BEIJING 2002

Travel Journal of Nget Hong, Bee Jee, Yu Sing and Yu Yong, May 2002

                                                    

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May 26th  Sunday: Hello Beijing!

We arrived at Beijing International Airport 730 am. It was a modern airport, very different from the one in 1987 when I first visited Beijing. The tour bus first took us to a restaurant in the city for breakfast; it was a 30 min drive. The breakfast turned out to be a 9-course lunch. The restaurant looks grand but there were no other customers other than some 30 of us in the same tour group. The food was nothing much to shout about though! After ‘breakfast-lunch’ we were kept waiting for a rather long time – didn’t know where the tour guides were and so when we could not stand anymore, we marched out to force the tour guide to leave the place, and by the time we reached Cheng Hong hotel (a newly opened hotel in the outskirt of Beijing), it was already 11 something. Well, apparently the tour guides wanted to ‘waste’ some time in the restaurant so that the hotel rooms could get ready in time! But with this my plan of going to a Sunday worship service fell apart! I have found out from internet that there is a Beijing International Christian Fellowship (Tel: 1390-1104943) which meet at the 21st Century Hotel, at Liangmaqiao Road, No.40.  I learned that due to the government regulations, the Fellowship is open to foreign passport holders only, but the services are only in the morning. It was quite a disappointment for us, for we really desire to have an opportunity to worship the Lord in Beijing.

We were again made to wait for quite some time in the lobby before we were allocated our room. There were no staff to show us the way –this is a hotel caters for the local people—so we had to find our way. It was not easy to locate our room, for the room number system here was confusing. Our room 7114 is not on the seventh floor but actually room 114 of Block A of the hotel! Nobody told us about this, and so when we entered the lift it brought us to the highest floor—5th floor, we thought we have to carry our luggage walking up two floors; but then we found that the building is just a five-storey building! Ha Ha Ha! Greater surprise awaited us as we entered into our room, a very, very small room with just one single-size bed. We thought in this part of Beijing the beds are all small size.... but later on we realized that the hotel gave us a single room! So we made a protest to the tour guide, Mr. Lim, who was also very frustrated with the hotel management –and it took a few hours before we got everything settled. We all got our appropriate rooms, but the kids’ rooms (single room for each of them, the hotel did not have sufficient double room) were in the other side of the hotel, some 10 min walk away from us!

So we arrived at Beijing. Beijing was first made a Imperial capital by Kublai Khan the Mongols in the 13th century. Since then, it has been the national capital throughout the Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). When Sun Yat-sen founded the modern China by toppling the last Qing emperor, he changed the national capital to Nanjing. However, when the Communist Party took over power in 1949, the capital was moved back to Beijing. Today’s Beijing is a sprawling metropolis with a population of 11 million.

 

Bei Hai Park, the 800 years old Imperial Garden

The tour group left around 2 pm, but we have already decided earlier not to join the group but would rather explore Beijing ourselves. Also, we were all rather tired because of lack of sleep while in the plane, so we decided to rest in the room, and went out only 3 pm. We took a taxi, and our first stop was the famous Bei Hai Park (Beihai Gongyuan).

Bei Hai Park is Beijing’s oldest Imperial garden. It was built 800 years ago and contains the city’s largest lake and a landmark white pagoda. In the Qing Dynasty, the beautiful garden was meant only for the Emperor and his court, but now anybody can get in—for a small entrance fee. Inside the park the first impressive imperial building was the Round City (Tuan Cheng). It was a 40 ft high mount, with several pavilions for the Emperor to rest and held party. There was a massive jade bowl that was once the prized possession of Kublai Khan, and it was once used as a giant wine bowl! Behind it is the Light Receiving Hall, a Buddhist temple. The Qing imperial court worshipped Buddha and so it is not surprising to see Buddhist temples out here. But from this tall building you can have a good view of the several artificial (imperial) lakes of Beijing.

 

    

        The Round City in Bei Hai Park

       

                        On top of the Round City  

                          

    

Pavilion in the Round City

 

 

500 years old tree, 'knighted' by Emperor Qing Long  

  

    The Bei Hai (North Lake) and the eastern shore 

 

Leaving the Round City, we walked through the beautiful stone bridge to Qionghua Island. There is a Lama temple (White Pagoda) at the top of the Jade Hill but we only walked through the hillside and then took a boat ride across the lake to the opposite, eastern shore. This is a nice place to stroll. There is a famous small imperial garden there but unfortunately it was closed by the time we reached there – even though it was only 4.45 pm! The Lama temple that was located at this high place of Beijing appeared to us to be in a commanding position of the spiritual atmosphere of the city. The Qing dynasty emperors were known to be devout worshipper of the Lama Buddhism. As we walked through the BeiHai Park, we could sense the strong Lama Buddhism spiritual influence here.

