Sunday, August 01, 1999

Out and About in the North Capital

Beijing, China
I woke up around 7:35, which translates to about 4 hours of sleep. At 8:30, I was off to Yiheyuan, the "Summer Palace". I spent about two hours there, in which time I saw (in no particular order) the Marble Boat, Longevity Hill (it's artificial, but very big), the Long Corridor (a covered walkway with paintings on the rafters), the 17-arch bridge connecting the South Lake Island to the shore, and the Garden of Harmonious Interest (a copy of a Wuxi garden). I rode one of the ferry boats across the lake and only saw a few collisions and some guys throwing soda cans at each other.


Marble Boat
Longevity Hill?
From there, it was down to Tiantan Park and the surrounding area for some shopping. The shopping was a bit uneventful, but I haggled for a chess set from 300 yuan down to 80. Tiantan Park is billed as the perfection of Ming architecture. "Temple of Heaven" had some interesting areas, and some not so. The park is semi-circular on the north side, and square on the south side--the ancient belief that heaven is round and the earth is square.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is made without nails or cement. Heading south in the park, I found the Imperial Vault of Heaven kind of boring. It's surrounded by the Echo Wall, which you can use to clap in the right areas of the courtyard to hear 1, 2, or 3 echos. It was kind of muggy and hot, so sound didn't carry that well, not to mention the tour groups acting as acoustic sponges.

Just south was the Round Alter, which has three levels: Humankind, Earth, and Heaven. Each level had 9 concentric rings of stone, and each ring had a multiple of nine stones. Odd numbers are considered heavenly, and nine is the largest single digit odd number. There were people queued up to stand in the middle of the upper level, where they could hear their voice bounced off of the marble balustrades. I had to walk around the southeast side of the park to get back to my pick-up zone, on the way I stopped into a market and bought a 1.5 liter bottle of semi-slushy Coke for 4.5 yuan, just over 50 cents, and cheaper than a 12 oz can on the street.

From there, it was off to the Forbidden City. The government wants it to be known as the Imperial Palace. The place is rather immense. I think I might have been filmed by a documentary crew (I saw the camera following me in an arc over 120 degrees).



After I walked through the Forbidden City, I climbed up nearby Jingshan (Coal Hill) and took in the view of the Imperial Palace. I think I may have seen the locust tree where Emperor Chongzhen, last of the Mings, hanged himself rather than have the Palace destroyed by the invading Manchus.



 My driver then took me over to Beihai Park, which is mostly a lake. The White Dagoba is the symbol of the park, put up for a visit by the Dalai Lama and rebuilt in 1741.
 With daylight running out on us, we hopped over to Tiananmen Square, where I saw the 'Maosoleum', the Monument to the People's Heroes, a clock counting down the days until Macau is handed back to China, the Great Hall of the People.


Tiananmen (Heavenly Peace) Gate--the one with Mao's picture on it. On the left side of his portrait is written "Long Live the People's Republic of China" and on the right "Long Live the Unity of the Peoples of the World."
 Mr. Ren met us at the square and he took me for dinner at Quanjude, the famous place for Peking Duck. We had to park a small distance away, but I got to see the Qianmen (Front Gate). The meal was basically duck fajitas, but quite tasty. I ate duck foot (the webbed part) with a spicy mustard that hid the nastiness of what was in my mouth by scorching my tongue. We went back to the Ren residence, watched some TV and turned in for the night.

One thing I noticed as we drove around was that if there was one guy sitting on the curb without a shirt (and there are a lot of those), there would be half a dozen guys sitting just behind him in the shade.

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