Today was a sightseeing day for most of us. We had breakfast and then took cabs to the Summer Palace. We must be adjusting to the taxi drivers. I don't even hang on anymore or close my eyes. If you think New York cabbies are crazy...the Chinese drivers are New York cabbies on steroids. I'm convinced it's the test of a real Beijinger.
Anyway, the Summer Palace is even bigger than the Forbidden City. It is a 290 hectacre park (okay, I looked it up for you...it's 10,000 square meters)and most of the space is under the Kumming Lake. It was originally a retreat for Emperor Qianlong's mother on her 60th birthday in 1750. After being plundered and burned by the Anglo-French armies in 1860, funds were taken from the Chinese navy to rebuild it.
There are tons of Pagodas and Temples perched on the hills rising above the lake with stone bridges and tree-lined walkways all the way throughout the complex. One really interesting highlight was the marble boat which was built by the Empress Dowager Cixi in the late 1800's with money meant for the navy. Eventually, she got in really big trouble for that but you are better off taking a history class on China or going to Wikipedia for more information.
The Karens, Mo, Shirley, and Peggy got in a paddleboat and pedaled around the large lake. Dr. EZ, Ali, and I thought that seemed like a lot of work and decided to hoof it around the place. We all met up in the nick of time. As we were walking toward the back part of the Marble Boat, Shirley (an avid Ohio River boater) looked at the sky and said we should not pass go and collect $200 but run like the wind for cover. She was right. The monsoon hit just as we got inside a tiny little cafe located in one of the original Palace buildings. We were just beginning to enjoy our Tsing Taos and meat dumplings when all H-E-double toothpicks hit. Thanks, Shirley!
Peggy and I will post the video later that shows a bunch of runaway ferries and paddleboats with people in a panic on them. It was an impressive storm to be sure. It looked like the rain was going to stay so like the experienced Beijingers we now were, we pull the umbrellas, and ponchos out of our backpacks and set off to find the bus. We found a bus alright. Not the right bus, but a dry bus nonetheless. We decided to get on and ended up in a whole different section of Beijing. It turns out it was Old Beijing and quite by accident, we found the incredible Hutongs. These are narrow streets or alleys that people live in and have shops out front. Amazing to live like that. I can't begin to describe them so I'll let the pictures say a 1000 words. Because of the lightening quick growth of the city, many of the Hutongs have disappeared. Fortunately, the Chinese government has stepped in to preserve some of them.
We stumbled upon a wonderful little restaurant with a Western toilet (it's the little things). The food was fantastic and more similar to the Chinese food in the States. We were happy campers. Not to say we haven't enjoyed trying the ethnic Chinese food but it really is exotic and an acquired taste.
We are now home and watching the Olympics in Chinese but we understand what's going on. Sport transcends all languages and cultures. The team with the highest number usually wins and most of us can count!
We figured that one out all by ourselves.
PS: Track and Field tickets tomorrow! Yippee!!!!!