 

                  

     This beautifully decorated ferry took us across to the eastern shore

     Typical beautiful Jianan Garden in Bei Hai Park

 

Tiananmen Square, China’s Open-Air Political Forum

We then took a taxi to Tiananmen Square. The taxi dropped us at the “Qianmen Gate” –that means ‘Front Gate’ –taxis are not allowed to stop at the square. This gate was one of the nine great gates when Beijing possessed its city walls (the walls were removed in 1958, what a pity!). From here we have to walk through a long underground tunnel to reach the square.

Tiananmen Square is indeed a massive square, claims to be the world’s largest! With a size of more than 90 football fields, it has standing room for a crowd of 300000. Tiananmen Square served as China’s open-air forum in modern China history, the scene of many historic ceremonies and public protest demonstrations, certainly China’s most sensitive and venerated public forum. Right behind the Front Gate is the massive Mao Zedong Mausoleum. Mao’s body is still kept there and this is a popular ‘tourist’ spot, but we did not bother to go in and see. We are not interested to see the dead body!  

   

Tiananman Monument, at the back is the Great Hall of People (The Parliament House)

Tiananman Square and the site of flag-raising. Behind the Monument of the People's Heroes is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

 

We finally came to the Monument to the People’ Heroes –a 124-foot granite obelisk erected in the center of the Tiananmen Square. This was the command post (and combat ground) of the young democratic demonstrators during the 1989 students’ occupation of Tiananmen Square. It is ‘peaceful’ now, but we could imagine how in those turbulent days, the brave students courageously fought the regime by hunger strikes and peaceful rallies, we could imagine how one of the leader, the deputy commander at the site, Chang Po Li stood here to declare the opening of the Tiananmen University of Democracy, just the day before the People Liberation Army’s tanks rolled in. Many of these democratic movement leaders are at present overseas; some have become Christians, including Chang Po Li. And I imagine in the spirit that the day will come, he would be here to declare the gospel of salvation to the multitudes in Beijing!

On the west side of the square is another massive building, the Museum of Chinese History and Museum of Chinese Revolution, while on the east side is the Great Hall of the People –China’s parliament building. These are all Russian type, communist era massive buildings, but of little interest to us.

From the Monument it was another long walk (and through the underground tunnel) to reach Tienanmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. It was a majestic gate indeed, and a historical one. In the Qing Dynasty, this was also the entrance to the Forbidden City. A long corridor (flank by two parks) leads to Wumen, the front gate of the Forbidden City. You could climb up for a fee but it was closed by the time we reached the place!

This was used as a reviewing stand by top government officials. In 1949, Mao Zedong stood on this gate, surrounded by his victorious Red Army (or People Liberation Army) generals to proclaim the birth of the People Republic of China. His words: “The Chinese people from now onward could stand tall!” must have echoed in the hearts of the multitudes gathered there at that time. Many Chinese at that time identified the Chinese Communist party as a patriotic, anti-imperialist movement and many people had high hope for the future of a ‘new’ China. But that was more than half a century ago, and in these 50 over years, China has been transformed into something quite different from 1949. It is now a nation that is communist in name but with a capitalist economy, as communism has proven to be a bankrupt ideology throughout the world.

  
     The grand Gate of Heavenly Peace     The 'Jade Bridge' leading to the Gate

 

Wangfujing shopping District

From Tiananmen Square we tried to walk to the famous shopping district, Wangfujing Street. But Beijing’s street map can be deceiving; a short distance in the map may turn out to be an exhaustive walk. By then we were rather tired of walking (particularly when we did not know how far it is going to be!), so we were very glad to come across a subway entrance. The subway station and the train were both reasonably clean. Actually Wangfujing was just one stop away, but for 3 Y it was worth it! As we came out from the station we found ourselves in a modern shopping mall, and it was also time for some food – and we ended up eating Japanese fast food type of noodle—in Beijing!. After some walk and window-shopping – we decided to call it a day—we have had enough of walking this afternoon—and so we took a taxi to get back to the hotel. To our dismay, we found that in Beijing many taxi drivers did not know the way, there are just too many roads in this metropolitan, and particularly the hotel we stayed in was a brand new one. And so I had to give the taxi driver direction. – even though I myself wasn’t sure of the direction either. It was indeed by God’s grace that we managed to get back to the hotel!

 

             
    Wangfujibg: Modern shopping district in Beijing                        Wangfujing in 1987
        

We spent much time in the evening watching TV. One good thing about staying in a local-oriented hotel is that you get to see a lot of different TV programs –all in Chinese. We found that there were in total of 50 different TV channels, from various cities and provinces of China. But there is only one English channel, and of course, no CNN or BBC!  One program we watched was very interesting. It was a show to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Chairman Mao’s talk on Yuen Ann’s Forum on Arts and Literature. That talk was part of Mao’s famous writings on communist’s doctrines on arts and literature. During the Cultural Revolution period it was considered to be ‘the authoritative statements’ on Arts and Literature in Communist China. The speech, orations and proclamations in the program still carried a heavy dose of revolutionary romanticism. However, looking at the way the MC’s dressed tells an opposite story – the two MC’s look sophisticated, western and unmistakably bourgeois style! There was also a strong dose of nationalism and patriotism–perhaps the China government these days is using nationalism as a substitution for the now ‘defunct’ communism! The program, however, was very professionally done and entertaining.

