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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

N. China - Day 6, Part 2 - Beijing: Summer Palace

"We may not imagine how our lives could be more frustrating and complex--but Congress can." - Cullen Hightower

***

N. China
Day 6 - 4th November - Beijing: Summer Palace
(Part 2)

Some of the Westerners at the hostel were surprised at there being an x-ray scanner at each metro station for baggage. I guess coming from a totalitarian country, it was nothing special to me.

My guide said that it was fashionable for women to smoke, and for men to stop smoking.

She also complained that Hong Kongers were very pai2 chi4 (the only characters corresponding to this are "排斥" but "exclude" doesn't seem appropriate), and didn't want to let her earn a living. In contrast, Singaporeans were the best (-_-). She should learn English and target whites.

My guide also said that she watched Singaporean TV serials, and though Singapore was pretty. That's not the word I would use, but definitely it's not as polluted as BJ.


The end of my tour route was Suzhou Street, which my guide would not give me a tour of as there was no historical significance (it was just pretty and had shops). The fact that admission was charged (what a scam) didn't help, but I had a combination ticket anyway. Here, I also saw the three white girls for the third time in the Summer Palace itself; the first time had been in the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, where I'd helped them to take a photo, and the second time had been at the back of the Tower of Buddhist Incense where I'd wanted to say hi but my guide had dragged me away (tsk).

My guide left me here, as she had said that the rest of the Summer Palace (i.e. what she had not guided me through) did not have historical significance, and was for old people to take walks around. Before bidding me farewell, she gave me her number in case I (or any of my friends) wanted a tour on another day. She also expressed surprise that I knew about Cixi's Marble Boat (which I called a Stone Boat; though she said it wasn't interesting), and said I knew more about Chinese history than most of her customers (considering that they would be Chinese-speaking...). She also proposed a route through the Temple of Heaven (straight through - the stuff at the side was not worth seeing).

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Suzhou Street - to cheat tourists of their money. Qianlong's concubines and mother came here to shop. Now the shops sell crap, but they didn't in the past.

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Gateway: 慈福 (Kind Fortune)


This is worse than line dancing

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Bridge bisecting Suzhou street

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Getting off the sampan

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After my short look-see, I went to other parts of the Summer Palace; the exit gate of the Summer Palace was just after Suzhou Street, but I still had a few things to see (and the subway also worked better this way, IIRC). The Anglo-French forces had entered through this gate in 1860 when the place was sacked, and it was considered bad luck - so they swapped the Summer Palace's entrance and exit (it was rebuilt in 1886). This was very effective, as it was attacked again during the Boxer Rebellion 14 years later, and the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911.

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Gate Tower of Cloud-Retaining Eaves

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I think these were boat sheds

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The first signs in French I'd seen in China. Appropriate, as they had burnt the place down.

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Paintings on beams of Long Corridor

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Neither Marble nor a Boat (it's wood on stone, and a pavilion)

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Zhang Fei's death story, on a part of the room whose name I don't know

I saw a tour group which took attendance - someone would call out a number and the person would shout 到 ("present"). How military. How depressing.

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Eschewing his manhood to boost sales. He was quite cute with the cigarette.

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Kunming Lake

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There was a French group which found a French-speaking guide, who was quite old and spoke well (he probably became a tour guide when English was not yet the world language). I asked one of the women and she said they found him through an agent. She also said Singapore was a "belle ville" (beautiful city). I wonder if people will say you are from a beautiful city if you tell them you're from Naples. I should tell people I'm from Kuala Lumpur next time and see what happens.

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"Chinese Magic"
I asked the vendor if it was magic made in a factory and he chuckled

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The audioguide appeared to be offered in both "English" and "American", but when I asked the woman she said they were the same.

There were some guys doing calligraphy on the floor (with a brush on a pole and a bottle of water). The French group's guide asked one to write something, so he came up with:

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"中法人民友誼萬歲" or "Vive l'amitié franco-chinoise", as translated by their guide.

