Twice in a Blue Moon

The Forbidden City My second month in a row with a blue moon — May’s was in San Francisco and June’s in Beijing. (Technically, I didn’t see either of them, due to weather conditions: fog and rain respectively. But they were there, those lovely full moons — I’m always aware of that celestial body!)

We left home on the 28th and arrived on the 29th, mid-afternoon. Not a bad flight, but eleven hours of being cramped in tiny seats, too much ambient noise, five (!) movies on a fuzzy screen, and airline food: not anyone’s fondest trip memory. After settling in and in the hotel restaurant (not great), I climbed into bed and did a bit of channel surfing with the remote. And there was You Peng on CCTV3, singing “Da Bu Liao” — the HK concert event from last week being televised in mainland China. A lovely welcome, I thought.

Forbidden City Palace stairsIt took me a while to get into journal writing mode this trip. Partly it was hot and rainy in Beijing, and I wasn't feeling very energetic. Partly I had been to several of our local destinations last year — with better weather — so didn't feel the need to record impressions of the square or the imperial palace. Also, our group was larger this time (18 people compared to 12 last time) so we spent some time acquainting ourselves with the group dynamic and various foibles of personality. (Some aspects of this took the entire duration of the trip!)

We first visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, the latter still very much undergoing renovation for the expected onslaught of tourists in 2008 for the Summer Olympics. Both were crowded, as usual, and it was not as leisurely a stroll around the grounds as Sally and I had last summer. We were also periodically deluged with showers, ducking into various palace buildings to take shelter.

Summer Palace After lunch we took the bus to the Summer Palace, another revisit for me. It wasn't as hot this time, and the long corridor was open so we were able to walk along it and enjoy the lovely ceiling decorations. But we did not take a dragon boat across the lake (a highlight of last summer's visit). Hutong bicycles

Next morning was fun: a trishaw (ie, tricycle rickshaw or pedicab) tour of the "back lakes" area around the Bell and Drum towers (original structures dating from the rule of Kublai Khan). We climbed the Drum tower and were treated to some drumming and an excellent panoramic view of the city, particularly the surrounding hutong. Traditional Beijing residences, dating back to the Yuan dynasty, were single-story homes (siheyuan) with tiled roofs, facing a central courtyard and protected by high walls. These disappearing residential hearts of the city are local and lively, especially in a trishaw careening at full speed around blind corners. We lunched in one of the hutong homes; the food was excellent and our hosts talked about their family, home, and work in the BJ restaurant business. This is a very lovely part of Beijing, and evidently has a very vibrant nightlife. We saw lots of bars and restaurants and were told they quickly fill on summer evenings.

Temple of Heaven

The afternoon excursion was to the Temple of Heaven, one of the finest extant examples of Ming dynasty architecture and an important ritual center, particularly for yearly rites by the emperors to insure a good harvest. The blue tiles are striking and beautiful.

Peking duck dinner afterwards, in a multi-story restaurant probably mostly catering to tourists, but the service was fun and the meal pretty tasty. Louise arranged a cake to celebrate her husband Bob's birthday after our meal.

Simatai to Jinshanling

Next morning we left Beijing and drove to Simatai, one of the less reconstructed sections of the Great Wall. After a terrific lunch, we headed up for our afternoon hike to Jinshanling.

Next: Dying on the Wall
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