Beijing – Summer Palace
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Beijing, the city that gave birth to me is a place of paradox. This Olympic hosting level city is beautiful, modern and stylish. Its thousand year old ornate roofs coupled well with the modern skyline rivaling any metropolis in the west. Yet it is also traditional, at times even backwards. While capitalism is practiced with pride and even excess by the people, Mao’s face adorns the money.
It is with this perception we entered the Summer Palace (颐和园) – a vast complex consisting of lakes, gardens, palaces, and temples in Haidian district. Its origins dates back to 1153 and served Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Today the former imperial retreat is a popular tourist attraction. It was the favourite destination for me and my wife.
Walking through the city and this palace was like walking in a parallel universe – It appeared as a world I should be familiar to, with people who by all accounts looked like me. But for me, it was a strange place and I was acutely aware of my otherness as people of different generations stared at me:
Some stared because of the company with which I keep, my wife, is Ashkenazi which to the Chinese are just plain old “white.” Young men stared at me with curiosity as they saw an Asian looking man with a white girl for a spouse and maybe wondered “why” and “how?” or maybe they were looking with the admiration of young people towards those who seem to be deep in love; while some stared at me as I spoke fluent English while walked with the bravado of an American Navy veteran who for better or worse seemed quite strange as opposed to the reserved Confucian calm of the Chinese; yet others stared as I am covered in tattoos, a newly acquired subculture in Beijing that certainly not popular with the seniors who probably carried Mao’s Little Red Book in years past. Whatever the reason, we were stared at like the “others” we were.
Regardless, we walked through the ornate gates, ascend the mountain one large stone step at a time to see the Buddhist temples where emperors prayed, where empresses plotted to have their sons to claim the throne, and where they have taken refuge in the shade from the humid heat this city have gifted to all its residents whether rich or poor.
We ended our day with a boat ride back to the entrance to have delicious Beijing (Peking) Duck for dinner.