The first time I visited Beijing was in 1987, at that time, China was in the midst of opening its door to the world; the ‘reform’ had just begun. Fifteen years have passed and the Beijing today is light years ahead of the 1987 Beijing in terms of development. It is now a totally different city, even though still manages to maintain the cultural atmosphere. But as I read the local newspapers and watch the TV, I could sense the ‘hollow’ in the heart of the Chinese people after the defunct of communism—nationalism and patriotism are too abstract for many young people. At the time of our visit (just a week before the World Cup 2002); China is crazy about its debut in World Cup and football seems to become the most important thing in the media. The foreign coach Milu, who had brought China’s football team into the World Cup Final, had become their idol – Some people even commented that if the China football team manage to win some games in the World Cup, his portrait would be put beside Mao’s on the Tiananmen’s Gate! But how fragile (and indeed ridiculous) it is to put the national hope on the success of a football team! May the Chinese know the real Hope that will never disappoint them!

 

 

May 27th Monday: Forbidden City Walkabout

The hotel’s buffet breakfast was Beijing style, not suitable for westerners but ok for us Malaysian Chinese! It was very crowded there because a lot of local tourists stayed here. Get to know a member of the tour group, Mr. Wang and his wife from Kuala Trengganu. They were both Christians and we have some mutual friends, so we had a good time of fellowship –so good to have Christian fellowship while you travel!

Today we decided again to be on our own. We took a taxi to get to the Forbidden City. It was not that far away but the traffic was very heavy, so it took us 50 min and Y40 to reach there. The taxi took us to the vast courtyard in front of the Meridian Gate (Wumen) – the gate that leads to the Forbidden City proper.There were so many tourists there –foreigners as well as locals. The admission ticket costs Y40 each, not a small sum for a family of four! It was very hot and there was no shade in the Forbidden City – no trees allowed in the imperial ceremonial courts!

The Forbidden City is now known as Gu Gong (Palace Museum) locally. It covers an area of 183 acres (166 football fields!), nearly a half-mile wide and a mile long. Its palaces, gates, pavilions and halls are divided into 9999 ˝ rooms, and the entire complex is enclosed in thick, red walls more than 30 feet tall. The ‘city’ is outlined by a wide moat. This place was the seat of the China imperial government for 5 centuries.

The Meridian Gate (Wumen) was where the emperor reviewed the armies, as well as where the emperor executed (chopped off the head!) his erred senior officers! It was also called the Five Phoenix Tower because it has 5 gates in all. Of course the middle gate was solely for the Emperor. All other officers can only enter through the side gates. However, every year, the top three candidates of the Royal Examination were given the great honor of walking out through this middle gate also! In the imperial days, the government put great emphasis on the Royal Examination, which was held in the Palace Examination Hall, with the Emperor himself as the Chief Examiner. Those who passed the examination would be employed as top government officers.

 

            

 

The Meridian Gate (Wumen): Entrance to the Forbidden City

 

As we entered through the Meridian Gate (walking through the once exclusive middle gate) we came across the famous ‘Golden River’ (just an ordinary canal actually) with five marble bridges spanning it. Needless to say, the central one was reserve only for the Emperor. The marble bridges lead to a huge courtyard and at the end is the massive, richly decorated Gate of Great Harmony. It is a gate as well as a giant hall. This was once where the emperor held court with his ministers and senior officers early in the morning. The emperor would sit on his throne at the gate, with his few hundred officers gathering in the courtyard who would take turn to make report. The Gate of Great Harmony (a timber building) was destroyed by fire in 1889 and was rebuilt at great cost, for the building required rare giant timber.

 

                
          The Gate of Great Harmony

A view of the Hall of Great Harmony from the Gate of Great Harmony

          

      The Great Courtyard in front of the Hall of Great Harmony (left, can only see the 3-tierred platform). The Hall on the right was just one of the less well known hall in the Forbidden City 

       In front of the grand Hall of Great Harmony
Behind the Gate of Great Harmony there is another courtyard, flanked by closed halls on both sides, and followed by three huge edifices. Together the three buildings constituted what was known as the Outer Court: the Hall of Great Harmony (Tai He Dian), the Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. These three timber built buildings were built on top of a 3-tierred marble platform about 30 ft high, and were used by the emperor for official functions. The Hall of Great Harmony was also known as the Hall of the Imperial Throne. This is the tallest edifice in Beijing for centuries (no building in Beijing was allowed to be taller than this building) and it was used for the most important imperial ceremonial functions –New Year, emperor’s birthday etc. The smaller hall behind is the Hall of Middle Harmony; this was the resting place for the emperor before he went to the Hall of Great Harmony to perform ceremonial rites. Immediately behind this smaller hall is another big hall, the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Bao He Dian), used for the Palace Examination and Imperial banquets. The halls were majestic and richly decorated inside but we were not allowed to enter – there are simply too many tourists in China, if the tourists are allowed to enter, perhaps the buildings would be severely damaged in no time! There is always a big crowd here, and to take a peep you have to squeeze through the crowd.  