I then went to see the museum (Wenchang Gallery) in the Summer Palace, not least since I'd missed the one in the Forbidden City (it was also on my combination ticket, and it being past 3pm there was nothing else I could see in time).

Photography was allowed in some rooms but not others. I couldn't understand the logic.

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Blue jade table plaque inlaid with gold and inscribed with Emperor Qianlong's poem

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Jadeite table plaque, late Qing

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Pointed feet bronze tripod with voracious animal mask veins, Shang

I only like Shang bronze pots, and some Zhou ones. The later ones aren't as nice.

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Glass flower receptacle with western figures, Qing (notice this is dated with the Chinese date system and not that of its origin)

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Purple stone table screen etc, Qianlong (Qing)
Basically this was looted in 1860 and returned as a gift in 1975

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Enamel spherical bottle with nine-dragon veins, Guangxu (Qing)

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Bamboo root carving of immortals sailing the sea on a magical raft, Qing

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Agalloch eaglewood Ruyi... celebrating birthday of the Lady Queen Mother, late Qing

I asked an attendant if this was a display item or a practical one (it looked like it could be used to scratch a back) and got a lightly long answer involving concubine selection (i.e. I didn't get an understandable answer I wanted)

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Locomotive-shape clock, a present from France
Notice the language on the clock

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Throne

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"Tang Dynasty (618-907) chinaware are colorful and stately, Song Dynasty (960-1279) ones are pure and elegant, and Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) ones are delicate and gorgeous"
Porcelain Gallery

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Famille-rose enamel tea cup with a lid, Guangxu

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Famille-rose enamel tea cup with a lid, Guangxu

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Tea cup with a lid, Guangxu (imitation of Jiaqing style)

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Square porcelain wine container with Lujun glaze, Qianlong (Qing)

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Famille-rose enamel bottle, Qianlong (Qing)

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Pagoda of Buddhist Incense and Kunming Lake

I passed by the area with water calligraphy, and 3 people were doing it. I asked one to write "毛主席萬歲" ("Long live Chairman Mao!") and he scolded me and asked me where I was from. He said something about it not being fashionable anymore, and he said 毛主席不会万岁, 你也不会万岁 (Chairman Mao will not have a long life, and neither will you); maybe he was alluding to our being arrested for mocking the Chairman. He concluded by saying he would "送" (give) me a phrase that "you guys like" (I said all Chinese did):

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"恭喜發財" ("Congratulations, and Prosper"

He added that "俗语说: 红包拿来" ("the idiom goes, hand over a red packet"). I think this was a not-so-subtle way of asking me for money, but since he hadn't humoured me, I didn't humour him.

He also asked me how much Chinese culture and history I knew. I said a bit and he proclaimed that this was not enough. My rejoinder was that it beat nothing.


Chipping away at heritage
I'm sure getting an impression in these ways damages the stone

At 4:10pm there were still tour groups coming in - probably just to take a photo and leave. In contrast, I'd spent about 5 hours in the Summer Palace (things closing at 4:30pm, my having a night train at about 7pm and the Summer Palace being far from everywhere except the Old Summer Palace, I probably wouldn't have been able to squeeze in something else even if I'd set out earlier).

I was a little hungry so I decided to have some street food.

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"Old Beijing Authentic Smelly Tofu"

I asked the guy if smelly tofu wasn't Taiwanese. He said it was Beijing.

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Meat stick vendor

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3¥ duck and 2¥ smelly tofu (the normal portion was 3¥ but I asked for a tasting portion despite being told in a poetic manner that 'smelled bad on the nose but tasted great in the stomach')

I felt cheated as the tofu wasn't smelly.

The meat was so nice that I went back.

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Lamb which tasted suspiciously like chicken

I was later informed that the skewers were quite expensive, but this was outside the Summer Palace after all.

