Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed my photos from the previous post highlighting my first day in Beijing! On the second day we set out to explore The Summer Palace and the The Temple of Heaven.
The morning started off a little rough–the old woman living in the same room as us woke up around seven and began rifling through all of her bags for something. This was a task she did on a constant basis. When she would get back to the room she would look through her bags, when she woke up in the morning she would look through her bags–and these weren’t even the bags she left in the hostel! They were the ones she had with her the entire day! I think Mary Poppins could learn a thing or two about magic purses from this woman. Anyway, we left the hostel and found the weather to be less than desirable: it was raining. Just harder than a drizzle and enough to get you pretty soaked if you were out in it long, but not hard enough to cause us to want to change our plans. While walking to the subway station, we stopped at a local restaurant to try some dandan noodles. They were not as tasty as I thought they were going to be, and seemed a little bit overpriced. After breakfast we bought a large umbrella to share that we didn’t end up using because by the time we got off of the subway at the appropriate stop, the rain had subsided.
I want to talk about the Beijing metro system for a minute. It is absolutely huge, and can be very convenient. Every single stop is only two kuai, which means one ticket costs about $0.33, and the price is constant whether you’re just going one stop away or twenty. I found that to be very nice. Some of the trains had AC and others did not. Some of the lines were consistently crowded while others were not. The biggest problem I encountered with the metro system was purchasing the tickets and the machines you put your ticket into to allow you in and out of the system. The machines to buy tickets would only take the one kuai coins, so any one kuai paper notes were essentially useless. They were often out of change, so you could not use anything other than the coins at times. Towards the end of our time in Beijing, the almost all of the machines were broken and we had to go to the women at the counters and buy our tickets there. When we were exiting the system, sometimes the electronic turnstiles would eat our cards, emit a high pitched screeching noise but not let us out. Other times they just wouldn’t accept the card. It was a bit frustrating, but mostly just an annoyance. The metros in Shanghai and Taipei were much better.
When we got to the Summer Palace, the rain had cleared up but a sort of mist or smog had then settled around Beijing. I say smog because the US Embassy reports that the level of pollution in Beijing is usually around 180 or so, which is pretty bad. So the weather wasn’t as nice as I’d hoped it would be, but at least the umbrella wasn’t necessary. The Summer Palace was built for Empress Cixi and she would go there in summer to relax and hold parties. It is without a doubt the most glamorous and exuberant summer house I’ve ever seen, but I suppose that’s what one would expect after living in the Forbidden City. We only ended up going through about half of the gardens, and that alone took around four hours. Parts of it were very confusing–I recommend buying a map once inside. I would also recommend buying the comprehensive ticket at the front gate. You’ll end up saving yourself a few bucks. The gardens were absolutely wonderful. In the middle of the lake is a small island that you can either walk to via a bridge or rent a paddleboat and paddle your way to it. There are many structures surrounding the lake, along with different shops and monuments and structures. We visited the Buddhist temple and some other buildings along the way. All of them are absolutely wonderful, built in the traditional Chinese style with trees and flowers all around. After about 4 hours, though, we were ready to move on.
We grabbed something to eat and then headed out for The Temple of Heaven. The park surrounding the temple came as a bit of a surprise, because it very much reminded me of American parks in the sense that there were large manicured areas of nothing but grass. They have grass in China, but it is very coarse and they cut it maybe once every two months, so it’s not like what most people have in their lawns. Besides the grass, there wasn’t much going on in the park. It was very flat and very boring with lots of people yelling “HELLO! LOOKY!” as they waved novelty items in your face, but they thinned out as you got closer to the Temple. The entrance cost was pretty low, which is fair because there really isn’t much to see at the temple. It’s famous in China partially because of it’s shape–I’ve seen at least 20 other temples by this point, and their shape is always rectangular, but the Temple of Heaven is circular. Inside is a beautiful sculpture of a Buddha, but they said that photo taking wasn’t permitted so I did not grab any photos of it. Inside another building off to the side of the temple there was a description of the sky worshiping process. What I gathered was that the people would sacrifice gold, jade, and other people to the gods and light seven fires and do some other spooky stuff. The Chinese description seemed to be more in depth than the English translation, but I couldn’t comprehend much of it.
We left around 5:30 or so and headed back to the hostel to eat dinner. Our hostel was a good half mile away from the nearest subway station, with lots of restaurants and shops in between. On our way back we stopped to get some authentic Chinese wonton soup. Unlike the dandan noodles, I was not disappointed. It was amazing. Because they’re essentially jiaozi in a broth, you can get may different kinds of wontons. I had some sort of pork wonton that was reminiscent of those that Chinese restaurants serve in the States. After dinner we were pretty exhausted and quickly passed out in the hostel, thus ending our second day in Beijing.
A word for those planning to visit Beijing–most of the tourist sites close around 5 or 6 PM, so plan accordingly. Enjoy the photos below, and be sure to come back tomorrow to read about our day at the Great Wall!