blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Back to Beihai Park, on my own

Mural and ATM at Beihai Bei underground station
Written May 12th, 2015

Chris went to work today, met by 3 young men in the lobby at 8:30am who accompanied him to the large, white Science building on foot. The day was cool, but rapidly warming up. Half an hour later, I set out myself, solo this time, and headed to Xizhimen zhan, the tube station, over the dangerous pedestrian crossings. I tried getting cash from an ATM but my card was rejected, probably because I tapped in the wrong PIN--some keypads are differently configured here. Then I also made the mistake of going through the security check at the entrance to the trains before buying my ticket (Everyone has their bags scanned, and in other places, the ticket machines are beyond this hurdle.). In my rudimentary Chinese, I had to explain to the security guard I'd have to repeat the procedure, but like most people in Beijing he smiled at me, mei guanxi, no problem. I was returning to Beihai Park, because I hadn't seen it all yet and thought it would merit a second visit. This time though, I took a far easier route to get there: Line 4 to Ping'anli, 2 stops, transfer to Line 6, 1 stop, and out at Beihai Bei zhan, which was almost diagonally opposite from the North Gate of the park. On the northern side of the road is the entrance to the “Hutongs” (old alleyways) near Qianhai lake which we'd visited in 2011 with our daughter-in-law-to-be, Sha.

For my son George, Beihai Lake is his favourite spot in Beijing, and I can see why. Having seen the western side twice yesterday and ridden on the boat with Chris, no need for repetition; today I walked around the eastern side, which seemed even more attractive. Perhaps because it was sunnier, there were more people around, all of them looking blissfully happy, unless I was much mistaken. Singers, dancers and professional or would-be musicians were everywhere, taking advantage of this shadier side of the lake to keep cool, some of the dancers dressed up in clothes they'd packed for the purpose. The character of the people seems childlike; these were often men and women my age. No doubt they think the exercise is good for them besides. One of the dressed-up older ladies had a false moustache--she seemed to be acting a part in a dramatic scene and her troupe had attracted a large audience of all age. I snapped away with my camera, then joined the flow of pedestrians once more. Sometimes I followed the lakeside path, which was quieter than the main one. I passed many rose beds and a glorious mudanyuan, peony garden, in full bloom. (The mudan is the national flower of China.) Fish ponds are popular too.

Teaching their grandson to fish, in Beihai Park
This park, which has been here in some form or other since the 12th century, is highly landscaped, with rocks positioned vertically on the hillsides, perhaps to represent mountains. These carefully chosen rocks are cemented together and criss-crossed with rocky steps, great fun to explore. Away from the lakeside are hidden grottos with small pavilions where the Imperial family and courtiers used to gather for relaxation––feasts and story telling––very much as described in Dream of the Red Chamber (石头记), "permeated by an atmosphere of exquisite refinement" as the plaque put it, but absolutely out of bounds to commoners in those days. I began to have an inkling of what prompted the communist revolution: it can't have seemed fair to keep such things for the nobility alone. Now all can come and enjoy themselves here, young couples can smooch in the pavilions and older ones can bring their children, buy flasks of bubble mixture for them to play with or, like the grandparents I observed for a while, teach a very small boy to fish in a pond (“dangerous for drowning”).

Communist sculpture in Beihai Park
Bridge to the island
You pass public conveniences at every few 200 metres and a few of them even provide a special “Potty toilet” in case those usual holes in the ground are too intimidating. What you have to remember is that you need to help yourself (adequately) from the toilet paper dispenser before entering.

I crossed the arched, hump-backed stone bridges and near some lotus ponds came to the Jade Islet with its 17th century white pagoda or "Dagoba" at the top of the steep hill, some 160 steps up. There was an extra charge to see it at close quarters so I contented myself by looking at the views from the lookout points, could make out the three unmistakable skyscrapers with their curved tops where Xizhimen is, Beijing's TV tower, and many traditional-looking roofs in the near distance. At close quarters, their eaves are decorated with symbolic rows of dragons and Imperial personages. Back at lake level I walked right round the island, on one side of which is a long, curved outdoor corridor with red pillars, its ceiling painted very thoroughly and beautifully with flowers, birds, landscapes and story pictures. Pity I don't know the stories!

In the long corridor

In the long corridor, detail

The corridor is a place to take a rest
"Qiong dao chun yin"
On the shore of the island is a "stele," a carved stone erected in 1751 to display Emperor Qianlong's description of the spot: qiong dao chun yin, which means "jade island in spring shade." It's one of those four-character poems that typify Chinese thought. On the other sides of the erection are longer poems by the Emperor, to be read from top to bottom, and it has a relief of mythical figures round its base.

I sat on a stone step--the benches being fully occupied--to eat an improvised picnic from what I'd found in a supermarket this morning, including a tub of yoghurt with integral spoon. Dairy products are generally not so popular, but the Chinese do seem to like yoghurt. I'd failed to find any cheese; they prefer tofu. Then I slowly retraced my steps to the North Gate, leaving the cacophony behind (one man on a saxophone was teaching his fellows to play Auld Lang Syne ... over and over again) and the gentleman with his spinning top on a string, and the park's cats, sparrows, swallows and magpies, for the cacophony of the traffic on the street beyond the wall.

We'd walked so far yesterday that today my knees had started to hurt; I decided to take the tubes back “home” with a long stop at the Costa Coffee shop on the way and this time did manage to withdraw some more cash from an ATM at Beihai Bei station. In the mall, I also managed to locate the restaurant called "Tasty" whose advert Chris had noticed yesterday and where we ate tonight: steak and salmon, served in a very posh way, with a bread basket, vegetables, fruit tea, beer for Chris and desserts for us both, this whole meal costing the equivalent of a light weekend brunch in Ottawa, about $30. And they don't expect any tips.

Chris, having had a demanding but apparently satisfying day working with intelligent people at the university is in bed, fast asleep, as I type this. It's not yet 9:30pm.

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