Last time I was in Beijing, in 2018 (see my four posts on the subject here), I visited the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Ming tombs. I missed out the Summer Palace, though, so this time round I decided to repair the omission.
How do you get there?
The one mode of transport I appear to have mastered, in my state of dire ignorance of all things Chinese, is the subway system. Luckily I'd kept my card from last time, so it was a simple matter of topping it up and checking which line to use in the copy of Lonely Planet China I'd cannily purchased in advance. It's actually just up a couple of stops from Peking University (PKU).
Into the park
As you can see, the park is a strange mixture of garish decoration and natural beauty. The system of lakes and canals is extensive, and stretches for kilometres. There's always a buck to be made from visitors, though!
Not that I want to sound critical, mind you. I myself invested in a couple of the zodiac statues pictured above (which are now resting on my Chinese literature bookshelf at home). The schoolkids pictured above were a bit of a trial, though, running around everywhere and yelling at the tops of their voices - every bit as unruly as Kiwi kids, in fact ...
So why a statue of Victor Hugo, you ask? (Apologies for the thumb at the side of the shot). Well, because he wrote a letter protesting at the barbarism of destroying this miraculous beauty spot in 1860, when it was burnt down by orders of the British High Commissioner Lord Elgin during the Second Opium War ...
You have to pay extra to get into this section of the gardens. I have to say that it's a rather uncomfortable spot to be a Western tourist (somewhat thin on the ground at the best of times). No-one actually glared at me directly, but I did feel obscurely guilty at the cultural sacrilege ... All in the sacred cause of forcing other nations to buy up your opium crop, of course.
I have to say, it's by far the most peaceful place I found to sit around and contemplate existence in any of my trips to China - I'm so glad I didn't miss it this time..
Not that there's anything wrong with Weiming Lake, and the grounds of Peking University (the New Zealand centre is located near the shores of the lake), but they do pale a bit when you've seen the vast extent of the summer palace - located a bit to the north of the campus. As for the rest of the city, though, it's a vast metropolitan megalopolis. I did see some beautiful sunsets from the window of my hotel room, though:
Ariva Hotel, Beijing
The sole thing I regret about my stay, in fact, is the fact that I didn't manage to see the Cao Xueqin Memorial House, located in the grounds of the Beijing Botanical Gardens. Lonely Planet gave instructions on how to get there, but I was afraid of getting lost if I had to switch to surface rather than underground travel and try to penetrate the local bus system ...
Cao Xueqin, author of the Red Chamber Dream
Cao Xueqin (c.1715-1764)