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Remember back when China was cheap?

Beijing Travel Blog

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Steve and Lisa at our apartment.
This morning, Lisa fit right into our typical routine of caffeine and computing. She read up on our intended site for the day while Steve and I cursed the snail's pace of the Internet, and after breakfast we headed out to the Summer Palace.

Yesterday, I thought Tianamen Square evoked pure communism: concrete and guards, stark and intimidating. The Summer Palace is a picture of the extreme excess of what was dynastic rule in China. What is a now a 290-hectare park filled with dozens of ornate structures (and lots of tourists) was once the completely over-the-top lake home of the Empress Dowager Cixi.

The palaces and many buildings were ransacked and burned by French and English troops in 1860. Cixi diverted Naval funds (and it must have been a huge sum) to pay for the renovations.
Man painting words with water.
From the look of the place, I am thinking she was something of a greedy lady. Just a guess.

It was a long cab ride (and relatively expensive, which would be the theme for the day) to the Summer Palace, which is in the opposite, northwest, corner of Beijing. We were let out on the east side and surprised by the quietness of the area. (Turns out the tour groups were there, they just weren't right there.) We enjoyed the cool breeze from the lake and I wondered what it must have been like in Cixi's time, without the haze and pollution that sat over the lake.

First we wandered through a maze of buildings, some of which we could peek into through dirty windows to see the dusty furnishings inside.
Cute but loud.
There were so many tour groups and way too many screaming children, so we escaped that area and walked along the water, next to the Long Corridor that spanned the lakefront (and was packed full of tourists). Even with the people and the pollution, the willows and lake were lovely.

We then walked up a long, winding series of small-rise steps (did Cixi walk up these stairs or was she carried? Turns out Lisa and I were both wondering the same thing at the same time!) to a hilltop temple and a many-armed Buddha. The man hours that must have gone into these structures -- not only for construction but for all the detailed painting -- is mind-boggling!

From there, we walked through a wooded area populated by rowdy 14-year old boys -- I couldn't get away from them fast enough -- to Suzhou Street.
Suzhou Street at The Summer Palace.
This is a sort of canal-like water way lined with shops and spanned by an ornate stone bridge. To get down to the shops or to eat, you have to buy a ticket. Now does that make any sense at all? We had purchased an inclusive ticket which allowed us access to the area, so we down to find some lunch. (The shops were predictably empty.) There was no handrail between the water and me, so I was extra wary... the water didn't look good for swimming!  

We were dragged into a restaurant by a young girl in Qing dynasty garb (kind of like pajamas) and settled onto pinhead sized stools. We were brought small plates of food on flimsy plastic plates and an oversized check, but the lunch was delicious. Lisa and I shared spicy tofu and an eggplant dish, while Steve had chicken in peanuts.
Our lunch spot at The Summer Palace.
We ordered three beers, thinking they would be individual servings -- no. They were huge, and warm, and sadly mostly went to waste.

After lunch the bathroom break I had been avoiding all day could no longer be put off. In all my travels I have successfully avoided the squat toilet. Even through Vietnam, Thailand, Morocco where pit toilets are really all you have unless you are in a Western-style hotel. Well, Beijing got the better of me and sullied my perfect record. I won't get into details except to say I did not enjoy myself and got out as quickly as possible!

In order to use the bathroom we had to exit the Suzhou Street area, and the ticket lady wouldn't let us back in since we were already stamped for that area. Now does that make any sense at all?! We wanted to hire one of the boats down there.
Our ride.
We argued a bit (she didn't understand us, we didn't understand her), so we found a translator. OK, go ahead she finally said.

On the water there were Qing-era boats for rent, operated by boats men in Qing era clothing. Total tourist kitsch, but we really wanted to go out on the water. The published price was about $68, but they offered a longer ride for $40, so we took it with no haggling. There were no other customers to be found, so I guess we could have done better on the price. But it was a windy day, and our guy had a hard job. He apparently wasn't all that experienced -- he ran the boat into the bridge, and then some rocks. Finally, he sat down to look at the map with Lisa and have a cigarette, while a guy in normal clothes boarded our boat at the bridge and took over.
Traditional Qing hat.
It was a nice ride, but short. We were let off near the same Long Corridor we had walked on earlier.

It was getting to be late in the afternoon, but we thought we still had time to check out the Old Summer Palace. (No luck...closed for renovation). As we stood there and debated our next action, we were approached by one of the taxi guys, who offered to take us to the Great Wall. Or the Tombs. Or anywhere, really. Finally we decided on the Silk Alley Market, where many knock offs are sold. It's a long drive back to our apartment, and this is kind of on the way. So we got in this guy's cab which wasn't marked like a proper cab. This set off alarm bells in my head, but I saw he had a meter so we thought it was OK. All right, here's a tip: DO NOT RIDE IN UNMARKED TAXIS.
They looked better then they tasted.
Unless you want to pay approximately four times the regular rate. I guess we were due to be separated from a large sum of money -- it's been at least a week since we were screwed. The cab ride was about $80. We had no choice but to pay. Stupid!

