The Last Gasp - Beijing II

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September 7th 2011
Published: September 18th 2011
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Big crowds, go earlyBig crowds, go earlyBig crowds, go early

Lots of people want to see the Forbidden City. Go early or do what we did, go twice and the second time pass all the early entrants and head for the quiet areas. They won't be for long.
Getting there is half the fun

We had been to Beijing a couple of times before so while we had hardly exhausted the list of things to do, we had been to many of the “must see” locations and could now just relax and meander about doing things that interested us. I realized we were becoming used to China when the cab driver from the airport drove past our hostel and I was able to stop him, get him turned around and stopped where we needed to get off. “Home again”. Our flight was a bit late getting in so we opted for a short walkabout and a pizza supper in the hostel.

Day One

During our Christmas 2009 trip we had toured most of the Forbidden City. It is so huge that you really need several trips to see everything. We had concentrated on the part near the entrance and hadn’t had time to see the “north” end. After fighting our way through the folks who wanted to offer us an “English” guide, we headed straight for the “north” end. This allowed us to get ahead of the incredible number of tour groups.

Very peacefulVery peacefulVery peaceful

An inner courtyard, far from the crowd.
part of the city was reserved for the living quarters of the Emperor, the Empress and the concubines. There are many gardens and quiet places. You could really see why the various emperors liked living here. We could also see why they liked to go to the Summer Palace(s) as it was pretty hot, being mid July. Quite a contrast to our previous visit in December, 2009.

We stopped in a gift shop to see if anything was different. I found a copy of “The Last Eunuch” which sounded quite interesting. I couldn’t see a price even after I turned it over, so flipped it open to look inside the front and back covers. Nothing. A quiet voice at my elbow said “It is 90 rmb”. A very friendly clerk obviously was paying attention to possible buyers. The Last Eunuch was born in 1903 and became a eunuch just as the Qing dynasty was falling. Incredibly bad timing as it turned out, but he still did fairly well serving, among others Pu Yi, the last Chinese Emperor who actually lived in the Forbidden City after the 1911 Revolution until 1924. A very interesting read.

When you leave the
The North GateThe North GateThe North Gate

It seemed to us that most people go in the South Gate. We left by the North Gate to head to the next site. Seems like lots of people were trying to get in.
Forbidden City by the north gate you are across the street from Jingshan park. Here you can check out the tree from which the last Ming emperor (and his head eunuch) hanged himself as the Qing armies were entering the city in 1644! The views from the top of the hill would be spectacular if you could see though the “fog”. Compare the pictures from the top of this hill to those from the Summer Palace the next day.

Across another street from this park is yet another park, Bei Hai Park. Even more gardens and quiet trails to walk along. Many groups of people, usually women, were playing music and performing a kind of Chinese line dance. One group alternated between Chinese and Western tunes. One sounded vaguely familiar. Ah yes, Jingle Bells!

We were casting about for a place to stop for lunch. All the restaurants have young women outside encouraging passersby to enter and enjoy. One offered “Cold beer” as we passed. How could we pass that up? Turned out to be a great choice as we got a table outside, in the shade and overlooking a lake. The food (and beer) was fabulous. Great
Looking up the hill in Jingshan ParkLooking up the hill in Jingshan ParkLooking up the hill in Jingshan Park

A temple on top of a hill. Hmmmm, that seems like a fairly common theme. This one was across the street from the North Gate of the Forbidden City.
choice. The server was pleased when we declined the offered knives and forks in favour of chopsticks.

We walked home again which was another long haul but interesting as we had learned the shortcut that avoids walking on the mega busy main roads. A nap seemed very appropriate.

Our evening entertainment was going to be a walk to a nearby “shopping street”. Not that we wanted to buy anything but it is the sort of place you want to see. As we were meandering along a side street a couple of chaps who were sitting on the sidewalk engaged us in conversation. Well, one did. His buddy spoke no English. We ended up chatting with them for over half an hour. His English was pretty good as he had worked for years for a company that did a lot of work with European companies. Every once in a while we were able to interject a few Chinese words or phrases into the conversation which amused the non-English speaker. Especially when two people walked by were speaking English. I leaned over to our new friends and whispered “waiguoren” (foreigners). They thought this was extremely funny. They should get out
Is it still there?Is it still there?Is it still there?

Looking back from the top of the hill you can barely see the Forbidden City. That night there was a big storm that cleared the air and made the pictures the next day much better.

We did get to the shopping street but after our chat, it didn’t have the same attraction so we had an early night.

Return to the Summer Palace

We had been to the Summer Palace on our whirlwind weekend a few weeks before. This time we took the subway and entered from the other end of this huge park. It is amazing how many “Imperial” parks and palaces had survived the turmoil of the 20th Century. There is a very tall hill at the north end of the palace and the views from the top are beautiful. Luckily the night before we had a serious rain storm that really cleared the air. The pictures over the lake speak for themselves. Entering the palace grounds from this location gave us a completely different perspective from our visit a few weeks earlier. It is difficult to believe this whole area was built after the Old Summer Palace was destroyed in 1860 and before the Qing dynasty ended in 1911.

We took a boat ride to an island that joins the mainland by means of the 17 Arch Bridge on the south side of the lake. We weren’t
Quiet GardensQuiet GardensQuiet Gardens

One of the best features of having been in China for three years is that we can just wander around. No pressure to be somehwere, see something, whatever. Just meander.
sure exactly where the boat was going because the signs were only in Chinese. The tickets were only 10 rmb so how far wrong could we go? We were lucky because the boat went exactly where we wanted to go!

