China #4 Beijing Out and About

With three millennia of history, it’s not surprising that Beijing boasts seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites:  the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian and the Grand Canal. On our only day left in Beijing before the start of our walk on the Great Wall, we decided to visit Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. I’d been there before but many of our group hadn’t, so that was the plan.

Security check; DSC00213 © DY of jtdytravels

Security check; DSC00213 © DY of jtdytravels

A vast crowd had the same idea, it seemed. Just to get through the security barriers took quite a lot of time. There was time aplenty to compare this visit to those in previous years.

There are several differences it seems to me. The first is the security… I’ve never had to do this before… but that’s more and more common world wide.  The second difference is the sheer number of people wanting to get into the area. That also seems to be a phenomena at most well renowned tourist sites world wide now. A third difference is really pronounced; and that’s the number of tourists here who were Chinese… tourists in their own country, eagerly having a look at their own history. In times past, I remember there being many more foreign tourists doing the sightseeing than locals. Now, I estimate that foreigners were outnumbered 100 to 1! Travel for a lot of Chinese must be possible now that their economy is growing.

Crowds throng the Square DSC00219 © DY of jtdytravels

Crowds throng Tiananmen Square DSC00219 © DY of jtdytravels

Eventually we made it through security only to have to share Tiananmen Square with many thousands of others. It was packed despite being the fourth largest city square in the world. It’s huge, having been enlarged a number of times since it was built in 1651. And is even more impressive because it’s entirely open with, usually, not a tree or a seat in sight.

Artificial Hill; DSC00236 © DY of jtdytravels

Artificial Hill; DSC00236 © DY of jtdytravels

However, the square wasn’t so empty this time. There were vast beds of flowers and an artificial hill put there as part of the country’s recent celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Chinese defeat of the Japanese in 1945. Very impressive… as it was meant to be!

1945 sign in the Square; DSC00226 © DY of jtdytravels

1945 sign in the Square; DSC00226 © DY of jtdytravels

I thought perhaps all the flowers were there to celebrate the anniversary of my birth, 1945.

Not so! Oh well. I could just enjoy them anyway.

Flower beds in Tiananmen Square ; DSC00241 © DY of jtdytravels

Flower beds in Tiananmen Square ; DSC00241 © DY of jtdytravels

And enjoy them we did.

Apart from the artificial ‘mountains’ in the Square at present, all else remains the same. The only greenery for this square are the trees which line the outer eastern and western sides of the square. There are light poles which provide bright light at night. They also serve as CCTV mounting points; you are always being watched!  The square is always manned by many uniformed and plain clothed police. To me, these uniformed individuals all looked very young. And, of course, I refrained from photographing them!

Official buildings in Square DSC00232 © DY of jtdytravels

Official buildings in Square DSC00232 © DY of jtdytravels

Tiananmen Square is a very important and historic place for the Chinese people.  Around its perimeter are many nationally important buildings including the Monument to the People’s Heroes of the Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum and Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum which houses his embalmed body.

Mao's portrait in Square; DSC00243 © DY of jtdytravels

Mao’s portrait in Square; DSC00243 © DY of jtdytravels

Whatever we in the west might think of Chairman Mao and his leadership of China, his body is still on show here and his portrait still hangs in great prominence in Tiananmen Square. It was here that Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949, a very important day in Chinese history.

 

Entrance to 'The Forbidden Palace"; DSC00248 © DY of jtdytravels

Entrance to ‘The Forbidden Palace”; DSC00248 © DY of jtdytravels

After milling with the throngs we moved on to the Forbidden City. Many thousands of visitors all moved quietly around taking in this historical place.  Our lovely guide, Hero, did tell us though, that to see the real Chinese history, one has to visit Japan! Mao and the Cultural Revolution sure had an impact on China, even to this day.

Temple of Heaven; DSC00251 © DY of jtdytravels

Inside the Walls of The Forbidden City; DSC00251 © DY of jtdytravels

From 1420 to 1912, the 980 buildings that make up “The Forbidden City” were home to the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and, of course, their large households. It was the political centre of Chinese Government and the place of Imperial ceremonies for 500 years. It now houses the Palace Museum and is open to the paying public.

