Friday 27th May 2011
3 days left traveling the world.
MP3 track of the day: Night swimming - REM
Weather: It's been smoggy, and hot, all day; however no threat of rain and no high humidity either.
As I peered out of my dorms window the weather seemed to be dry but smoggy. Once ready I went to reception requesting information; as I approached the lady was on the phone but she pointed to an underground map, at a circle along 'line four', which was described as the 'Summer Palace' stop. I thanked her and left; as I studied my own underground map I noticed that the restaurant – serving 'Dim Sum' - was also situated along 'line four' though, in the opposite direction. I decided to enter my local underground station and make my way south, for a 'Dim Sum' breakfast, before back-tracking north to the palace.
It took half an hour to reach 'Xidan' underground station; this is where I would find Beijing's financial district and, more importantly, the restaurant that I required. As I exited huge skyscrapers loomed above and people, in suits, were walking in all directions to, I presume, their work. The restaurant I wanted was located within a shopping complex; as I approached the lights were off and a '10:00 – 19:00' sign was erected on the front doors. There was a guard outside and so I showed him a piece of paper – with the restaurants name on - to which he nodded in confirmation, but he also pointed to the opening times. It was 9am therefore I wasn't going to wait an hour for the shopping centre to open; yet again I found myself stunned with Beijing's work hours. I scoured the area for somewhere else to dine and, as I surveyed, the only places open were a Costa Coffee and a McDonald's. I visited McDonald's for more pineapple goodness (though, after eating so many, it's starting to loose it's shine).
I soon found myself back on 'line four' travelling north. The fifteenth stop was the one I wanted; I sat down and read about the 'Summer Palace' which, in reality, is a few temples located within a huge park. Two-thirds of the park's area is covered by water and hills form a wall at the northern end. The buildings have only recently been rebuilt after they were destroyed, by western troops, in 1902 after the boxer rebellion was crushed.
The palace entrance was located close to the underground exit; I decided to purchase the 'all exclusive' ticket which allowed entry into the grounds as well as all the temples. I walked in, chose a path, and followed it. The stone path felt like a trench that ran through the middle of a hill covered in coniferous trees; it was lovely, and cool, therefore I followed it until I reached a wall. Behind said wall sat a small lake surrounded by three temples, all with connecting walkways. The buildings, and walkways, were made out of wood and mainly consisted of the colours red and blue; the covered walkways were very welcome but, due to their width, getting through the crowds proved difficult. I didn't stay long and soon I found myself heading south. As I turned a corner I stopped suddenly; I witnessed thousands of banners fluttering in the breeze. There was a temple complex, to my right, and it's here that battle commenced; tour groups – lead by the standard bearer with a 'hands-free' microphone – would attack from different positions and a lot of running, pushing (with the use of elbows) and shouting occurred. I didn't stay long; I backed away from the conflict, took a photo and headed to the lake. I went through the baseball cap, same t-shirt wearing crowds – throwing a few elbows of my own – before I got to the edge of 'Kunming Lake'. The crowds were still large and it took a long walk south for the amount of people to thin.
Looking at a map I noticed that I could walk around the entire lake; this, I hoped, would take a couple of hours meaning that I could visit the main temples around lunchtime. The first part of the walk consisted of beach trees with a stone path running through the middle; the lake was to my right with Chinese bridges crossing where it was narrow. Boats, carrying copious amounts of Chinese tourists, sailed up and down. Right at the southern part of the lake stood an old Chinese bridge with a difference; it was curved in design but it had been heightened to allow bigger vessels to pass under. The stairs both up, and down, were almost vertical and, instead of climbing up myself, I crossed the lake using another bridge where I was able to take photographs.
I found myself at the south-western tip of the lake. Heading north-west the crowds disappeared and I was, almost, on my own. The trees had changed to ferns and it was lovely to be able to walk, surrounded by nature, without disturbance. It didn't last long; I soon found myself back at the northern end of the lake and, due to the amount of people becoming denser, I knew that I was coming back into the touristy areas. Before climbing up a small hill, to the main temples, I had a look around the less visited 'outer temples' where nothing new was discovered. The temples were still made of wood, they were still red and they still had the ancient style Chinese roofs. I moved quickly and I soon found myself, surrounded by Chinese tourists, next to 'Empress Dowager Cixi' marble boat.