The smelly tofu and meat guys were fascinated by Singaporean money, and the smelly tofu guy tried to buy my S$2 note off me. He offered me 2¥ for it, despite my attempt to explain the concept of exchange rates. But eventually I let him have it to make him happy. The skewered meat guy then tried to buy my S$5 note, but not wanting to suffer more (and greater) foreign exchange losses I declined.

Here, my notes says "玉铜器" and "Cixi 画像" for some reason.

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"Mommy, I've grown teeth"
"..."
"Mommy, I've grown tusks!"
"..."
"Mommy, I've grown teeth!"
"..."
"Mommy, aren't you happy for me?"

This ad against elephant poaching is well done

My hostel being in the middle of a Hutong (traditional neighborhood cluster) I profited from the fading light to have a look around, but was not impressed. It's just people's houses.

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中帽胡同 (Zhongmao Hutong)

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"For the Chinese people. Countering AIDS
Please use condom for preventing the dreaded sexually tremsitted diseases and AIDS.
This machine is a public anti-AIDS facility for Beijing, do not spoil it!"

Patriotic condom-vending machine: the only thing missing is the phrase "爱国" ("Patriotic")

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I can't remember why I took this

The station I was to take my night train from was not next to a subway station, so a reasonably long walk was required. Beijing is the first city I've visited (and know of) with a subway network where a major train station is not linked to a metro station (Singapore doesn't count: the MRT is not a real metro, and Tanjong Pagar is not a major train station).

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I was undecided about whether this massage place was dodgy. Although the magic words "按摩" ("massage") were not there, the second picture shows that they're looking for "health maintenance officers" and female trainees

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I got some douhua and water-grilled buns (visible on the right, which were cold and just stuffed with carrot) for the ride

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"口水鸡" is literally "Saliva Chicken", but I am assured that's not what it means.

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Very cheap hard liquor

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PRCs don't do backpacks (they love to pull trolley bags). Instead they carry around things like this.

At the station I got an ice cold Sprite. It's rare enough to get ice cold drinks anywhere (the last time I remember such a refreshingly ice cold drink was Ravenna in 2006) so I was doubly surprised that I got it in China. Putting ice in your drink is just not the same (as it dilutes it and disturbs the gas dynamics)

The night train was comfortable enough, especially being a soft sleeper - with only 2 levels per cabin (versus 3 in the hard sleepers), there was more space and one didn't bang one's head on getting up; there was also an additional pillow, a hanger, and the bed was possibly a bit better. I imagine night trains are horrible in Summer (there're no showers).

The sockets in the corridor on the night train had 2 holes on the top (a universal 2 hole socket) and 3 at the bottom (accepting China configuration plugs only). Apparently this was quite common in China.


There was a ridiculous ad shown in the subway commemorating the one-year anniversary of Line 4's opening. It showed a flashback of a father cycling his daughter to the Summer Palace, and the now-grownup daughter feeling melancholy about his age, and grateful that Line 4 had now opened so she could show her love by taking her Dad to the Summer Palace on it:



If I wanted to show my love for my father, bringing him on a subway ride (it's not even a suburban rail line, at that) would not be how I'd do it.

This seemed to be patterned after a similar ad I'd seen in Japan for the Tobu line to Nikko. However, at least Nikko is much further from (presumably) Tokyo than the Summer Palace from other parts of Beijing. And the Japanese ad does not hard-sell the train line as much (it's only mentioned in passing at the end).

Here is the Japanese ad (June 2008) to compare the Chinese one to:



Before the start of this clip, you see the whole family in the train and the woman looks bored.

In the rest of this clip you see them touring Nikko, and a photo taken in front of a waterfall (the Kegon falls) morphs (thanks to Japanese v-signing) into one taken during the family's previous trip to Nikko, when the woman was a little girl and she and her father struck the same pose. Seeing this familiar sight which they had commemorated so long ago has made her enthusiastic, once more, for this place.

It ends with a shot of the 東武特急 (Tobu Express) train from Tokyo to Nikko, which presumably has been running for at least a decade, bringing families.
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