                  

The smaller hall is the Hall of Middle Harmony.Behind it is the Hall of Preserving Harmony

  The Throne of the Queen in the Hall of the Hall of Preserving Harmony

 

Coming down from the marble platform of the Hall of Preserving Harmony we entered into another huge courtyard – no trees again, just a flat courtyard paved with slabs of stone. And again, closed halls on the right and left flank the courtyard. These were ordinary size buildings and were the offices of the imperial governments.

We enter the Inner Court through the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qing Qing Men). During the later years of the Qing Dynasty, the emperor would come to this Gate instead of the Gate of Great Harmony to meet his senior officials daily. The Gate is actually like an office building, giant timber structure with rooms on the left and right side. After the Gate is another smaller court, Only the emperor, his family (wives, concubines and children) and the Palace eunuchs could enter the Inner Court. The palaces and courts here are not as splendid as those in the outer court but there are some trees and gardens here, more lively place indeed! The first palace is the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qian Qing Gong), the official residence of the Emperor. Right in the center of the Palace is the imperial throne. I was told that there are more than 10 bedrooms here, each bedroom with three beds. The emperor would change his bedroom and bed randomly, so that any would-be assassinator would not be able to know where to strike! How insecure the emperor must have felt, even when dwelling in this top-security building of the national capital.

The building behind the Palace of Heavenly Purity is the Hall of Union (Jiao Tai Dian) – this is the throne room of the empress, with the empress’ throne right in the center. Behind this palace is the last major palace, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kun Ning Gong), the residence of the empress. We could see the bedchamber of the emperor and empress here. It is interesting to note that from the Front Gate through to Tiananmen and all the above mention imperial gates and palaces, as well as the main rear gate, all these edifices are located in a straight axis running from north to south. There must be some spiritual significance here!

 

          

 The Court Yard in front of the Gate  (Gate of Heavenly Purity) to the  Inner Court

   The Throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity
       
    The Imperial Garden with typical Chinese design

 The Pavilions and cypress tree in the Imperial Garden 

 

Behind Kun Ning Gong (‘Gong’ also means palace) is the Imperial Garden. This is not a big garden, but rather elaborate, with much emphasis on the rockeries and pavilions (also have spiritual significance!). There are also many ancient cypress trees here. Even though this is called the Imperial Garden, I learned that the emperor usually goes to the much bigger and beautiful Imperial gardens outside the Forbidden City to relax!

The Imperial Garden is a good place for tourists to take a short rest, and there are several kiosks around too, selling refreshments and snacks, with reasonable price. Right next to the garden was an excellent –with unbelievably good facilities –restroom, with air con (!), very clean toilets, dining tables and chairs, sofa.... Wah! This is a 5-star restroom! You can even bring your food here to have lunch or tea! This certainly demonstrates China’s special effort to attract foreign tourists.  

 

     
Aerial view of the Forbidden City, the main  halls are situated in a axis running from north to south

This is the East Long Street. Look at the high walls

 

After some rest we decided to visit the Eastern exhibition halls, the complex of Palace of Tranquility and Longevity. These were formerly the palaces of the ‘retired’ emperor or empress. To reach there, we have to walk through the long, long ‘street’ (it is call East Long Street!). Of particular interest was the Hall of Royal Treasuries. We have to pay another 10Y as entrance fee and buy a protective slippers (2 Y) and wear it when walking in the hall, so as not to damage the stone-slab/floor of the palace!

 

Hall of Royal Treasures, formerly a Palace for the retired Emperor Qing Long

                  

  

            Inside the Hall of Royal Treasures

 

                   

                    The priceless elephant tusk mats

     

     Another Palace --- too many to remember their names

 

Though the bulk of the royal treasures had been looted by the Western Powers Coalition Armies during the Boxer Rebellion (or Uprising), the collections here are still very remarkable. Especially noteworthy is the mat woven by elephant task  –the amount of labor put in to do this piece of artwork was incredible. One wonders how the artists managed to use the hard elephant task to weave a ‘soft’ mat! Here for the first time we also had the opportunity to walk inside a palace building – all other palaces in the Forbidden City are closed to foot traffic. I guess they allow this because there are much less visitors here (because of the extra charge), and also that this is a ‘relatively remote’ corner of the Forbidden City.

Next to the palace was the ‘famous’ Qianlong Garden – the palace was once the official residence of the retired emperor Qianlong (1711-99). Emperor Qianlong was the longest-reigning emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and after reigning for 60 years; he abdicated and installed one of his sons to be the emperor, while he himself retired to this palace in his old age. The Qianlong Garden is a small garden but very well designed, with beautiful and tranquil rockeries. There was hardly any visitor around here and is indeed a rare place in the Forbidden City where you can have a quiet rest.

 

            
              Rock garden in the Qianlong Garden                  The serene Qianlong Garden 
     

  Yu Sing and Yu Yong decided to investigate the Zhen Fei well

       

This is Zhen Fei well, just wide enough for one thin person to go in!

