One of the things that I don't think I've yet mentioned is that if you want to see a bigger, better version of a photo, just click on it. They get prettier I swear! :)
In any case, today I visited the Summer Palace (颐和园) in Beijing. The Palace is one of the must-see locations in the city, right up there with the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, so I figured I would go check it out. Basically, what is considered the "Summer Palace" is actually a really large expanse of gardens and buildings built along Kunming Lake (昆明湖) in Northwest Beijing. The present version dates back to the early 20th century when it was rebuilt after first being destroyed by the Anglo-French invasion of 1860 and then being ransacked by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Ultimately, it is best known for being Empress Dowager Cixi's (慈禧太后) summer resort. I rented an audio guide for 40块 and wandered around for approximately 3 hours. It was also kind of cool because the audio guide was GPS-controlled or something and the bits about each location would go off automatically when you entered the appropriate area. It was actually an informative and interesting guide, so that was good. I didn't get to see everything though, and I honestly think you could spend at least half a day on the ground.
The following pictures document some of the beautiful scenery and architecture you can admire as you wander through the park.
You can see my dorky looking audio-guide in this picture. haha.
One of the more frustrating things that I've run into in exploring tourist locations though is the sheer number of people. In general, I think I end up choosing photos for this blog that do not really demonstrate this fact, but there are just too many people in this country, and it really shows at the tourist hot spots. I have not yet found a time of day or a day of the week when there are fewer people around (Although I guess it not being October Holiday is a bonus). There are always a million tours going around as well as people on their own, making it such that you honestly have to push and shove to see everything. Even worse, the inevitable result of the ridiculous density of people here is the insane commercialization of ALL tourist destinations.
Now, I am completely fine with a few souvenir shops and restaurants throughout a park or museum or palace. However, every ten feet there is another shop or cruddy food stand or whatever. Don't think that this is just a result of ignorant foreign tourists either. I swear to you, Chinese tourists buy as much if not more from these people! ...and of course, this is China. The vendors do not simply wait for you to approach them. "Hello. Hello! Water! two kuai!" "You want bracelet?" "Hello! Summer Palace Map! five kuai!" And they rarely listen to you when you shake your head and say no. I have had things shoved in my face, despite my obvious refusal to purchase them. Even in places like 华山 where I went last week, a sacred mountain and beautiful park area, on the top of the mountain there were vendors every two feet. I don't even know how they managed to build shops up there. When I was climbing the Great Wall, a woman followed me and Hedrick for at least half a kilometer. I wish there was some sort of limitation on the amount of vendors in a destination, or at least, that the vendors themselves were a little less pushy. :/
The thing is, I really enjoyed the Summer Palace, especially when you get away from the edge of Kunming Lake and into the areas where fewer people are wandering about. I do get frustrated sometimes by things that are cultural norms here in China. Oh well! Oh well I guess that's part of the experience too. :)
hearts and stars,