Beijing Beauty at its Best

Tuesday, April 19, 2011: Beijing Bound

Before we could have any fun, we had to get things straight with Dad. Our driver knew of a good retired acupuncturist, so he drove us back to Beijing headquarters. There, Dad got his foot checked out, and he definitely needed help walking about. He was sprawled over the banister, and the security guy ran over to help. Our driver also rushed over for assistance. We waited in the car in the interim, in the warm and humid weather. Next thing we knew, Dad was getting a piggyback ride out with the old doc, cane in hand and beard decked out, right behind!

We then had to settle down in a hotel room so Dad can rest up his fractured foot. Yes, he had a fractured foot, and not just any old sprain and swelling. He got some medicine for the foot, pain-killers, and bandages. We checked in at a nearby hotel, Jun An Hotel. Dad had to get another piggyback after the elevator ride, just to expedite things. We got a nice suite for the four of us, because we would have had to book 2 rooms for 2 people each and obviously pay more. In Beijing, they have regulations that limit how many people can fit in a room. In America, we had large enough beds and rooms to accommodate the whole Yu family. Here, they are subject to random inspections, so we were not allowed to stay in a regular room together. The hotel clerks were shocked to hear we even wanted to stay in one room

頤和園, Summer Palace, Imperial Gardens

On the Way to the Gardens

The next place we visited was 頤和園 Yi He Yuan, or the ‘Gardens of Good Health and Harmony.’  Imagine a place more magical, natural, serene, scenic, and stunning than Manhattan’s Central Park, smack in the middle of Beijing’s metropolitan hub. It’s a historical, mesmerizing landmark. Truly amazing to see such a natural wonder and quiet place with traditional architecture and gorgeous gardens and placid waters. This was where, as far back as 800 years ago, when the dynastic rulers of the ancient Chinese empire lived.

As soon as you walk in, you see the vast, fresh lake, 昆明湖 Kun Ming Hu. There is a Marble Boat that takes you for a peaceful ride over the lake.  Or you can pedal your own little boat at an hourly rate. We were thinking of doing it, but afraid we would get stuck in the middle of the lake because we cannot guarantee we have the strong legs!  Now, over the lake stretches a 17-Arch Bridge connecting the east shore with 南湖 Nanhu Island. The little island symbolizes a mythical Penglai island. Near the bridge on the east shore is a bronze ox, which, according to a legend of Yu the Great (Hm, perhaps a relation?), he used an iron ox to prevent flooding. It’s location on the eastern shore of Kunming Lake faces the Forbidden City, perhaps a symbol to protect the Forbidden City from the lake’s floods.

Another notable feature of the Summer Palace is Longevity Hill.  The Gold Mountain Palace sits atop the hill. Among others that I did not see include the Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, and the Sea of Wisdom Temple.

Walking around the circumference, which can take a good 2 days for the entire garden, I loved seeing the willowy lime-green trees, pink cherry flowers, and the garden architecture. Dotted around are pavilions, terraces, Buddhist temples, pagodas, waterside gazebos, corridors, and stoned bridges. It is baffling to learn that a place of immense beauty and tranquility has gone through numerous stages of destruction and reconstruction, including the Anglo-French invasion of the Second Opium War and Boxer Rebellion. Sadly, there have been many treasures lost and grand architecture destroyed. And yet, the Summer Palace still survives, a remarkably historic and beautiful place to visit.

Mom was telling us about a famous empress who resided here, 慈禧太后 Empress Dowager Cixi, during the Manchu Qing dynasty. She has been described as shrewd, ruthless, powerful, and revolutionary. I found rather interesting that she grew these really long nails, whether it was for beauty purposes or sign of power, long nails that curled over like giant claws. Anyway, she named the Summer Palace to its current name, 頤和園 Yi He Yuan and spent a great deal of money towards its reconstruction and expansion in 1888.

We did not walk the entire perimeter, because we would see the same lake and similar types of architecture and have to battle more tourists. We were going to get back early and have a delightful dinner, as we have been starving and on our feet the entire day.

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