 

Finally we decided to find our way out and I found out there is a short cut from here to the rear gate –the Shenwu Gate. On the way I told the kids about the story of Zhen Fei, the favorite concubine of the Emperor Guangxu (the puppet emperor under his controlling aunt, the Empress Dowager). The Empress Dowager disliked her because she was pro-Reform (Guangxu was arrested by the Empress Dowager after he proclaimed a program of Reform (Westernization). The Reform last only 100 days and was crushed by The Empress Dowager and the conservatives). When the invading Coalition forces of the eight western nations approached Beijing in 1900, the Empresses Dowager allegedly drowned her in the Zhen Fei well before she herself escaped to Northern China. The well was not far away from the Qianlong Garden and kids urged me to find the well. It was actually located along the way out of the palace and so we located it easily. The well was really small but my kids decided to do a closer examination and concluded that it was deep enough to drown a person, but she must be really thin, for the well is really narrow!

By that time it was already almost 1 pm, we had spent 3 hrs walking in the Forbidden city, and very.... tired of walking under the hot sun. We had not visited the western palace complex – the palace complex used by most reigning emperors and their concubines. But I had visited there before during my first visit to Beijing and the buildings were more or less similar to what we have seen here, and so we decided to say good-bye to the Forbidden City and exit via the Shenwu Gate.

 

              
   The Shenwu Gate and the Moat             One of the four major turrets of the Forbidden City

Liulichang Cultural Street

Our next stop is Liulichang Cultural Street, the cultural hub of Beijing. From Forbidden City it was just a short taxi ride. There are so many bookshops and art stores here, selling traditional artist brushes, ink stones, paper, books on Chinese culture, copies of famous calligraphy and historic paintings, and all sorts of art supplies. This is a great place for people who love Chinese arts and books. The titles available are really astonishing –it is here that you could feel that overwhelming depth and breadth of the Chinese culture, and a proof that Beijing is the cultural capital of China.

According to my guidebook, there is a famous Shandong restaurant here --Con-Shan Tang (Confucius Kitchen, literary) restaurant, but as we walked throughout the street up and down I could not locate the restaurant. We all are not that ‘cultured’ and not really interested in the books and arts there, what we needed at the moment were food that fill the stomach! Finally, I went to ask the local people, and they told me the restaurant had moved to a different location! How disappointing! The poor tour leader (that’s myself) is now under tremendous pressure from the three tired and hungry tourists (Bee Jee and two kids) to find something to eat! Thank God that outside the Liulichang Street I found a restaurant selling local food, and food there was good and cheap—Y 44 only, for four of us. The bread with apple jam was very good, and the North China style dumpling is very, very cheap, 25 pieces of dumplings cost only Y10, we can’t finish all the food we ordered. After satisfying the stomach of my small group of tourists, we were all in great mood as we took a long taxi ride back to our hotel. The almost 1 hr taxi ride cost me Y44.

   

   The Chinese Arts Store in Liulichang Street

 

       

       Liulichang Street --Cultural hub of Beijing

Chinese Scientists

 In the later part of the afternoon, around 4 pm, I brought Yu Sing to visit Prof Lin Zhengjiong, of the Institute of Biophysics, China Academy of Sciences. We are both working on snake venom biochemistry so before I left Malaysia I emailed him to arrange for a visit. The Institute was not far from our hotel, just a 15Y taxi ride. However, it took quite some time for the taxi driver to find the place – I now learned that in Beijing, giving the taxi driver the address you want to get to does not mean that you can then relax. First, many taxi drivers do not know many streets, and also, along quite a number of streets there are many houses without house number, and so even if you are driving on the ‘right’ street, you still have to search from house to house to get to where you want to go! After some enquiries, we eventually reached the Institute. Thank God for my hand phone that I could contact Professor Lin from the taxi, and so we finally reached the laboratory!

Prof Lin showed me around his laboratory and brought me to talk to his coworker, a lady Professor Song Shi Ying. Their students presented their latest X-ray crystallographic works on snake venom phospholipases A. -- rather good quality scientific work. He also introduced us to visit his colleague, the younger Prof Ru-Chang Bi, a Shandong looking man (not that easy to comprehend his mandarin!). Prof Bi is working on crystal growth technology, his pet project was the experiment on crystal growth under zero gravity situation; using the US space shuttle and also China’s own satellite. Real high tech work! I was impressed with the academic standard of the Institute of Biophysics. The first class laboratory in China is really world class. Unfortunately, there are too few of them still.

