Day 9: Summer Palace Times Two

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We got up early (10am) to go to the Summer Palace in west Beijing. It’s on 2 square miles of land including a huge lake

IMG_0720 and a hill with several palaces and gardens. IMG_0829It’s a world heritage site, and although it’s huge, most of it is dominated by the lake, so you could see everything in the better part of a day. We went on a Sunday so it was packed. There was the usual every-man-for-himself style of “line” at the ticket booth. My Japanese student ID was enough to get me a student discount (so take note those of you with fake student ID cards from Thailand) though you can’t see everything with a student discounted ticket, and will need to buy other tickets to see other parts of the palace. I didn’t mind too much, as most of those places look like anything else you could see for free. It was hot, but the weather was clear, and the palace is out towards the mountains so the air isn’t as smoggy as in the city. It was almost clear.

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There were boat rentals, but on a hot day they were a hot commodity so there was a crowd. IMG_0731There were a lot of foreign tourists, and the boat rental place didn’t speak english, so there was a lot of confusion. Most didn’t seem accustomed to the fight-to-the-front mentality, and frankly neither did I.IMG_0735Fortunately Jenny was a pro. There were 4 person boats and 6 person boats. There were 3 of us, but the next 4 person boat wasn’t due back for a half hour, so after some negotiation, Jenny recruited a family of 3 and we got ourselves a 6-man boat at half price. Of course an hour on a boat with 3 people from the countryside in China meant there was a lot of staring. The older daughter ate cookies and stared at me for the entire ride which was a little disconcerting. The younger daughter looked to be about in middle school but her English was better than Jenny’s. Though I imagine her abilities to negotiate a $10 souvineer to 20 cents isn’t quite up to Jenny’s level.

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After the boat ride, we headed towards the northern gate to Suzhou Street, designed to mimic a south eastern canal city.IMG_0841 Some people liken it to a Chinese Venice. Though I’ve never been to Venice, and though I’m sure the Venetian canals are filthy, I doubt they have the same fluorescent green glow that the waters of Suzhou Street enjoy. The walkways were about a meter wide, and there were no railings. Combined with the cracks in the floor I spent a lot of time hugging the walls. Towards the end I wanted some water (8th bottle of the day) and Jenny convinced me to try some weird black drink that was being brewed. I later learned it was a kind of stewed sour prune juice. It tasted like sour flat Coke, and at 12 cents the price was right. I saw that it was for sale pretty much everywhere, but no one, not even locals were drinking it. Maybe If I didn’t have an iron stomach, I’d worry what all the MSG in the food and the stewed prune juice were going to do for the ol’ digestive tract.

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After leaving the Summer Palace and grabbign some lunch, we headed to the Old Summer Palace, a few miles down the road. It was built in the 18th century, and troops from Britian and France destroyed it in the 19th.IMG_0867 Though not nearly as large, and full of ruins and rubble, I liked the Old Summer Palace a lot more than the (New) Summer Palace. IMG_0943For one thing there are a lot less people. It was almost deserted. Though the buildings are pretty much all destroyed (they are kept as an example of foreign aggression) there are still paths and bridges and lot of places to relax. It would be a good place to have a picnic, if Chinese people had picnics. Maybe they do, but Jenny and Anniar looked at me like I was nuts when I explained the concept of eating outside on the ground. The lake at the Old Summer Palace is pretty small but big enough for some boats. I didn’t see any motorized boats, but there were covered pedal boats and uncovered row boats. The hot sun was telling me pedal boats, but not being able to speak Chinese meant I was at the mercy of my guides. They felt like rowing. We weren’t very good, but we could spin in a circle in the middle of the lake like nobody’s business,

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Afterwards we headed to Houhai, a bar district by a lake. The lake is lined with bars and restaurants. It’s packed with people but because the area is so oversaturated with places to drink, there is always a seat available, and there are always waiters trying to drag you into their bar. IMG_7460Bars in China seem to work a little differently. When you sit down you order how many bars you think you’ll drink. We started off with a 6 pack of Heineken. I’m sure you could probably order one at a time if you really wanted to, but I get the feeling its frowned upon. It’s a lot harder to fleece the customer that way. With our 6 beers they threw in 2 extra for free, as well as some popcorn and fruit. The popcorn would have been great, had it not been so sweet. Popcorn in China tends to be vanilla flavored, which is good for about 3 bites, and is not good at all when paired with a beer. Still, everywhere you go seems to cart out this garbage sweet popcorn. We finished up the night with 14 beers, 11 of which were mine, a couple of cocktails, and 3 bags of awful popcorn. Its hard to take pictures in a low-light bar at night, but even harder when you can barely stand after drinking 11 warm $1 beers.

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~ by foomfoom on August 27, 2006.

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