  we had been having trouble with cabs this had very little appeal. After some rather hostile conversation about this it was determined they would keep the ¥30 and we would keep our driver for the ride home, as per the initial arrangement.

We had expected the show to be Kung Fu and thus rather martial but it proved to be something closer to interpretive dance. It was a very pleasent show, despite being not at all what we had expected.

No comments:

Post a Comment