As typical Chinese, they insisted to invite us for dinner and there was no way that I could say no! So I took a taxi back to hotel to pick up Bee Jee and Yu Yong and we met them at the Beijing Duck restaurant opposite the Institute. The restaurant looks grand and was packed with diners, but Prof Lin had reserved a private dining room and got his two graduate students to wait for us outside the restaurant! The food was good, and it was a new experience to watch the waiter using the teapot with a very very long ‘mouth’ to deliver hot water to our teacup (it is called the Pa-Pau tea –tea of eight treasures! –but nothing special in taste though). We finished dinner around 8 pm with good ‘fellowship’, of course now mainly talking about social affairs, research and educational policy etc. They were unhappy about the government’s ‘rigid’ policy to promote younger people in the government institution, so even the research institutes must take in certain percentage of people <30 years old or so in the establishment. ‘What about the top political leaders? All the top guns are elderly people!” They questioned. I also learned that nowadays many of China’s PhD graduates went to US to do post-doctorate training, and after that –settled down there! But I felt that this is inevitable giving the lack of opportunity of doing first class research in China at this stage, perhaps in a few years time many would return—this has happened to Taiwan. Perhaps China should regard these people as those who went for long term training, and I believe ultimately China would reap even greater benefit when they returned, equipped with valuable working experience in US.

On the way back to hotel, we stopped over the Hua Tan San Chan Emporium –just opposite our hotel, to do some shopping –actually to see how it looks like only. The emporium was very well stock, the price also comparable to Malaysia. But here one can again see again the great fervor of the Chinese people re the forthcoming World Cup. Success in football seems to become their national hope, and the Serbian coach, Milu, has become a household hero. Some writers even wrote jokingly that if China football team manages to enter into second round of the World Cup, Milu’s picture would be hung on Tiananman, next to that of Chairman Mao!

 

      

                              Chinese professors

   

        The long-mouth teapot in action

 

May 28th Tuesday:  A Visit to the Summer Palace

This morning we took a taxi to the famous Summer Palace, which was at the northwestern corner of Beijing. Summer in Beijing is always very, very hot and the Forbidden City is a particularly hot place. There is no tree there, and of course; the palaces were without air con at that time! And so during the hot summer the imperial court would move to the spacious and cooler Summer Palace, an imperial garden with vast lake and small hills. The imperial garden was built in the midst of thick forest and certainly a much more comfortable place to ‘work’.

Summer Palace is about 7 miles northwest of Beijing. Known as Yi He Yuan in Chinese, it was first built by Emperor Qianlong in 1749. In 1860, the invading French and British troops destroyed most of the park. It was rebuilt by the Empress Dowager Cixi in 1886 but was again burnt down by the invading  Coalition armies of the Eight Foreign Powers in 1900. In 1903, the Empress Dowager again used the Navy budget to rebuild the garden—she could not live without this garden! It consists of the huge, artificial Kunming Lake to the south, and Longevity Hill to the north. Most of the Palaces are located along the lake front beneath the Longevity Hill.

Summer Palace is a favorite tourist spot in Beijing. There were lots of tourists here, and there were also many professional guides. They were rather aggressive in offering their service. Some kept following and pestering us even after we entered in the Palace through the East Palace Gate to the courtyard. Finally, I got so fed-up and told two of them, “I myself am also a tour guide – Do you want my service?” They were startled but stopped pestering us after that!

From the East Palace Gate, the first major palace is the Hall of Benevolent Longevity (Renshou Dian) – where the Empress Dowager Cixi and her nephew emperor (the puppet emperor) received members of the court. There is a dragon throne there, but things are in a smaller scale compare to those in Forbidden City. There is a giant piece of rock in front of the hall that is called ‘Welcoming Rock’ because its shape looks like someone in a gesture of welcoming guest! It drew a lot of tourists’ attention! In Qing dynasty, people must be very fond of collecting rocks!

 

          

 

    Renshou Dian, the office of the Emperor                 Welcoming Rocks in front of the Renshou Dian
Beside the Renshou Dian is the Hall for Cultivating Happiness (Yile Dian): this was the private theatre for the Empress. Apparently, the Empress Dowager was a great Beijing Opera fan, and here she could spend whole days enjoying Beijing Opera performing in this private three-stage theatre that was built for her 60th birthday. As we came in, we found very few visitors here because you have to pay 10Y extra to come in (on top of the entrance fee to the Summer Palace)! We have the opportunity to visit the Empress room, facing the elaborately decorated theatre. Here the Empress Cixi sat in comfort to watch the opera. There was even underground heating to keep the room warm during winter! The three stages of the theatre are interconnected so that performers could appeared in different stage in different scene –the upper stage supposedly shows what is happening in the heaven! And so you can see someone coming down from the ‘heaven’ to ‘earth’. There was also a well beneath the main stage so that water can be pumped out to create water-splashing scene… this is perhaps the world’s most elaborate private theatre! There are many rooms surrounding the theatre, and at that time it was a great privilege if the Empress Cixi invited you to enjoy the opera with her –she was the de facto ruler of China in the late 19th century. Today, the rooms are converted to small museum, showing the family life of the emperor. There is a big exhibition hall also, and here we saw the first car imported into China, a Mercedes-Benz, but it looks like a trishaw, with mechanical parts!. It was a gift from the notorious General Yuan Tse Kai to the Empress.

 

        

This was the Royal Box --exclusively for Empress Dowager Cixi

 

          

      Hall of Cultivating Happiness --Cixi's private theatre

                 

 

         

 

After this we visited the living quarters of the imperial families. These were three complexes built along the lake front: the residences for the Empress Dowager, the puppet emperor and the empress. The residence of the puppet Emperor Guangxu is called the Hall of Jade Ripples (Yulan Tang), a big and beautiful residence complex but was actually a prison. He was not allowed to leave this complex during the later part of his life and we could see the marks of blocking walls built to block access to the complex. Poor emperor!

