Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sep 9 – Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace

We are still rising early but later and later each day. By no means are we acclimatizing to the new 12 hour time zone shift.

Before our guide came I went out for a walk just to see up close what rush hour was like. It seemed like chaos. The guy with the flag was some sort of crossing guard but he was mostly ignored.


We started our guided day with a visit to the Temple of Heaven.

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Down the long walkway


To the Imperial Vault of Heaven.



One of the buildings was in a perfectly circular courtyard. If you stood in a marked spot you were supposed to be able to a an echo. We tried but there was too much noise from all the people.



The two side buildings were temples to the planets and to the weather.



A bit farther along was the Circular Mound which was a set of marble terraces.



In the middle was the Heavenly Center Stone. It is said that the voice of someone standing on the stone will be particularly resonant and sonorous. Everybody tried it out and a few tried singing. I couldn’t hear much difference.



As we exit the premises, I see a sign that says, by noon, over 26,000 people have visited this temple. It did feel crowded. It felt like a lot of people constantly filing by the windows of the structures to glance inside at the furnishings. The poor old lady whose job it was to clean the glass all day long was busy non-stop. It appears that people cannot peer in without planting their faces or putting their hands on the glass windows. What a job that is, cleaning up after 26,000 faces are pressed up on glass.


Next was the Imperial Summer Palace which was astounding. The whole city of Beijing surrounds this beautiful piece of architecture. A lake was artificially created in this location for the specific purpose of putting a palace surrounded by a moat and water deep enough to sail a boat back and forth for leisure. It is the height of decadence and a thing of beauty. As we walked around the corridors, going from one pavilion to another, there are unique panels decorating the entire walkways. It is a picture of idyllic charm and decadent living. The last empress was a woman of great avarice. She loved luxury, good food and power.



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She was a clever woman who killed her own son to rise to power and rule with an iron hand. I find this mentality hard to fathom. It is a hot day and miraculously, it is cool and so full of ambiance. I can almost sense the ghost of a thousand maidens gracefully teetering through the corridors, painting, writing poems and performs all the arts. Outside the world could be at war, enduring tumultuous times of warring factions and devious plot of assassination. Inside the walls of this paradise, there was the soothing lap of the waters causing the lotus blossoms to wave to the melodies of a lute or flute.

We first went into the Hall of Happiness and Longevity. This is a really busy place.


We walk along this 3/4 km long covered walkway. Each scene painted on the ceiling and beams is different withy no duplication over the entire length.


The roof of one of the sports where the walkway made a turn.

A view of the main palace. It was not open.

We enjoyed a lovely ferry ride across the lake.






After we got off the boat, we crossed that beautiful Seventeen Arch Bridge to look around the island it connected to the mainland.


Each of the 500 lions is in a slightly different pose.



At this point, we tell Robert that we are satisfied with the day’s events and unwilling to go to the Pearl Factory or to dinner according to the agenda. We want to be driven back to the hotel to rest and give the guys the rest of the day off.

From the moment we met Robert, I was convinced that he was a she. I do not find it unusual for a girl to be given a boy’s name. In fact, unisex names are common. I kept having gender issues when talking about Robert because I was sure he was a girl. Stuart decided to observe which washroom he was going to use and then decide if he was a male or not. Sure enough, true to his name, he was a HE. I asked Stuart, if I was turning Chinese, due to my growing problem with pronoun genders. In my head, I could not make up my mind whether to call Robert a he or she.

We felt sorry for him, as he seemed unhappy in his job as a tour guide. He finds the hours are long and the pace is grueling for his health. He must be inexperienced, despite professing that he has been working for 3 years at this. He said that after we leave, he gets one day of rest and then he has another tour group to lead. We do not know how much he earns at this job but he feels that it is not enough to establish himself.
The driver is a very casually dressed, western styled, polo shirt and dress pants guy. Slick but he does not seem to speak a word of English. His van is neat and well- maintained, as he is.

We are happy to release the guide and driver, as we feel guilty making them wait on us. Stuart is fed up with the meals and is happy to pay the money for a good dinner at our hotel. It is comparable to the amount of money we would spend in Canadian dollars for a fine dinner. Having eaten breakfast every day at the hotel, we already know the quality and taste of the food here. It was sumptuous and within our expectations. Stuart had some Peking Duck and it was perfect, like in Toronto.

They must have had a western-trained pastry chef, because the crème caramel was great and the donut flavour and texture were on target. We noticed two large groups dinning there. It was a safe bet the food was fresh. Had the restaurant been empty, I might have worried about leftovers but there were lots of people in the hotel and dining at this particular period so I felt safe.

This dinner was a nice close to our visit to Beijing. I wanted to pack a lot of things from this hotel, like the slippers, tea bags, water bottles, the hand creams with a lovely perfumed scent, the sewing kit, tooth brushes and soaps for the women’s shelter and the writing note pad. I loved this place, except for the glass bathroom doors.

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