From there it went downhill in a way. The market was teeming with tourists. Steve bought a pair of way-too-small pants for way-too-much money. The foot massage place was full, and overpriced. The stalls seemed to all being selling the same jackets and t-shirts ... yuck. We escaped and decided to find dinner. There were several good options listed in Fodor's, so we set off on foot (of course, we know that to be a mistake, but we forgot again).  After much navigating and crossing of busy streets, we just couldn't find either of the two places we wanted to try.
Looks yummy, until we discovered the yellow sauce was egg yolk!
I mean, we were standing EXACTLY in the spot indicated on the little Fodor's map, and it just wasn't there.

We ended up at a place near where we happened to be standing. It seemed to be trying to be high end, but failed. The menu was nice, the prices were relatively high, and the tables were nicely set with linen and cloth. They served our beer like it was a fine wine. But the lights were too bright, there was a cooler out in the dining area, and the dining are itself seemed to be a kind of a cramped L-shaped hallway. We shared small dishes of nicely presented, completely flavorless food. I think it was based on Cantonese dishes. One dish was served on a bed of raw egg! We sent it back, and they gave it back to us without the egg.  We were anxious to just pay the bill and get out of there.

Back at the apartment, we laughed at Steve's pants (this will be a great source of humor for weeks to come), and chalked up the cab ride as an expensive lesson. Tomorrow we will know better.

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Steve and Lisa at our apartment.
Steve and Lisa at our apartment.
Man painting words with water.
Man painting words with water.
Cute but loud.
Cute but loud.
Suzhou Street at The Summer Palace.
Suzhou Street at The Summer Palace.
Our lunch spot at The Summer Palac…
Our lunch spot at The Summer Pala…
Our ride.
Our ride.
Traditional Qing hat.
Traditional Qing hat.
They looked better then they taste…
They looked better then they tast…
Looks yummy, until we discovered t…
Looks yummy, until we discovered …
One of the many ornate structures …
One of the many ornate structures…
Lisa checks out The Summer Palace.
Lisa checks out The Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace lake front.
The Summer Palace lake front.
Gnarled tree at The Summer Palace.
Gnarled tree at The Summer Palace.
Fragrant jasmine at The Summer Pal…
Fragrant jasmine at The Summer Pa…
Lake view at The Summer Palace.
Lake view at The Summer Palace.
Steve and Lisa at The Summer Palac…
Steve and Lisa at The Summer Pala…
Me and Steve at The Summer Palace.
Me and Steve at The Summer Palace.
Shouldnt they be in school?
Shouldn't they be in school?
The Tower of the Frangrance of the…
The Tower of the Frangrance of th…
Gate detail at The Summer Palace.
Gate detail at The Summer Palace.
Stairway ceiling at The Summer Pal…
Stairway ceiling at The Summer Pa…
Corridor at The Summer Palace.
Corridor at The Summer Palace.
Me and Steve at The Summer Palace.
Me and Steve at The Summer Palace.
Stair climbing at The Summer Palac…
Stair climbing at The Summer Pala…
Blossoms at The Summer Palace.
Blossoms at The Summer Palace.
Scary guard.
Scary guard.
Gate detail at The Summer Palace.
Gate detail at The Summer Palace.
Kunming Lake at The Summer Palace.
Kunming Lake at The Summer Palace.
Happy baby at The Summer Palace.
Happy baby at The Summer Palace.
At The Summer Palace.
At The Summer Palace.
Little guard dog at The Summer Pal…
Little guard dog at The Summer Pa…
Steve on Suzhou Street at The Summ…
Steve on Suzhou Street at The Sum…
Bridge over Suzhou Street.
Bridge over Suzhou Street.
Lisa at The Summer Palace.
Lisa at The Summer Palace.
Tot at The Summer Palace.
Tot at The Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace.
Lake view at The Summer Palace.
Lake view at The Summer Palace.
Kunming Lake at The Summer Palace.
Kunming Lake at The Summer Palace.
At the Summer Palace.
At the Summer Palace.
Stage at The Summer Palace.
Stage at The Summer Palace.
We were treated to a performance.
We were treated to a performance.
Live music at the Summer Palace i…
Lisa studies our Summer Palace map.
Lisa studies our Summer Palace map.
Fortune teller on Suzhou Street.
Fortune teller on Suzhou Street.
A calligrapher and me.
A calligrapher and me.
Traditional Qing-era clothing.
Traditional Qing-era clothing.
All aboard!
All aboard!
Paying too much for our boat ride.
Paying too much for our boat ride.
Our boat driver takes at break.
Our boat driver takes at break.
Charted our path on the The Summer…
Charted our path on the The Summe…
Lisa on a boat ride at the Summer …
Lisa on a boat ride at the Summer…
Our boat ride at The Summer Palace.
Our boat ride at The Summer Palace.
Opening the draw bridge.
Opening the draw bridge.
Draw Bridge.
Draw Bridge.
Stone Bridge at The Summer Palace.
Stone Bridge at The Summer Palace.
Massive tree on The Summer Palace …
Massive tree on The Summer Palace…
Determined tree at The Summer Pala…
Determined tree at The Summer Pal…
The Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace.
Boats at The Summer Palace.
Boats at The Summer Palace.
Chinas first car, a Mercedes Benz.
China's first car, a Mercedes Benz.
Vegetables and rice cakes for dinn…
Vegetables and rice cakes for din…
Beijing
photo by: Deats