Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Palace, part 2

Here are more pics of the summer palace. Some feral cats resting on a big rock in the woods:
A nearby pagoda:
Coming down out of the woods, overlooking what must have been the living quarters.
In the distance you can see the main pavilion.
Now we are by the main gate where the tourists all arrive, so it's suddenly crowded. This creature is called a Qilin:
You can tell by the change in our appearance that we have just climbed over a hill on a hot day.
Some of the Qilin's buddies:
Exploring around this area a bit:

In this time period, even the drains are decorative. I was told that this symbol is thought to bring good luck.
A miniature Qilin on a drum, in the ocean:
Pretty bridge with water lilies.
Mysterious locked gate on the other side of the bridge.
This is not a good picture of it, but the entire length of the shore on this side of the lake has a covered walkway called "The Long Corridor".
Its beams are painted with decorations and medallions representing different stories.
A view of the lake, seen from inside the Long Corridor:
Next we took a boat ride around the lake. Here are some pics of the inside of the boat.
There were also pedal/paddle boats and motorboats, the occupants of these seemed to be having a good time and waved at us.
As we pull away from the dock we can begin to see just HOW large the main hall of the Summer Palace really is. The slanted part is a stairway, too tall to climb in this heat.
Passing another boat.
The main hall as seen from the other side of the lake.
The Seventeen Arches Bridge connecting a small island to the shore.
The island had yet more buildings, but we were getting rather tired and just stayed on the boat. Good thing because the line to get a boat back was tremendous.
On the way back this view of the main hall, you can see a wall going up the side of the hill to the left of the buildings, matching the wall we saw on the other side.
More walking, the last thing I had energy to take a picture of was the Marble Boat, apparently a decorative structure.
From the Summer Palace I took the subway directly to the train station to head home for Jinan. I was so grateful to finally be able to sit down and take off my backpack with all my belongings!

Summer Palace, Part 1

I spent my second day in Beijing visiting the Summer Palace, kindly guided by a Chinese friend who lives in Beijing. This is a perfect place to explore on a hot summer day, because it was designed to be comfortable in the summer. There are shade trees everywhere, a large hill or a miniature mountain (depending on your point of view), and on one side of the grounds is a lake. It's an extremely large park, I was there about three hours and we were walking almost the entire time, but we probably saw only about half of it.

We went in the gate nearest the subway exit, which is not the main tourist gate. Immediately upon entering is a stone bridge and a big painted ornamental gate.
The bridge spans "Suzhou Street", a lovely waterway with shops which was designed as a replica of the city of Suzhou, which is famous in China for its waterways as Venice is in Italy.
Detail of the buildings on Suzhou Street:
After crossing the bridge and under the gate, we came to this sign.
The hill looks pretty tame so far...
... until we take the right hand path.
The steps continue to get steeper and more uneven until we reach the second level of the buildings, where the view is my reward for climbing.
This close-up shows that the yellow and green tiles are not merely painted, but glazed and fired.
Among and between the buildings were more steep rocky steps, as well as some funny little grottoes which were blessedly cool inside.

This wall is seen from behind some of the buildings, and I later discovered that a similar wall goes all the way up the other side of the mountain. There are so many structures here, most of them ornate; it boggles the mind to think of how much time and effort went into the construction of the summer palace.
Leaving through the back of the buildings, we found ourselves on this lovely shady path around the mountainside - thankfully, heading downward.
Many paths in public parks in China have this kind of decorative stonework with stones and bits of old tile, and the designs seem to be up to whomever laid that particular path.
Apparently this bit of path was under repair.
I have quite a few more pictures of the summer palace, but will upload them in part 2 of this entry. These take an astonishingly long time to upload, 2+ minutes per image. I am planning to go on another trip tomorrow to Qufu, so I need to pack and prepare for that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My first trip to Beijing

The trip to Beijing was great, if short. I stayed there only one night, so it wasn't exactly relaxing, but it was still good to finally get out and see another part of China. I have over 200 pictures, even after deleting the awful ones, so choosing what to post won't be easy!

