Just a Perfect Day in the Summer Palace
Today we visited the Garden of Clear Ripples, better known as the Summer Palace. This playground was created for Emperor Qianlong in 1749 to escape the summer oppressive heat of the city. It’s a fabulous example of Chinese garden design and Imperial Architecture, quite rightly recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We entered the North Gate of this 720-acre site, with three-quarters being the Kunming Lake. Very soon, we came to Suzhou Street; this was built to resemble the market streets in an area west of Shanghai, known for its canals, bridges and classical gardens. Here the Chinese Emperor and family would have eunuchs and maids from the Imperial Palace act out being vendors in the pretend shops to entertain them. It reminded me when I played “shops” with my sisters when we were very young – slightly on a different scale, though!
Climbing up the hill, we meandering along winding paths and clambering up steep steps to a beautiful array of temples and pavilions such as the Si Da Buzhou, Tibetan style structures corresponding to the four Buddhist continents. The building was “burned down in 1860 by the Anglo-French Allied Forces” and rebuilt in the 1980s. Oh dear, we read that sentence many times during the day, it was all to do with the Second Opium War in 1856–60.
The weather was wonderful, a bright sunny autumn day, making it possible to see views of mountains in the background. The leaves of the many trees were turning giving an even more spectacular view — what a great time of year to come.
Eventually, we came to Jiehu Bridge and the West Causeway, connected by six bridges of different styles. Unlike our impression of China with teams of tourists vying for the best spot, this area was very relaxing. We strolled along admiring the vast lake and fabulous views of the Longevity Hill, with the Palace Tower soaring above the trees, listening to pipe music coming out of rock speakers with just a few other visitors enjoying the day.
Later we reached the grand Marble Boat on the northwest shore of the lake. The boat was first built in 1755 and needed to be restored in 1893. Yes, it was those Anglo-French Allied Forces at it again. Empress Cixi ordered the restoration, using money that was meant for the Chinese Navy. I have since found out that much of the boat is made from wood which has been painted to look like marble!
We planned to get to the Wenchang Gallery. On the way we came across the Long Corridor, a fabulous 700 m long passage covered to protect the Imperial family and now tourists from the sun and rain. The support beams were painted with scenes from Chinese history and mythology. And sadly we had found a crowd of tourists; not so peaceful now.
Veering off up some stairs to the Temple of Buddhist Incense, we peaked through lattice windows to see Imperial Vases, probably worth a small fortune. The views were stunning with the sun glistening on the Lake. We wandered around, seeing the Thousand-Hand Guanyin Buddha cast in bronze in 1574, with four tiers each with three faces and six arms. That makes 24 hands, not a thousand (slight exaggeration, methinks).
Time was ticking, and we still hadn’t reached the Wenchang Gallery. We arrived at the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, one place that wasn’t very harmonious; it was packed with people. Where had they all come from? We never did reach the Gallery; it had closed by the time we got there. Hey ho.
We wandered out of the Palace, content with a very satisfying day when a teacher and group of school lads stopped us to ask a few questions. Some of the boys practised speaking English to us, doing a lot better than our Chinese. The people we have met so far have been delightful.
By the time we got the metro back into the city, the Vege Tiger restaurant was open. It is a buffet-style vegan Buddhist restaurant recommended to us by Floriaan and Sonia, who we met in Mongolia and on the train.
As we walked in, we got chatting with Harris, a Dutchman living now in Hamburg. We sat with him, eating delicious food and having such an inspiring conversation. He had been asked to speak at a conference here about Sustainable Living, and amongst many things we chatted about, he shared with us about a cooperative in Zurich called The Kalkbreite. They currently have 97 residential units, with more being built in a different location. The residents have small homes and share communal areas such as sewing room, workshop with good quality tools, kitchen, laundry and open space for relaxing and entertaining. It sounds a fantastic way to live, in a like-minded community sharing resources. Perhaps a project for the future.
The end to a...Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” springs to mind.
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