Where We Be
|Chinese and Japanese tour groups all wear the same colors,
making for colorful pictures in their own right
|Summer Palace -- Beijing, China
We wake up at 6:30 am, refreshed and ready to
take on China. At the buffet breakfast, American-
style fried eggs and Corn Flakes vie with
Chinese-style egg rolls, pork-filled buns, fried
noodles, and soy milk.
Our first stop in Beijing is the Summer Palace.
Unfortunately the weather is anything but
summery. It's cold and blustery -- the coldest
day of our trip. We’re not shivering but we’re
not exactly comfortable either.
My first impression of the Summer Palace is
"crowded." Our tour guide tells us this is
nothing, that in the height of tourist season it is
wall-to-wall people. It seems pretty wall-to-wall
to me already, at least in the main courtyard.
Most of the tourists are Chinese. Each group
wears the same colored hats and jackets,
something we think few American tour groups
would go for.
Most of what we see at the Summer Palace is
outdoor gardens and courtyards. The rock
gardens contain pockmarked, twisted rocks
from the West Lake that are highly prized by the
Chinese for their character. The buildings have
colorfully painted eaves that turn up at the
corners in that quintessentially Chinese way.
We like the baroque lions that bracket building
entrances at the Summer Palace. The male
smiles toothily, his right paw resting on a
pomegranate (symbol of power), while the
female holds a cub under her left paw as if she
is about to crush it, but in fact she’s giving milk
to her baby through her paw! Since lions didn’t
exist in ancient China, artisans didn’t always
get things quite right about them. The statues
are fanciful and amusing: a cross between a
ferocious lion and a playful dog. (They’re even
sometimes called foo dogs.)
A beautiful covered walkway extends along the
lake at the Summer Palace, but unfortunately it
is covered with a tarp as it is being readied for
the 2008 Summer Olympics -- a recurring theme
throughout our visit. After a brisk walk along
the lake, we come to the famous marble boat
that Empress Cixi restored in 1893 using funds
earmarked for military defense -- probably not
her best decision. It may be a boondoggle with
its marble paddle wheel, but it's a pretty
boondoggle that has drawn tourists ever since.
Bob from our tour group has already started
making purchases, and he doesn’t stop buying
stuff until the plane leaves Chinese soil 21 days
later. Before long we all begin to refer to him as
“Shopper Bob.” He makes his first purchase of
chopsticks before he’s barely off the bus.
Later, when our guide sees Shopper Bob
examining some low-quality T-shirts being sold
by a street vendor, he tells him, “We have a
saying about this kind of shirt: ‘Wash it once:
for child. Wash it twice: for pet.’”
|Here is the famous marble boat with marble paddle wheel that Empress Cixi restored in 1893 using funds earmarked for military defense
|Happy to be seeing new sights even on a colder than usual day for late March in China
|The male lion smiles toothily, his right paw resting on a pomegranate (symbol of power)
|The female lion holds a cub under her left paw as if she is about to
crush it, but in fact she’s giving milk to her baby through her paw!
|Walking along the lake at the Summer Palace on a not-so-summery day
|Tallest guy gets the tour group flag!
|This pockmarked, twisted rock in the crowded central courtyard of
the Summer Palace is highly prized by the Chinese for its character
|This dragon statue at the Summer Palace seems
ready to reach out and grab you if you get too close
|Dramatic gateway at the Summer Palace