Taking photos; not easy! DSC00268 © DY of jtdytravels

Taking photos; not easy! DSC00268 © DY of jtdytravels

But, as you can see from this photo, taking meaningful photos was almost an impossibility.

 Inside the throne room; DSC00266 © DY of jtdytravels

Inside the throne room; DSC00266 © DY of jtdytravels

Compared to other visits, I found this visit to the Palace Museum very frustrating. These days, with so many people and security at such a high level, visitors find that places of interest and objects they’d like to view, are either roped off, or glassed in, or shrouded in crowds of heads, or obscured by a waving line of cameras held high overhead. However, there are many good photos of this museum on the web and I’ll leave you to find them and peruse them at your leisure. Let me just say that I have good memories of better times.

Delicious lunch! DSC00278 © DY of jtdytravels

Delicious lunch! DSC00278 © DY of jtdytravels

I was rather relieved when we left the Museum and headed by a short bus ride to a lovely little restaurant tucked in under a pavilion sitting atop a hill. The food was based on the style found in the Yunnan Provence of China. Interestingly, that was where I planned to visit at the end of my Walk on the Wall and before the beginning of my Mongolian adventure. I liked what I ate here, so I looked forward to more Yunnan food in Kunming.

I left lunch early to attend a presentation being given by Alexia Sinclair, Jennie’s first Art Travel Scholarship winner some twelve years ago. My time in Beijing just happened to coincide with her visit, so there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity of catching up with her and hubby James. Apart from Alexia and James, I think I was the only other foreigner in the room. I estimate that there were about 100 attendees.

From Alexia's Series %22A Frozen Tale%22

From Alexia’s Series “A Frozen Tale”

The photo above is of one of Alexia’s works that we have at home. It’s from her Swedish Series, “A Frozen Tale”. Her works hang in many parts of the world in private and public collections. You can check out her work for yourselves at <www.alexiasinclair.com>

Alexia’s presentation took us through her early interest in ballet, art and photography to where she is today as probably (no she is) the world leader in the digital manipulation and compilation of photographic images. The presentation was a little tedious as everything had to be translated. I remember giving a talk under the same conditions once and the whole affair ends up being very tiring for all concerned. But I was glad I was there to support Alexia.

Straight Streets! DSC00137 © DY of jtdytravels

Straight Streets! DSC00137 © DY of jtdytravels

My next task was to find my way back to the hotel! But, for once, I knew where I was and where I had to go so I walked the couple of kilometres back to my hotel, not taking one wrong turn. Had I deviated from the straight and narrow I would have got lost as the road I had to follow was completely straight! Only move I had to make was to cross the road.

Roofs of the Hutong; DSC00290 ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Roofs of the Hutong; DSC00290 © DY of jtdytravels

Now the reason I didn’t want to get lost on my way back to the hotel is quite evident in this photo taken looking down from upstairs in our hotel. These are the roofs of the neighbouring houses in this old Hutong area of Beijing. To get lost in those narrow streets may well mean that you would never be seen again! Fascinating though it might be in there, I’m guessing that one needs a guide to negotiate that maze of streets… and I was on my own.

That evening, no-one was interested in an evening meal. I certainly didn’t need one either, so I wandered back up to the local shop and bought a Danish and a can of beer… I needed the fluid, of course, and just a little something to tide me over until breakfast.

By then it was time to pack my bag and get ready for the real purpose of this trip…

the Walk on the Wall.

More anon

David

All photography copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Some of our other travels are on

www.jtdytravels.com

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China #2 Beijing; Jingshan Park

This was the day that I was joined by the group from the University of Newcastle. We’d all come to China to hike along several parts of the Great Wall, some parts well known to tourists but many others which are hardly ever touched by hikers’ boots; some parts are in a rather decayed state. Our aim was to raise money for the UoN’s “Shaping Futures” scholarships program which assists students who are doing things tough while they study at the Uni.