Next to it is the Hall of E-Yuen, the residence of the empress. She was the niece of Empress Dowager Cixi and the Emperor Guangxu was forced to marry her! Unlike the husband, she was a favorite of the Empress Dowager. Next to these halls is the Hall of Happiness and Longevity (Leshou Tang) the very elaborate residence of the Empress Dowager, with a private jetty. This is the most luxurious building complex but tourists were not allowed to visit the interior of the beautiful residence. This old woman surely knew how to enjoy life!

 

  

  The Royal Residential Complex: Entrance of    Yulan Tang

 

       

Yulan Tang, the Residential Complex of the Puppet Emperor

In the courtyard is the famous ‘Rock that brings bankruptcy’ – a huge, ‘beautiful’ and ‘majestic’ rock. According to the legend, the rock was first discovered at least 500 years ago, by a well-known rich mandarin (Mr. Mee), who was very fond of collecting rocks. To transport the huge rock from the original site to his Beijing home (a distance of 100 km or so), however, was a very difficult and expensive task at that time and he ended up spending his whole fortune. By the time he spent his last cents, the rock was still more than 50 km from Beijing. The rock was left there and hence earned the infamous name of  ‘Rock that brings bankruptcy’. About 100 years later, the Emperor Qianlong heard about the rock – he was also crazy about rock collection – and spent large sum of money to bring the rock to the Summer Palace. Many people said this rock caused the decline of the Qing dynasty also, for after Emperor Qianlong the Qing dynasty began to decline!

 

   

             Rock that brings bankruptcy 

                  

The woman that ruled China during late 19th century: Dowager Empress Cixi

 

From here we then walked through Long Corridor. This is a covered walkway from the Imperial residence complex to the other end of the garden. It is a covered wooden promenade running about half a mile along the northern shore of the Kunming Lake. Its crossbeams, ceiling roof panels and pillars are painted with more than 10000 scenes from Chinese history, literature, myth etc. We took some time to view the paintings, trying to interpret the scenes from our limited knowledge in Chinese literature and history. The Long Corridor is such a lovely spot for a stroll that locals say that any unmarried couple that enters at one end will emerge at the other engaged to be married, so this is also called a tunnel of love!

Half way or so through the Long Corridor we reached the Cloud Dispelling Hall (Pai Yun Dian) –on the foot of Longevity Hill. This hall was specially built as the birthday party hall for the Empress Dowager. To enter this hall and the Tower of Incense (a Buddhist Temple) above you have to pay extra 10Y! We decided not to go in—not interested in the Buddhist Temple. Also I knew from my earlier visit that there is nothing much to see there.

 

                   
      The Long Corridor (Above)

One of the panel drawing --a scheme of surgery in ancient China

 

Walking to the end of the Long Corridor leads us to the famous Marble Boat: it was built in 1893 and outfitted with European stained glass and mirrors. It was built using the China Navy Budget. At that time, China was planning to purchase a new, powerful warship but had to give up because the fund was diverted by the Empress Dowager to build this marble boat (that cannot sail) instead! The new warship was instead purchased by Japan and played a key role in defeating the China’s Navy during the China-Japan war a few years later. In 1900, when the coalition army of the eight foreign powers invaded Beijing, the invading soldiers sacked, loot and burnt the Summer Palace, and the officers held a celebrating drinking parties on this Marble Boat that was designated exclusively only for the Empress Dowager! Today you can only view the Marble Boat from a distance; no tourist is allowed to board the boat. For many Chinese, this Marble Boat reminds them of the humiliation China suffered under Western powers when China was a weak nation.

From there we took a barge to cross the beautiful Kunming Lake. The barge was decorated beautifully and the ‘sail’ was smooth on this tranquil lake. Kunming Lake is at the heart of the Summer Palace and it was an artificial lake. Towards the end of 19th century, the Qing Government embarked on an ambitious navy build-up program and invested huge sum into the program. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the fund was diverted to rebuild and restore the Summer Palace. To justify the diversion of fund, it was claimed that the Kunming Lake was dug to facilitate navy training! Since this directive came from the Empress Dowager, nobody dared to question it!

 

   

                The Marble Boat

 

     

This badge brought us cross the Kunming Lake to the southern shore

          

    

       Beautiful pavilion on the hill side

 

    

        The beautiful Jade Belt Bridge

From the lake you can have a beautiful view of the Longevity Hill and its many halls and pavilions on the north shore, as well as the many beautiful bridges that connected the islands of the lake: the Jade Belt Bridge, the Chain Bridge and the quintessential 17 Arch Bridge (Shiqi Kong Qiao) that joins the southern shore of the lake and the tiny Nanhu Isle. We soon reached the Nanhu Isle and walked across the 492 feet long 17 Arch marble bridge. What a beautiful walk! From there we walked along the southern shore back to the Imperial Residence Complex area. We rested for some time halfway to have a picnic. The toilet facility nearby is very clean, user friendly and well designed. Perhaps that’s why the administration charges a relatively high entrance fee to the Summer Palace.