'Empress Dowager Cixi' entered the imperial court at the age of fifteen. She soon became Emperor Zianfeng's favourite concubine and bore him a son. The emperor died (1861) when the boy was still an infant and so the empress claimed power, which she never handed back. For the next twenty-five years the empress bled the country dry, ultimately resulting in the fall of her dynasty and the occupation of large areas of China. Not only did she spend copious amounts of money, on releasing ten thousand birds for each of her birthdays, but she would order 108-course dinners and spent funds, designated to modernise the Chinese military fleet, on her marble boat. Shortly after the boats completion, China suffered huge naval defeats to Japan.
The white marble boat was okay, though it looked as though it could do with a good clean; it also seemed to be based on an American steam boat, but with a Chinese influence where the upper decks were concerned. As a Chinese girl pushed in front of me, to pose for a photo, I left and went to the main temples. As I'd paid to view said temples I went in, though I wasn't really in the mood. 'Templed out' I quickly looked at the red wooden buildings, focusing more on the view over the lake. The smog prevented seeing the southern end of the lake but you could tell - in Empresses Cixi's time – that it would have been an impressive view. The time was 1:30pm and, even though it was lunch, the amount of tourists were still above what I would call an 'okay level'; therefore, after four hours of wondering, I left the park the way I'd entered.
I found myself back on 'line four' heading south. Once again I was within Beijing's financial district and, this time, the shopping centre was open. I made my way to the basement level where I found many food outlets serving many dishes from around the world. I found myself in front of a rather posh restaurant; I showed the waiter, on the door, a piece of paper – with the restaurants name, written in Chinese, on - and he gestured that I'd arrived. Before asking for a table I requested to see a menu; as I flicked through the prices seemed okay but I couldn't find 'Dim Sum'. I opened my guidebook, showed the waiter what I wanted, and he flicked through the menu and pointed to an item that looked right. I was then shown to a table before the waiter went to complete my request; as he left I started to read about 'Dim Sum'.
'Dim Sum' is the name given to a breakfast made up of small pastry balls. The balls can contain many different fillings and are placed within a circular wooden box. As my order arrived the box lid was opened and five pastry balls could be seen. I picked up my chop sticks, placed a pastry ball between them, and inserted it into my mouth. As I chewed the pastry packaging split and the filling poured out; at first I chewed quickly but then, as the taste hit me, I chewed more slowly. It was disgusting. Surprisingly it wasn't bland, though I wished it was; the filling tasted like sweet bean curd which made me feel ill. There was so much filling that my facial expression changed from delight, to horrified, very quickly. A few Chinese women, sat across from me, were watching and they laughed. I was finally able to swallow and, as I did, the waiter came past to see how I was getting on. When he noticed that one pastry was missing he smiled at me and I smiled back; as he left my faced returned to the disgusted look that was apparent only moments ago. What was I going to do? I sat within a posh restaurant with another four of these pastries that I knew I couldn't eat. At that point I asked myself one very important question; what would Mr Bean do? I started to looking around for handbags, plant pots and plates but none could be found. Maybe this 'Dim Sum' was a required taste that needed time to get use to, I popped another into my mouth realising that it wasn't. The ladies, once again, laughed at my facial expressions and, after I'd consumed the item, the waiter returned pleased to see another pastry missing. I couldn't eat any more; when my waiter had returned to 'door duty' I summoned a waitress demanding the bill. I paid quickly, picked up my stuff, and walked out of the restaurant. The waiter smiled at me as I exited and I thanked him in return; as he turned, to see how I'd got on with my meal, I ran up the escalator in a very Mr Bean fashion.
I was still hungry and, with a bean curd taste in my mouth, I needed something to eat. I dare not go back into the food court in case the waiter spotted me; once outside I saw the Costa Coffee, and McDonald's, from this morning. I couldn't eat any more fast food and so I went to Costa Coffee for an expensive sandwich, cake and a hot chocolate (though, due to spending so much, I did receive a wicked Costa rubix cube). As the 'Dim Sum' taste finally started to disappear I decided that I'd had enough with Chinese food; from now on western food only, though my guidebook states that Beijing has a good Thai restaurant. I can't wait to get home to have a decent Chinese take-away.
I got back to my hostel around 5pm; I sat down and browsed the internet, for a short while, before a Chinese lady approached. She was the new 'acrobatics booking agent' and it took little time to sort my ticket out. It was guaranteed that I would get a pick-up, tomorrow; however it was scheduled two hours before the show. The only other disappointment was that the show was only an hour long; still it's not the quantity it's the quality, I thought to myself. After, I had a long shower and an early night; I'm going to leave my camera at the hostel tomorrow, and visit 'Mr Mao' before going shopping. I want to get some shoes, a few shirts, some beanie hats and maybe another belt. After this, the acrobatics. It's still all go, go, go here!