I became involved in this trek because my partner, Jennie, has been a passionate advocate for and a donor to the UoN ‘Shaping Futures’ program since its inception. We’ve seen many lives changed for the better through these scholarships. These Scholars are determined to change their lives and the lives of their families through their education. Such students, of whatever age, and in any faculty, are the reason for the trek.

As a trekker I paid all of my own expenses. However, in the fund-raising aspect of the project, I’ve been sponsored by friends, family and acquaintances. Jennie and I would like to thank every one of those sponsors on behalf of the many students who will benefit. Now, through these musings, we’d like to share something of the experience. I did the training and the trek and now Jennie is pulling together my diary notes and my photos to publish on the web. We’ll try to publish an episode every second day. Please enjoy. And now, back to the story….

Our time together as a group began with a special lunch to launch our adventure and get to know each other a little better…. some of us had not even met as yet. We would need to work together to support each other on the difficult walk ahead of us. Just how difficult it would be we didn’t know and perhaps that was just as well. But the lunch was a good beginning… a nine course Chinese banquet. We would not eat like that again on the trek!

Chinese Lion at the gate of Park; DSC00166 © DY of jtdytravels

Chinese Lion at the gate of Jingshan Park; DSC00166 © DY of jtdytravels

We planned to use the next couple of days to get over jet lag, stretch our legs and do some exploring together.  First stop was Jingshan Park.  I’ve been to China on several occasions, but never to this park. It was good to experience something different. 

Ceiling decoration of entry gate; DSC00167 © DY of jtdytravels

Ceiling decoration of entry gate to Jingshan Park; DSC00167 © DY of jtdytravels

Everything about this entry gate is meticulously maintained; maybe a result of the Olympics having been held in Beijing in recent years.

Conifers and lawns in the park; DSC00168 © DY of jtdytravels

Conifers and lawns in the park; DSC00168 © DY of jtdytravels

Jingshan Park is a large park covering 23 hectares (57 acres) close to the centre of Beijing. The extensive lawns, though very inviting under the shade of many conifers, was simply off-limits. All of the grassy areas were roped off. It seemed a terrible waste to me but, thinking of all the Chinese who would want to use it if it were available, the lawn wouldn’t last long.

Hundreds of Paeonies; DSC00172 © DY of jtdytravels

Hundreds of Peony plants; DSC00172 © DY of jtdytravels

The highlight of the park for me were the acres and acres of peony roses. The web site for this park proudly proclaims that there are 200 varieties of peonies in the park with 20,000 peony plants in all. I was blown away. But not as much as I would be if I was to visit this park in May, in the Chinese springtime, when all of these peonies would be covered in the glory of their beautiful, blowsy blooms. I shall simply have to come back in May sometime!

My Peonies at home in CBR; P1160667 © JT of jtdytravels

My Peonies at home in CBR; P1160667 © JT of jtdytravels

Being in Beijing in autumn, I even missed out on the flowering of the peonies in my own garden in spring back home in Australia. But, at least, Jennie sent me a photo to enjoy.

Pinus bungeana ;DSC00178 © DY of jtdytravels

Pinus bungeana ;DSC00178 © DY of jtdytravels

Amongst the hundreds of trees in the park, the beautiful bark of Pinus bungeana caught my eye. It’s common name is very apt: Lacebark Pine. It’s a slow growing native of the mountains of China and can grow to 25m high. It’s a real stunner!

DSC00189_2 © DY of jtdytravels

Callicarpa DSC00189_2 © DY of jtdytravels

Being a horticulturist with sap in my veins, other plants also attract my attention.

These purple berries are the fruit of Callicarpa.

Yellow Daisies; DSC00191 © DY of jtdytravels

Yellow Daisies; DSC00191 © DY of jtdytravels

And who could not take a photo of such delightful yellow daisies? They matched the outfit worn by the man we had come here to meet, our Tai chi teacher.

Tai Chi teacher; DSC00170 © DY of jtdytravels

Tai Chi teacher; DSC00170 © DY of jtdytravels

One of the reasons we’d come to this park was to have a Tai chi lesson. Our teacher was fit, handsome and, thankfully, extremely patient. Balancing on one leg, waving our hands around in all directions, we must have looked a real sight. Passing Chinese were most amused. Since I was a participant, there are no photos… probably for the best!