The view of the lake and the 17 Arch Bridge along the southern shore of the lake, with the row of beautiful lily trees, was breathtaking. As we walked, I had the opportunity to tell the kids some historical background as well as stories of Qing Dynasty. At least they learned something about this land, which was the motherland of their grandparents. There were a number of shops along the shore also and I bought a pair of Russian made binocular. I thought I bought the binocular with a good price – after some bargaining I managed to bring the price down to 110Y from 150Y. However, later on I found out that in town the binocular costs only 70Y!

 

    The scenic Seventeen Arch Bridge

 

          Picnic at the side walk

 

From the Imperial Residence Complex we walked towards the back of the Hill of Longevity to visit the Shei-Chi Yuen, literary the Garden of Harmonious Pleasure. The garden is a garden within the garden of the Summer Palace. Few visitors came here because—again, you have to pay another 10Y to enter! It is a very beautiful and tranquil small garden with a picturesque lotus pond in the center and various architecturally unique pavilions. The design of the garden is southern China (Jian-Nan) type, with a lot of emphasis on details. The Dowager Empress loved to come here for angling. To make her happy, the eunuchs had to dive underwater to put big fish on the hook of her line so that she would always have a big catch!

One of the pavilions was converted to a kiosk and we found a quiet corner that is facing the pond. A cup of tea costs 4Y here and the instant noodle only 6Y, with hot water supply also. We had a good rest in this very special imperial garden. During the Qing Dynasty, this place was reserve exclusively for the Empress Dowager but now four of us could have tea here!

 

           

The gate to the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures 

 

              

      The Lotus Pond in the garden

 

Two playful young men on a beautiful bridge                    

       

    This table was once reserved exclusively for the Empress Dowager Cixi, so Yu Yong was very happy to have the privelege of eating noodle here

 

Leaving the Shei-Chi Yuen,  I decided to walk along the hill track to the less well known North Palace Gate to exit, instead of the East Palace Gate. It turned out to be a really long walk indeed, but was very pleasant. We passed through the restored Su-zou market street – the emperor and his family came here for shopping –fun shopping of course, for he did not really need to shop! Today, if you want to go in –yes, another 10Y! Summer Palace is an expensive place to visit if you want to visit every pavilion and garden!

At one time I was a bit worried whether we could get a taxi from North Palace Gate, as BJ and kids ‘faithfully’ following me, they were not aware of the uncertainty. What if no taxi there? Well, we might have to walk all the way back then! I really thank God when I saw that there were many taxis waiting outside the gate!  

 

     

     The Su-Zou Market Street in the Summer Palace

 

    

         A nice walk across the back hill

 

                

  

    Entrance of Beijing University --like the entrance of a Palace

 

Beijing University

On the way back to our hotel, I asked the taxi driver to turn into Beijing University for a drive, just to have a look at this famous university. Beijing University is one of the most prestigious universities of China and the birthplace of many democratic movements. The campus was vast, picturesque with many traditional, richly decorated buildings. BJ was interested to visit here too for we had just read the book by Chang Pok Li, one of the Beijing University students who championed the Tiananmen Democratic Movement in 1989. He was exiled to US and found Christ there. He is now a pastor ministering in California, a powerful and passionate preacher.  

 

 

 

Lido Market

Later part of the afternoon from the hotel we took a taxi to the nearby Lido market—I have read about this place from the tour guidebook. It is a long row of small shops and mainly patronized by foreign tourists. The market is right opposite the Lido Holiday Inn and several other tourist hotels. You really have to master the art of bargaining price here! Even if you really want a certain good, you must ‘pretend’ that you are not going to buy it unless the vendor matches your price. Beware how much to counter offer –I was told, as a guide, cut 70% at least from the price quoted!

There were many interesting things here for kids: sport shirts, dirt cheap Gameboy cartridge and miscellaneous other things, kids bought to their heart content and learned how to be cool in negotiating price. The Liverpool shirt/short that Yu Yong was really crazy to have was purchased at 40Y, down from the 150Y price quoted! Yu Yong was eager to buy it that he almost sabotaged my bargaining!

We went across the street to have Shanghai food for dinner at Old Shanghai at the Lido Holiday Inn. The food was ok (not as good as those in Hong Kong) though slightly pricey. The food served was also not really the ‘authentic’ Shanghai food. After that we took another taxi back to our hotel. We went to the Emporium opposite the hotel and found out that it is actually a Japanese chain emporium. I spent some time browsing through the books and VCD’s, surprised to see many pornographic materials, put alongside the communist revolutionary-theme books and VCD’s. This is new China! A so-called communist regime!

We spent some time in the evening watching the local TV programs—as mentioned earlier, there are 50 channels in all. Many of these programs are of high professional standard, I particularly enjoyed one program entitled: TV essay on Sweet memory of the romantic Jian Nam (Southern China)

 

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