Except that, once we got off the island, how do we find our way back to the subway? A fairly long circuitous walk got us back to the north gate where we knew the subway station we wanted was located. But we were pretty hungry by the time. Ah! Golden Arches! How can you argue with a Big Mac and a shake? We were desperate.

We took the subway back to the hotel and relaxed in the outdoor courtyard before having supper “in”. Our evening’s entertainment was taking a bus ride to a theatre offering a show by Chinese acrobats. This is one of the neat things about staying at the hostel. They arrange an incredible number of activities and you don’t get the feeling that you are being ripped off which you sometimes are in tours arranged by hotels. We met a very nice young couple from Australia on the bus and shared many laughs on the

Many of these lakes were man-made.
trip there and waiting for the bus to pick us up for the trip home. They shared their pictures of the Chinglish signs that were displayed before the show began.


July 8th was our 44th anniversary. What better way to start the day than go to a Museum that was so new it wasn’t even on the map! We got off the subway at the right stop (we thought) but it was far from obvious where to go once we emerged into the light of day. After a few minutes of humming and hawing, Dianne approached a passerby and asked if he could tell us how to get there. Well, no he couldn’t but he did wander around until he found someone who could. Another example of people taking care of us.

The museum was fascinating. Quite different from the usual Ming and Qing dynasty stuff we usually saw in museums although there was some of that. They even had a great buffet lunch in their cafeteria!

This museum showed me something I hadn’t seen anywhere else in China. There was a slope up to the front doors from the street. There were a half

The gal who offered us "cold beer" didn't tell us the view over the lake would be so beautiful and the food was great.
a dozen “stairs” but the rise was only about two inches on each one and there was probably 5 feet between each one. On the lip of each stair was a yellow stripe, just like we would see in Canada to mark the drop. After taking five fairly nasty falls during my Chinese adventure, I was impressed to see them starting to think of people like me!

We finally made it to the Pearl Market, one of the many huge markets (“malls”) we had been hearing about ever since we arrived in China. We wrote about the Dirt Market in 2009 and it is more like an outdoor flea market (with some very expensive fleas). The Pearl Market was a huge building with many floors offering an incredible range of products. As it was our anniversary, we decided Dianne should get a Rolex. We found one that suited Dianne’s tastes and she tongue-in-cheek asked him if it was a genuine original. With a smile on his face, the young man offered “Of course; it is a Chinese original”. Since it was only 250 rmb (about $40 Cdn) we all knew what we were getting. It looks perfect though and
Tree lined streetsTree lined streetsTree lined streets

On both sides of the Forbidden City, tree lined streets, while busy, make walking around the city very pleasant.
it is still working!

Our anniversary dinner was at Grandma’s Kitchen. In retrospect, it seemed appropriate as, for part of our honeymoon in 1967, we spent a few days with my Grandmother. Our only complaint was that the portions were too large. We could have shared either meal and been very comfortable. And it was only five block from the hostel.

Sigh. Our Last Day

We had an early afternoon flight so we decided to spend the morning near the hostel by touring Sun Yat Sen Park. Yes, another park. Yes, another statue of Sun Yat Sen. Based on the number of foreigners in the park (we saw none) most people rush right by it on their way to the Forbidden City. This park was also huge and beautiful. How did all these parks survive? It is fabulous that they did as there are lots of people who want to visit these places.

We had to cut across the entrance to the Forbidden City and we were able to have a last laugh at all the people lining up to buy tickets. You should have come earlier, folks! Luckily, the walk home also passed Grandma’s Kitchen
Bridge to Summer PalaceBridge to Summer PalaceBridge to Summer Palace

Entering through the north gate, you pass over this bridge
and we got to stop for milk shakes which were as good as Canadian Shakes.

It’s all over?

Not quite. It was time to head back to Dalian to catch our flight back to Canada. It’s not over until it’s over.

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 29


Shopping StreetShopping Street
Shopping Street

Before you cross the bridge you have the chance to walk along a narrow path past a variety of stalls selling all kinds of things. It's a wonder no one ends up in the canal as the path is very narrow and there are no railings. Part of the excitement, I guess.
Looking north over BeijingLooking north over Beijing
Looking north over Beijing

You would never guess we were in the middle of Beijing, a city of millions. Looks like a sleepy little town (in China).
17 Arch Bridge17 Arch Bridge
17 Arch Bridge

Chinese sites are big on names like Temple of Serene Happiness. The name of the bridge in this picture is unusually descriptive.
Temple from the top of the hillTemple from the top of the hill
Temple from the top of the hill

A favourite spot of the Dowager Empress Cixi.
The Long CorridorThe Long Corridor
The Long Corridor

Yet another attraction rebuilt after the 1860 Opium War. Over 700 metres long, it parallels the lake at the foot of Longevity Hill. To see the incredible detail in some of the paintings, check out
The Marble BoatThe Marble Boat
The Marble Boat

The Long Corridor leads you along the lake to the Marble Boat. The Wikipedia article on it is worth a read:
Sign of the timesSign of the times
Sign of the times

I love the names they have for everything in the Forbidden City and Summer Palaces. The theme of this sign is very common everywhere. The Empress Dowager must have been a real piece of work.
Subway sightingSubway sighting
Subway sighting

On our way back to the hostel by subway, we encountered a young woman with an interesting T-shirt.
Staring at stairsStaring at stairs
Staring at stairs

During our three years in China, this was the first time I encountered any safety markings on stairs. This is outside the new museum. Note the yellow markings are already wearing off. At least they are trying.
City lifeCity life
City life

This was the Beijing City Museum and it had lots of dioramas depicting life if earlier times. It had lots of the type of artifacts you are used to seeing in museums as well.

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