The high speed train took three hours from Jinan to Beijing. It was comfortable, with padded reclining seats. I didn't have a window seat either direction, so had to take pics when my seatmates went to the washroom. I discovered that the landscape between here and Beijing is as flat as Illinois. Here are a couple shots from the train.
This is a wheat region rather than a rice region. It looks like the first crop has been harvested, as I saw people burning stubble in the fields. I did see a number of other crops here and there as well, the most interesting being lotus (the roots are edible), which was grown in square fields among the other crops but these squares were dug out and filled with water. Lotus growing are very beautiful. Once in Japan I got to see some lotus in full bloom up close, which was unforgettable.
The Beijing train station is very modern and clean. The bright pictures are the waiting area and the dark picture is underground where it intersects with the subway system. The subway system is excellent in Beijing, it's even air conditioned (for which we were very grateful).
Be careful not to bleed on anyone while in the subway train!
We found our hotel without much problem, as it was within a block of the subway. The front facade and lobby were impressive, which my friend told me is pretty common here. The first photo is the main lobby, the second is the 7th floor lobby by the elevator. Love the antique cart used as a coffee table. There were a number of such relics in the main lobby too; the photo shows only the center section of the main lobby.
Our room was quite comfortable, and the furniture looked quaint with carved wooden headboards and fancy light fixtures. The bedding was good quality, which made me happy.
The bathroom... well, look at the pictures. I've never seen a shower crammed in like this before. The curtain goes in front of the counter, leaving the toilet and towel rack inside the "shower" area. The spray didn't hit the towels, but the toilet needed to be wiped down after showering. From what I've seen advertised, apparently having a shower in your room with hot water 24/7 isn't always available here, so I was happy to have it. Besides, where else can you sit on the toilet and wash your hair at the same time?
Just like in the US, the hotel provides a few things, such as toiletries, food, and other items, which, if you are not careful, you could end up paying outrageous charges for. There was a price sheet on the table, from which I was able to determine by process of elimination which things we could use free of charge. Here are some of the things that we could pay outrageous prices for. I love the names on some of these things. I had to look at the picture of "closestool cushion" to figure out what it was, and "hair and body shower juice" gives me a shiver.
After settling in, we went out around noon to explore the surrounding area. While looking for a place to get some food, we found this interesting old building, which is currently serving as a college of medicine. My friend told me that the number of animals on the corners of the roof ridges used to be an indicator of the building's importance and this one had five, so it must have been at one time quite important.
Also similar to at home, lifelike, life-size bronze statues are scattered around here and there, and they are very popular. People were constantly taking one another's photo standing with or sitting on the statues. This one is a man holding a tray of baozi (steamed dumplings).
Just across from this building we found a pizza restaurant and had some lunch. No, pizza is not like it is in the US, but we enjoyed it anyway. We then went to a couple of bookshops where I got some maps, children's books (Dr. Suess) and a dictionary, and on the way back to the hotel, we found this funky little Bohemian pub. The signs outside were hand painted on burlap. The art inside the pub is the most creative and crazy thing my colleague and I have seen so far in China, and we loved it. The sign advertised two beers for the price of one, which turned out to be a good thing as one beer was double the prices we are used to in Jinan. We figured it was worth paying the inflated price to support such a cool, creative place and for the smiles it gave us.
After hanging out here for a while, we headed over to the Silk Market. Don't let the name fool you, there is little silk to be found there. It's on a street called Silk Street, and is a market for tourists, a huge building filled with stalls selling every manner of item - shoes, luggage, clothing, jewelry, toys, porcelain, teapots, you name it. The building has several floors and is the modern, compact version of a street market. Every stall has someone who will chase after you. "Hey lady, you need some shoes?" "Hey lady, look, nice bags." It was quite exhausting. You are expected to haggle over the price of almost everything (tea was an exception). I bought some Ecco sandals straight away before I realized just how much they inflate their prices; I got a good deal by US prices, but I could still have gotten them for much less. (I discovered this by watching my colleague shop.)

There was one stall with bolts of silk fabric. I took a photo of this dress they had on display because I liked the style, but you can see the rolls of fabric behind it.
I also learned a valuable lesson when I had to carry my backpack with all my clothing and the additional books and shoes in it around the Summer Palace the following day... in the future, I will do my shopping at the END of the trip.

Of course, I took a ton of pictures at the Summer Palace too, but I've had enough blogging for now, so will upload them later.

As for my health, I'm feeling much better, although still not as well rested as I would like. The cough and cold symptoms seem to be gone now; I'm afraid to even mention it lest I jinx myself!