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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 2 in Beijing: in Beihai Park

An Imperial Couple
Written May 11th, 2015

We both woke up at about 3:30am and I don't think I slept after that. At daybreak I read some further chapters of The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and Disappeared, highly entertaining. After the hotel breakfast (I tried the toast and marmelade spread with a spoon, this time) we walked to the Xizhimen station for more, at a Starbucks, while the rush hour crowds diminished. How North American of us! The strong coffee woke me up. The sky got clearer and clearer as the day went by, although storm clouds came and went, and in the boat (see below), I donned my plastic disposable mac to keep some rain off.

We used up time and footsteps orienting ourselves around Xizhimen station, fairly adjacent to the Beijing Bei railway station, but had to go round plenty of corners and run the gauntlet of ticket touts trying to sell us exorbitant fares to Badaling where the Great Wall is. The police force was checking everyone at the entrance to the station so we went no further. I failed to find a kiosk selling sim-cards for my phone and began to wonder how I'd manage to do so before tomorrow, when Chris and I will be leading separate lives in the city, he at work, I exploring. Eventually we bought tickets for the underground at the easy-to-follow machine, for ¥3 each. The underground itself is also easy to use with directions in English everywhere and recorded announcements in English on the train as well. The British girl who got that commission did a good job. Having studied the map I thought we could walk from Xidan station to the Nan Hai and Zhong Hai lakes, then from there to the famous Beihai Lake park.

Along the long, red wall (Fuyou Street)
At the exit from Xidan station we were obviously in the big city centre, with imposing buildings all around us, and very wide roads. At first, not sure of the direction we'd need to take, we asked a girl the way to the parks and she confusingly said we'd have to walk for about 40 minutes in a direction I felt pretty certain was wrong, so I ignored her advice. The Nanhai lake looked much closer than that on my map. She was right, though. What I hadn't realised was that the first two of those three lakes were hidden within a high-security compound, surrounded by a long, high wall, painted red. I don't know who lived there *, but there were soldiers at every corner. We were waved through the first check, being foreigners, therefore no threat, but other people were being prevented from continuing along the pavement; there was a barrier to continuing along Xichang'an Jie on the northern side (the southern side, where a concert hall was, seemed miles away), and as we turned the corner down Fuyou Street, following the red wall for about a mile, people who got off at the bus stops were having their bags searched. Wow! There was a fence between the pavement (sidewalk) and the road, to stop cars from dropping people off. I could see from the map that we had no choice but to keep going in order to reach Beihai Park, in spite of Chris' blister from walking too far in wet feet the previous day and not having replaced his old shoes before we left Ottawa.**

In Beihai Park, near the South Gate
Near the North Gate of Beihai Park

At the Nine-Dragon Screen
Beihai Park was worth the effort: it costs ¥10 to get in and is lovely, with willow trees round the edge of the lake and roses everywhere, very reminiscent of West Lakein Hangzhou. The morning crowd consisted of elderly couples and young parents with their children, the mothers with their own mothers assisting, of course, as is the Chinese way. Groups of people and individuals were singing or carrying portable music; at the other end of the lake we found a group dancing. I like these habits! The birds were singing too. The pavilions where we sat "were built in 1602 during the Ming Dynasty and are connected by zigzagging bridges. In the old days the Emperor and his consorts came here to fish, watch fireworks or admire the moon." These days you can hire little electric boats here, so after lunch we did that too, for an hour on the water. The man in charge of the place were we had our outdoor lunch spoke English and served quasi-European food. I ate a bacon pizza and Chris had a plate of Kung Pao chicken with knife and fork provided! After we'd seen the “Nine-Dragon Screen” in one of the side gardens we went into a shop and were conned into wearing Imperial robes by a very pushy saleswoman while her assistant took embarrassing photos of us, the Chinese crowd looking on with much amusement. She wanted to charge me ¥50 for 5 prints but I refused––tai gui le!––too expensive. I haggled the price down by a third but had still been conned. Never mind, ones lives and learns. I think I earned some respect for the haggling, and we have the photos for a momento.

In Beihai Park, where we had lunch
You can find numerous public conveniences in China's parks and gardens, so no worries there, except that they're usually just holes in the ground for squatting over (Chinese people are better balanced while squatting than we are), and the translated admonitions within are always entertaining: "Please kindly stand closer and keep the urinal tidy ... Step up closer keeps it cleaner ... It is noble to conserve water ..."

We decided to return from the southern gate of the park to Xixi station which was less of a long walk away than Xidan would have been, just as well; I was exhausted. The new route turned out to be lucky in that we happened to pass a China Phone shop, just a hole-in-the-wall, but with a girl sitting there who spoke enough English to help: we managed to buy an international sim-card for my cellphone which would be good for 6 days, quite enough for our purposes, for about $30 worth of cash. That success revived me and after asking the way only once, at a jeweller's, we found the station, and the return trains were relatively quiet. On the escalators you are constantly reminded by a voice over the public address system to "Stand firm and hold the hand rail!"

Back at the hotel I promptly went to sleep but not for as many hours as yesterday's siesta. Our supper was at the mall, where the quality was good and the prices incredibly cheap. The restaurant was called Hollywood. "Your satisfaction is our eternal pursuit," proclaimed its slogan.

* An Internet search reveals that this is "currently the official residence and headquarters of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, its high political leadership and their extended families." Zhongnanhai was once the Official Residence of Chairman Mao.

** In the evening we solved the problem of Chris' blister by covering it with a plaster, then cutting up one of his complimentary hotel slippers and turning it into an insole. The next day he bought some proper insoles at the nearest supermarket, as well.

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