Sunday, September 26, 2010

China, Day 3 & 4: The Summer Palace

The Tower of Buddhist Incense & Kunming Lake @ Summer Palace
The Tower of Buddhist Incense, Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake

I went to the Summer Palace twice. The first time, I went with Sarah on Wednesday, the day we got back from Xi'an. It was cloudy and overcast all morning, started to drizzle on the ride and then began to pour as our taxi arrived at the gates to the Summer Palace. We bought tickets anyways, hoping the storm would blow over, but were forced to abandon that idea once it started lightening. Sarah and I tried to wait out the worst of the storm under a covered walkway, but after half an hour, we decided to just go get lunch.

The first taxi we saw was black, not the normal color for a Beijing taxi, but the driver assured us he had a meter, the puddle we were standing in was lapping at our ankles and there were no other taxis in sight. It wasn't the time to be picky. We got in, made sure our drive flipped on the meter and then, maybe ten minutes into the drive, I noticed that the meter was already at 100¥, more than double what the much longer taxi ride from our hostel had cost. We demanded the driver pull over. He refused and said this was the normal price. We pointed out that we had taken a taxi TO the Summer Palace, so we knew how much it actually cost and also, PULL OVER. He ended up turning off the meter and driving us to the nearest subway stop, which was decent of him, considering it was still pouring rain.

We ate lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant and ordered an obscene amount of food, including four different dishes of hummus. Mmm, hummus. Then I bought Korean World Cup stickers at an Art Box. In China.

I drug Mom and Leah back to the Summer Palace the next afternoon, once Sarah had left for the airport. Our first stop, after we walked past some halls of various beatitudes, was a name calligraphy booth. Artists would write western names using different Asian-esque pictures to represent each letter. (There's a video [not mine] of the Summer Palace calligraphy here.) Leah had her name written and I lamented that none of the letters in my name are depicted with a dragon.

Our next stop was Kunming Lake. Kunming Lake covers two thirds of the park and is surrounded by bridges, pagodas, pavilions, temples and gardens. It's absolutely gorgeous. When I was at the lake the day before, I could barely see through the rain, but on Thursday the storm had temporarily driven away the smog and haze, and there were brilliant blue skies. We rented a paddle boat and went out on the lake. Mom, who had a broken foot, sat in the front of the boat while Leah and I did the heavy lifting in the back. The lake was full of boats and the paddle boats don't exactly have a sophisticated steering systems, so we kept running into other boats. Luckily, paddle boats also don't go very fast and most of the collisions were avoided by Mom leaning forwards and pushing the other boats away.

The Tower of Buddhist Incense, perched on Longevity Hill overlooking Kunming Lake, is the highest point in the Summer Palace. We climbed to the top of the tower to get a view of the lake and the park. The Summer Palace is big enough that by the lake, the trees and hills hide the sprawl of Beijing surrounding the park, but from the top of the tower we could see the city spread out in front of us. It was definitely worth going back a second time.

Kunming Lake @ Summer Palace
Lotus blossoms at Kunming Lake

The Tower of Buddhist Incense @ Summer Palace
The Tower of Buddhist Incense

The Tower of Buddhist Incense @ Summer Palace
Decorated eaves on the Tower of Buddhist Incense

The rest of the pictures are here.

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