Liveblogging Beijing: Day 3

Yesterday’s weather turned out to be nothing short of amazing. I don’t know what deity up above is watching out for me, or if I’ve got the entire Na’vi souls network looking out for my best interests, but the sun was shining and the air was crisp. I don’t think it dipped below fifty degrees (until night). Because of this good fortune I decided to make a day trip of the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace is located a good distance away from my hotel in the Chaoyangmen district. My map suggested I take the subway out as far as it could go and then grab a taxi the rest of the way. But as my taxi pulled up to the back entrance of the palace complex lo and behold, there was a conveniently located subway station. I checked my map again and realized it’s two years old. Since the Olympification of the area a new subway line had been added. I parted sorely with thirty-one RMB, just thankful the meter hadn’t reached forty as the map had proposed it would. One thing to keep in mind when going from one end of the city to another, as I did, is that you need to budget your time wisely. It took about an hour’s travel time to get to the palace, and a little longer to come back to Chaoyangmen riding the subway the entire way.

I can’t pretend to have had any profound historical insights while perusing the palace grounds, but I can safely say that it’s pretty and I like it. It’s also huge and, like a lot of things in Beijing are shaping up to be, a bit overwhelming. As I mentioned, I started my esplorin’ in the back of the complex and worked my way up a mountain towards the main complex. Like the Forbidden City the day before, it wasn’t too crowded and I was able to cover the entire place in about three hours or so. One highlight was the Buddhist temple in which I bought the least sacred souvenir I could find – a beaded Buddha head bracelet. It was a tough choice between that and the Kobe Bryant playing cards. I also particularly enjoyed the historical photo exhibit, which official tourism materials declared should, “excite patriotic feelings by the sharp contrast between the sad state of affairs in the past and the thriving development of today.” The palace was burned down by Allied Forces in 1860 and had to be rebuilt under Empress Dowager Cixi’s watch in 1888. I don’t know what that really means, but I thought it was cool to see that there was at one point a woman in charge (although please note that she was not the Empress. This isn’t the Queen Elizabeth of China we’re talking about, but a woman related to some man in power and apparently she locked him away? And here’s where I stop trying to educate you.)

A “through” ticket to the palace will cost you fifty RMB, but it includes seeing the different sights inside that they’ve fenced off and declared attractions unique unto themselves. They’re worth seeing. After I toured the Summer Palace I headed back to my room to decompress and plan for the night. I ended up walking over to Sanlitun Village for dinner at Le Petit Gourmet, a restaurant located behind the 3.3 shopping mall. The food was actually quite good and the atmosphere was even better. A café restaurant, the walls are lined with books and the customer base seems to be thoroughly international. I spent the evening learning about China from the Lonely Planet guidebooks on hand (a little bit of a delayed reaction, I’ll admit) and sipping Chilean Merlot. Afterwards I made a brief tour of the Apple Store and tried to see a movie, but the one I had my eye on (a Chinese romantic comedy called A Hundred Days of Summer) wasn’t available with English subtitles. Considering that men propose to women here in ads for shaving cream I was compelled to find out to what extent the romantic-consumer capitalist complex was allowed to be hoisted on young women and their dates by Beijing. I guess I’ll never know…

On my way home I was followed for half a block by an old woman calling me “friend” in Chinese and asking desperately (but in disconcertingly high spirits) for a yuan, then propositioned by a random woman on the street to come “look look” at a lady bar. “Only 100 yuan!” And who says you can’t see Beijing on a budget?

I ended the night soaking in my giant tub. I think the museum I want to see this morning is closed for the holiday. Here’s hoping my traveler’s luck holds out…

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