Dear G and B
At the beginning of December I hopped over to China for a week, first to Shanghai and then on to Beijing. For the first time in many visits the pollution was all but gone and the skies were clear – I even managed a run around Peoples Square in Shanghai and the air didn’t even taste of battery acid….
Because it was clear, although minus 8 in the wind, I decided to use up an afternoon’s free time to look around the Summer Palace, one of the few main tourist attractions in Beijing I haven’t seen before. I guess it is better in the summer, but I figured I could escape the crowds there and by this point in my trip, that in itself was attractive enough to warrant a visit.
The palace is actually made up of many buildings that surround a lake, all from slightly different eras. It would have been more impressive, but most of it was burnt to the ground by us Brits during the opium wars and has since been reconstructed. It was bitterly cold and I didn’t have any gloves, so after the second hour I lost patience and trooped off, but I think I saw most of it by then and had a nice, contemplative time in the process.
The most impressive structure is the Incense Tower which looks down upon the rest of the palace from atop a hill and is an ornate circular pagoda. It has amazingly steep and symmetrical twin staircases that run down each side to lake level with some covered with beautifully decorated roofs. Walking down them was a joy. At the (semi frozen) lake there were some food stalls and trinket sellers where I bought a coffee and browsed for gifts, but was slightly put off by the vacuum packed chickens feet. I’m sure they are a delectable cold snack for on the hoof as it were.
Afterwards I had a meeting around 60km north of Beijing so took the metro to the end of the line where I waited for a lift to pick me up. It was like post-war China; bleak, grey, flat landscape with communist style buildings and very little else. People stared at me from their cars and I felt quite uneasy – not the China I have become used to and I was glad to get out of there before I saw some kids riding pigs and pointing at planes overhead…
I had a great night out with a colleague around HoHai lake in a converted hutong made into a bar that sold various Belgian beers with a live band. He had had a tough week as his wife and baby had been knocked off their bike back home and we’re in hospital briefly, so it was good to unwind at the end of a trip. Nothing is as good as coming home to you two though.