Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yangshuo to Beijing

Our trip back to Guilin was not as easy as anticipated. The driver we hired was young and had good reflexes, which meant he was not a safe driver by our standards, but he was okay by Chinese taxi driver standards. When we reached a toll booth, he got behind a truck and went through without paying, even though the toll gate came down and hit the top of the van. After a relative easy drive, we hit a big traffic jam which it turns out, was caused by another toll booth. Automatic toll booths have not hit China. So the back up caused the cars, buses, vans, trucks and various hybrid vehicles in between, to form 3 lines out of the two lane approach to the toll booths. Again the driver got behind a truck and refused to change lanes even though they were moving faster. Why? So he could run the toll again without paying. Each time he saved 5 Yuan or $.75.

But we made it back to our Guilin hotel safely after a 2 hour drive that could have been done in 75 minutes without the traffic jam. When we got out of the car, a Chinese couple who just got married was standing outside having wedding pictures taken. These weddings are very elaborate affairs and we run into them at various hotels.

We sought refuge again on the balcony of the club floor with a glass of wine. Then we found a pizza place to eat outside, avoiding the smokers inside and the pizza we ordered “crispy”, was almost so. Another wonderful foot message helped us get a good night sleep before an early morning trip to the airport and a flight back to Beijing.

When we arrived in Beijing the air pollution was the worst I have ever experienced.
We check into the Beijing Raffles Hotel and encounter very tight security due to the hotel hosting several Prime Ministers and Heads of State from among 16 Asian and 27 European nations, arriving for the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). As I have mentioned before, this hotel is where most foreign dignitaries house themselves.

We plan to spend two nights in Beijing before flying home. Judith has business to discuss with her colleague Professor Xiao. We have dinner with her and her husband Professor Lin in a newly developed commercial area just south of Tiananmen Square. The restaurant is crowded. Professor Lin has gone ahead previously to secure us a table and we find him waiting for us to arrive. As we enjoy an excellent Chinese dinner, I notice that the tourist agencies have put this restaurant of their list, because I see the guides with their colored flags leading western tourists to their tables.

At the South end of Tian An Men Square (called the Gate of Heavenly Peace) are two large towers, the Qian Men and Shenyang Men towers. In ancient times, there were walls built completely around Tiananmen Square to protect the Forbidden City which sits at the North end of the Square. The Qian Men and the Shenyang Men towers formed the entrance.

Travelers arriving underneath the City Walls who could prove their rights through use of written permissions were allowed to enter the first gate, the
QianMen. The QianMen, named after a barbican, used an arrow shooting platform against attackers at the Gate. This is a photo of Professors Xiao, Levy, and Lin with the QianMen tower in the background.
Beyond the QianMen tower lay a short road known as a "neck" over which stood the massive tower currently known as the Shenyang Men tower. The Shenyang, was and is, the tallest among all of the gates of Beijing.

And across the busy Dashian Street is the newly developed QianMen commercial area where our restaurant was located. Its development is similar to the Wangfujing commercial area with a pedestrian mall, complete with a tram.

The next day we make plans to see the Olympic stadium and the Emperor’s Summer place. However, we find that to get into the Olympic stadium one must have a couple of the 12,000 tickets sold daily (can you image?) and we didn’t have any. So we had our taxi driver take us to the stadium so we could see it. So I stand in this parking lot and take this photo. I had a UV filter on my lens and I enhanced these photos to remove some of the smog. But even so these were the best that could be offered. Like I said, a lot of air pollution.

In the foreground is the swimming stadium and behind it, the Bird’s Nest.

The Summer Palace was a long and rich history and for things to experience in Beijing, this is a must.

The Summer Palace, northwest of central Beijing, is said to be the best preserved imperial garden in the world, and the largest of its kind still in existence in modern China. During the hot Beijing summers, the Imperial Family preferred the beautiful gardens and airy pavilions of the Summer Palace to the walled-in Forbidden City. Dowager Empress Ci'xi took up permanent residence here for a time, giving rise to some wonderful tales of extravagance and excess. Although only a short drive (15 km) from central Beijing it seems like another world.

The Chinese call it Yihe Yuan (Garden of Restful Peace), and the landscaped gardens, temples and pavilions were designed to achieve harmony with nature, to soothe and please the eye. The park spreads across the low hills, including Longevity Hill, around Kunming Lake, and was divided into three main zones (administration, living, and relaxation). The buildings and courtyards wander beside the lake, along the waterways and climb the low slopes of the hillside. The arched bridges, promenades, decorated ‘corridors’ and breezeways all lead visitors through ever-changing views and scenery. UNESCO added this 300 hectare site to the World Heritage List in 1998.

Many of the buildings have been meticulously restored, (have you ever heard of anything that wasn’t always meticulously restored?) and maintenance and restoration activities are ongoing. The current projects are due for completion in 2010.
In 1860, during the Opium Wars, the Anglo-French forces ransacked the place, burning many of the buildings, destroying the gardens and plundering its treasures. However, some 20 years later the notorious arch-survivor, Dowager Empress Ci’xi, spent a colossal amount of money on restoration and reconstruction of the ‘new’ Summer Palace, using funds diverted from the Imperial Navy, courtesy of her brother-in-law once he was put in charge of the navy. Unfortunately the Chinese navy suffered as a result in their engagements with the Japanese fleets during the Sino-Japanese war.

Ci’xi’s time in residence only added to the extravagant tales about her – there’s the courtyard where she walled up most of the exits to ensure that the reigning Emperor did not interfere with her iron grip on the government of the day; the banqueting halls where she required well over a hundred dishes to be prepared for any meal, just in case she wanted one of them, her beloved theatre, displays and reminders of the way most of her opponents died sudden and sometimes mysterious deaths. She is believed to have accumulated an incredible fortune in gold, antiques and jewels. Other historians claim that she was an astute politician in an impossible position, providing conservative rule during challenging times, but she was certainly a strong and remarkable woman who inspired many stories, histories, novels and films.

By the end of the 1800's, tensions between the Chinese and foreigners exploded in the Boxer Rebellion. Eight nations joined to defeat the Boxers, and because Ci’xi had supported them, the Summer Palace was ransacked yet again, in 1900. The Imperial Family returned three years later, after signing a humiliating treaty (giving up Hong Kong among other things), the Summer Palace and gardens were once more on the path to restoration.

When the last Emperor was expelled from the Forbidden City and the Imperial Gardens in 1924, the entire complex was declared a public park.
One of the excesses of Ci’xi was to build the Marble Boat. The boat was built with the idea that "Water can carry a boat, and it can capsize a boat," meaning that the Qing empire would never be toppled. It was named the Boat for Pure Banquets. Empress Dowager Ci'xi used to sample tea and enjoy the hazy scene over the lake in rainy days on the Boat, when it is raining, water flows through the mouths of dragon heads on the body of the boat and pours into the lake, creating a pleasant sound and a mysterious atmosphere.

The thing I liked best was the Long Corridor. It is nearly ½ mile long fronting the lake and contains many art objects.

And here is a shot of the Bridge with 17 Arches which connects to one of the lake’s islands.

Thus, we ended our 10th trip together to China.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

Wow, that's a lot of pollution. Good picture of you!