Pavilion roof tiles; DSC00175 © DY of jtdytravles

Pavilion roof tiles; DSC00175 © DY of jtdytravles

When the Tai chi lesson was over, I took a moment to look at the capped tiles that covered the roof over the ‘verandah’ of that courtyard.  The ivy added a softening touch.

Close up f roof decoration; DSC00176 © DY of jtdytravels

Close up of roof decoration; DSC00176 © DY of jtdytravels

A closer look at the curved roof structure, its tiles and its decorations.

It was time to move on, stretch our legs and climb up a hill to explore more of the park that is just to the north of the one time Imperial Palace, ‘The Forbidden City’. In fact, the park was established almost a thousand years ago as the private Imperial Garden. It was not open to the public until 1928… only those who lived within the walls of the Forbidden City ever walked where we walked on this sunny, autumnal day. ‘Twas time to ponder times past.

And time to ponder just how this park came into being. For this hilly section of the park is made up entirely of soil excavated when the moats around the Imperial Palace and nearby canals were formed. One can only imagine the thousands of hours of labour that went into this project… both human and animal labour. And, no doubt, many lives were lost. 

The whole of this hill area is called “Jingshan Hill” meaning ‘Prospect Hill’. But the hill was formed with five ‘summits’ and on each ‘summit’ there’s a pavilion. Each of the five pavilions originally housed a copper Buddha statue. They represented the five tastes; sour, bitter, sweet, acrid and salt. Sadly, not one of those Buddhas can be viewed today. They were all lost during warfare in 1900. But the pavilions are restored and resplendent.

Guanmiao Pavilion ; DSC00180 © DY of jtdytravels

Guanmiao Pavilion ; DSC00180 © DY of jtdytravels

 We visited the beautiful, octagonal  Pavilion called ‘Guanmiao Pavilion’ which means ‘Wonder Appreciation Pavilion’. Fortunately for us, signage was in both Chinese and English. So we were able to learn that this pavilion dates from 1750, and that it has a ‘twin’ pavilion to the west of the central summit. The ‘twin’ is known as the ‘Jifang Pavilion’, or ‘The Pavilion of Fragrance Gathering’.  Chinese names are so colourful, aren’t they?  Both pavilions are alike in architecture and in the design and colour of their decorations. Their double eaves have jasper coloured glazed roof tiles finished in yellow edges. Both are a delight to the eye.

View over the city; DSC00186 © DY of jtdytravels

View over the city; DSC00186 © DY of jtdytravels

A little higher and we had a good view over the top of this pavilion to central Beijing.

Pavilion on the summit; DSC00181 DY of jtdytravels

Pavilion at the summit of Jingshan Park ; DSC00181 DY of jtdytravels

We needed to climb up even further to reach the highest point of the park, indeed the highest point in the city of Beijing. And right at the very top of the central ‘summit’ is this very grand pavilion, the Wanchun Pavilion (Ten Thousand Spring Pavilion).

Detail of the decoration on this pavilion; DSC00185 © DY of jtdytravels

Detail of the decoration on this pavilion; DSC00185 © DY of jtdytravels

Every detail has been faithfully restored. Very impressive.

Panorama from the top of the hill; DSC00183 © DY of jtdytravels

Panorama from the top of the hill; DSC00183 © DY of jtdytravels

And from here on the highest ‘summit’, the view was also very impressive.

There seemed to be a camera clicking chorus!

View over 'The Forbidden City' ; DSC00184 © DY of jtdytravels

View over ‘The Forbidden City’ ; DSC00184 © DY of jtdytravels

It was indeed a wonderful overall view of ‘The Forbidden City’, which is now an amazing museum of the Imperial ages of China. It’s a ‘must see’ on everyone’s list when visiting Beijing. and we planned to visit it next day. But this day wasn’t over yet.

More anon

David

All photography Copyright ©  David Young of jtdytravels

More of our travels on www.jtdytravels.com

and on www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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