Friday, February 11, 2005

In China, Day 2: The Summer Palace

The connectivity issue is getting worked out. Turns out that I have what appears to be free high-speed access in the hotel room--who knew? However, it also appears that some higher authority is blocking the blog site, so I can't actually view the blog, although I can, obviously, create and edit entries. Hmph. Anyway, it's making keeping the blog up to date a little easier.

On our second day the weather is still clear and crisp. So it's cold but the air quality is excellent, which we know is a blessing.

Today Amy started by taking us to the Summer Palace, which was the Emperor's retreat from the heat of Beijing. It was last used by the Dowager Empress Cisi who was the power behind the thrown until she died about 1907 (I think), leaving the famous Last Emperor on the throne and setting the stage for the Nationalist revolution in 1911.

The Summer Palace is a huge rambling collection of parks and buildings surrounding a shallow man-made lake. Even in winter it's quite beautiful, but much to much to take in in a few hours. We spent several hours there, walking around, looking at various exhibitions, and trying not to be too cold.

Finally we ended up at this area that is a replica of a shopping street from southern China that one of the emperors liked. It was very festive and colorful.

From the Summer Palace Amy took us to lunch at a Sechuan-style hot pot restaurant, which reflects the food from where she grew up. It was very tasty but sometimes difficult to eat for those with weak chopstick skills. It was essentially a form of fondu in which you have a boiling pot of seasoned broth in the center of the table. The broth pot is divided into two parts in a yin-yang of spicy/not spicy. The spicy stuff was seasoned with something I'd never tasted--it was hot but not like chiles but with something that left your mouth sort of tingly. Never did discover what it was.

After lunch we went to see a Chinese acrobat show, preceded by a brief walk in a nearby park. We were surprised to learn that the park required an admission fee, which led to a short discussion about how public works are supported in the West. Of course we saw people doing Tai Chi and whatnot. We also saw the tallest building in Beijing (about 54 stories).

The acrobat show was fun, if somewhat short--only about an hour. The place was packed because of the New Year holiday and we ended up sitting in the next to last row. Soon after we sat down we were surrounded by a tour group from Estonia. This one older dude sat next to my father and myself, taking the last free seat on our row. He asked where we were from and we responded "you-ess-ay" but apparently he didn't get it and thought we were German or Danish or something. He kept trying to tell me something in German and I couldn't make clear that I didn't understand German. He got very agitated and was clearly frustrated that he couldn't make himself understood. Finally he wrote a note, in German, which I finally was able to decode as being to the effect that he had gone orienteering in Denmark ("Danland"). He was pleased that I was able to decode his message but then I realized that there was a misunderstanding and said that we were from the "oo-ess-ah" and then he got it and left us alone.

We all had a hard time staying awake through the show because of jet lag. Since Julie and I had just seen a very good troupe of acrobats in Austin I didn't worry too much about nodding off.

Finally we went back to the hotel where we went our separate ways--we were all so stuffed from lunch that nobody except Bill wanted food. Judy and I went to the nearby Internet cafe to try to get on line and everyone else went to sleep.

All in all another wonderful day with Amy and the city of Beijing. We couldn't have hoped for better weather this time of year.

Next up: Day 3. Don't touch that dial...


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