Day 6: An oasis in a sea of people

We started our day a bit earlier today, as we wanted to check out the Summer Palace. It was more cloudy and as long as there was wind, the temperature seemed okay. As we arrived at and came out of the metro, there were already a lot of people. Not so many from the metro, but a lot came by bus. We found the north entrance of the Summer Palace, and got in line to get a ticket. For some reason this is a very slow process for everyone else, and we have to stand our ground firmly not to be taken over in the line. Again we were met by China’s very strict real-name policy, which meant showing out passports to buy tickets.

As we entered the palace and started walking around, it only seemed like more and more people kept arriving. At the same time the temperature and the humidity started rising, reaching around 33 degrees and 60-70% humidity, which made it quite claustrophobic to walk around amongst thousands of people everywhere. We quite quickly decided, that we would walk around for a few hours so we could see some of the palace, and then leave again – there were just too many people.

The palace itself was beautiful. We visited what is currently called the summer palace. Right next to it is the old summer palace, which was burnt to the ground by the Anglo-French alliance during the second opium war. At first the allied just looted the palace of valuables, but after a delegation sent to negotiate a truce in the forbidden city were tortured and since killed, they were ordered to burn down the palace.

As we walked around the buildings, it was really warm and got quite uncomfortable, but when we reached the big lake, which takes up almost ¾ of the park, and there was a bit of wind, it was quite nice. Still many many thousands of people we had to walk amongst, but at least we could breathe. Or sort of – the humidity made the air really thick and sticky and not very pleasant.

After leaving the Summer Palace, we wanted to go and have a look at the Lama Temple (Yonghegong), as our Lonely Planet guide book had recommended to do so. The book was very right in saying that this is a must see in Beijing – the Lama Temple was absolutely amazing! When we first entered, we were given some incent sticks to burn in order to pay homage to Buddha. We had to light three sticks and hold them in front of us while bowing three times towards the entrance to the temple before entering. As we entered, the temples contained beautiful statues of Buddhas, and astonishing architecture in a combination of Han-Chinese and Tibetan styles, all of it covered in smoke from the incent.

Even though the temple has its entrance on a busy street, we managed to find ourselves a corner in the temple, where we could just sit and relax and observe people paying their homage and praying. It was fantastic to just be able to sit in such a peaceful environment, when we just an hour earlier were walking amongst thousands of people enjoying their summer holiday in the Summer Palace.

The Lama Temple wasn’t too far from where we live, so we decided to walk home, and stopped by a supermarket on the way back to get ourselves some water and snacks for the big train ride tomorrow. We suddenly realized how much extra we have been paying all this time. The water we normally pay 5 yuan for, is only 2.7 yuan in the supermarket (although it’s warm there). A bottle of Coca-Cola the same size as we had on the wall was 2.9 yuan here as opposed to the 20 yuan we paid there. Unfortunately, we don’t have a fridge in our room, so we don’t want to buy too much in the supermarket, although it is extremely cheap.

We feel like we have managed to see all of the things we wanted to see in Beijing during our time here, and are now ready for the next experiences in Xi’an and Shanghai.

Now we are back in our room, getting ready for a bit of dinner, and then we will have an early night tonight and try to catch a glimpse of morning tai-chi in the Temple of Heaven early tomorrow morning.

Eszti & Simon

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