Today we visited the Summer Palace. The opulence of the emperors we had seen yesterday in the Forbidden City was very much in evidence in the grand scale and impressive construction of lakes, hills, pagodas, gardens, temples and statues. It was another stunning display of grandeur and wealth, clearly designed to impress. At the same time it is a stark reminder of inequality, repression and serfdom sustained across the millennia through the various dynasties. It took some time, in the heat, to walk the length of the corridor by the man-made lake and take in the detail of exquisite decoration – all for the enjoyment of one person. It is extraordinary.
Various notices and displays alluded to the invasion by the British and their trail of destruction as they rampaged through the area, burning everything in their path. We attempted to look non-British and hoped that our nation had been forgiven by now!
En route to the Great Wall, north of Bejing, we stopped off at the Bejing Zoo to observe the pandas. I have to say that if I was a panda stuck in a zoo with a plentiful supply of bamboo and people looking at me the whole time, I think I would turn my back on them and retreat to the confines of the shadiest recesses of my enclosure. And that is exactly what these creatures did. We managed a couple of photos – job done and back on the minibus.
An hour later, we arrived at the Great Wall. As with all the sites and attractions we visited, the scale and experience of actually visiting in person is difficult to capture in words of photos. There is something about climbing up a small section of the Great Wall and extrapolating the effort expended to the vast distances that the wall disappears off into, that gives you an appreciation of the breath-taking organisation needed to build all 6000km of it. We were surprised that the climb was so steep and the steps so uneven in height. It was a tiring endeavour at this altitude, we often had to stop for breath. Thanks to our remote location and the time of day, we were some of the only tourists on the wall itself. From the top of the valley, we enjoyed some spectacular views, tracing the wall’s passage across the distant range of hills.
In the restaurant that evening, we quizzed our waitress via Zhiang and learned that she came from the Gobi Desert area; that she had been in Bejing for 1 month, working in the restaurant, who also provided her accommodation in a shared room with 3 other girls. As her identity card marks her out as originating from Tibet, it would be difficult for her to get married as any prospective husband would not want the responsibility of returning with her to visit her family. She asked us if we would let her take a photo with us as she had never met westerners before.