Sunday, November 21, 2010


Touring Beijing, part 3

Sunday, 14 November

Alexey and I had tentatively planned to see the Summer Palace (颐和园), so after breakfast I walked over to the other hotel, about a 30-minute walk, to meet up with him. He was in their breakfast room eating with some other IETF people. Magnus said he and someone else were going to the Summer Palace, and we said that’s good, that’s what we’d planned to do as well... so we wound up joining Magnus and meeting up with Ali. An American, a Russian (who lives in London), a Swede, and a Turk (who lives in Canada), touring together in China. Mutinational Я Us, eh?

So Magnus, Alexey, and I took the subway to the Summer Palace and waited a while for Ali. We got the all-inclusive entrance tickets for 50 yuan each (about $7.50). It’s really amazing how cheap things are there; did I mention that the subway fare is only 2 yuan? The walk around the grounds was nice... very full of tourists, especially in the areas around the main buildings and such.

There are some shops at the perimeter of the palace, and there, as with Hou Hai and anyplace else we went where there are shops or tourists, you get constantly harangued by people from the shops coming out and telling you to come in. People try to sell you tourist books, hats, food, trinkets and doo-dads, fake Rolex watches, and all manner of crap. They will follow you, chattering at you, and insisting, never taking no for an answer. Very annoying. It means that you can’t just look at stuff, without constant badgering. That part of the culture, I hate.

The palace grounds were fabulous, with many buildings, temples, bridges, gardens, and such. Imagine that this was their secondary place, where the empress would go in the summer when it was too hot in the middle of the city (and this is only some ten miles away from the city center, as the crow flies). The centerpiece of the palace grounds is Longevity Hill, so named on the occasion of the emperor’s mother’s 60th birthday. The hill overlooks Kunming Lake (昆明湖), and holds several temples and other buildings, all down the southern slope toward the lake (see photo).

We started at the palace around noon and finished around 4:30. Alexey had planned to meet with a friend of his, a Swedish guy called Roger, who’s lived in Beijing for the last 2.5 years. He was communicating with him on and off by text messages, as the plan kept changing. It was finally set that we’d meet him at the north gate of the Workers’ Stadium (工人体育场) at 7.

We walked from the Summer Palace through some neighbourhoods and past Renmin University (人民大学, People’s University) to a technology and shopping district called Zhongguancun (中关村)... there’s a big mall there, and also lots of huge, multi-story electronics shops, which Magnus and Ali wanted to check out. The one we went into (and possibly all of them) is set up with hundreds and hundreds of individual booths, as at a bazaar. Each small area is run by a different person, and they’re all trying to get you to come to their area to buy your digital camera, laptop, iPad, or whatever. Quite the zoo. And, of course, as with any other shops, you can’t pause for even a second to just look, without being swarmed.

Then we took a cab to the stadium and met Roger, who led us across the street and down an alley to a very comfy and tasty Thai restaurant. After dinner, Roger took us to a favourite bar for another beer before we left. A secret bar, he said. There are several hopping, noisy bars at the stadium, but this one, he told us, is quiet.

We went back to the stadium, walked partway around it to a hot dog place, went into the hot dog place (it’s 10 p.m. now, and except for the restaurants and bars the stadium area is deserted, so why is this hot dog place still open?), said hello to the woman behind the counter, and walked into the back. We went down stairs, and Roger pushed a button on the wall. A panel opened, and we went into an ex-pat westerners bar called Foo Bar. This seemed like something out of a movie. Pleasant bar — he was right: it was not at all loud. We stayed for a while, then left and caught a cab around 11. Roger stayed.

And the Summer Palace was UNESCO World Heritage Site number two.

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