Archive for the ‘TRIPS WITH JL’ Category

My conference in Chicago has just ended. I am extending my transit at Beijing for a couple of days. It was a wonderful chance for a family trip with my parents; they had worked away decades of their lives without taking long breaks. Since their market stall is undergoing major renovation for 18 months; they finally agreed to join a Beijing tour. The plan has to be timely executed – JL accompanies them to meet up with me in Beijing. We will then join a three-days local tour, follow by one-day extension on our own. 

Day 1 | 4 Sep 2005: Beijing, China

Like most Chinese-led tour, the tour itnerary is fully packed with activities. Ours start with a BIG BANG at one of the wonders of the world – the Great Wall of China (万里长城).

The Great Wall of China

Located at about 60 km northwest of the Beijing City, the Ju Yong Guan (aka, Ju Yong Pass, 居庸关) is the nearest section of the Great Wall to the Chinese capital. It is connected to the famous Ba Da Ling (八达岭) Great Wall and in the ancient time, both these sections of the Great Wall serves as a military stronghold to guard the same 100m wide 20 km long and deep natural pass running through the mountains in the Chang Ping County (昌平县).

Climbing the Great Wall may be a tall order. The steps come in many variable heights and in some part of the climb along the wall, it does get fairly steep. We were told that in the olden days, these paths were designed for people riding up on horses. I would recommend the climb only to the sure-footed people in good physical condition.

According to a popular belief, the Great Wall is the only architecture that is visible to the human eye from the moon. I guess the best way to prove this urban legend is to plant your determination to scale the incredibly steep stairway and ramparts. For Chairman Mao (毛泽东) once said: If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you aren’t a real man (“不到长城非好汉”).

JuYong Guan is regarded as one of the three greatest passes of the Great Wall of China  – the other two great passes are Jia Yu Guan (嘉峪关) in the Gansu province (which I had visited in 1997)  and Shan Hai Guan(山海关) in the Hebei province. It is not just another military stronghold, but a beautiful scenic spot by itself with majestic pass, beautiful flowers and lush trees dotting the olive-green mountains and valleys. Not a surprise to me that it has earned its name as one of the eight best scenery of Beijing.

The winding Great Wall is not merely a strong defensive structure but a complete and rigorous fort composing of countless passes, watch towers and beacon towers.  These fortifications were carefully arranged in certain manner to allow control of the military command system at all levels. To enhance the communication between the armies during reinforcements, the signal towers (or beacon tower) are often built at the hill tops for their visibility.

Climbing up the Great Wall is no easy feat. It requires both physical stamina and patience following closely behind the hordes of people right in front of you. 

Personally, I found descending to be the most difficult. Fortunately, the walls have handrails to help the tourists. And the weather was kind too.

At the end of the day, it were all these difficulties that made it all worthwhile and satisfying in climbing the Great Wall. Now for the testimony with simple thumbs-up while they are catching their breaths

Peking Roast Duck

The reward for all those hard work is a treat to the prized Peking Roast Duck (北京烤鸭). Beijing is the founding place of the authentic roasted duck with signature thin and crispy skin. Fattened ducks,  specially bred for this dish, has air pumped under the skin through the neck cavity to separate the skin from the fats before roasting it in an oven until it turns shiny brown. The roasted Peking Duck is typically sliced in front of the diners by the chef. It is ready to consume simply by spreading the Chinese sweet sauce on the steamed pancake (春饼) and wraping it around the duck skin, spring onion and cucumber. The Peking Duck is made known to the world by a restaurant chain named Quan Ju De (全聚德). It was established in 1864 by founder Yang Quanren (楊全仁), who developed the hung oven to roast ducks. But the local told us that Bian Yi Fang (便宜坊烤鸭) is the oldest Peking duck restaurant in Beijing. And as its name suggests, Bian Yi Fang is the cheaper but quality alternative.


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Day 1 | 4 Sep 2005: The Ming Tombs @ Beijing, China

The Ming Tombs

Lying 50 km northwest from the Beijing City, the Ming Tombs (明朝十三陵) is the home of the mausoleums of 13 emperors from  the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). This site was carefully chosen by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty Yongle  (永乐, 1402–1424) in accordance to the Chinese Geomancy or Feng Shui (风水). It was believed that the bad spirits and evil winds descends from the North; an arc-shaped area enclosed by mountains, dark-earth valley and tranquil water was used to ward off the evils from the necropolis of the Ming Dynasty. From the Emperor Yongle onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in this area and had their tombs built around Changling (tomb of Yongle)

The most magnificent thing is the mausoleums have been perfectly preserved, giving the site its high cultural and historic value. The layout and arrangement of all thirteen mausoleums are very similar but vary in size as well as in the complexity of their structures.  Changling is the largest and best preserved Ming Tombs. Only the Changling and Dingling (for Emperor WanLi) tombs are open to the public. After passing through the Gate of the the Tomb and the Gate of the Eminent Favor, you will reach the most prominent Ling’en Hall

Gate of the Eminent Favor

Ling’en Hall

Ling’en Hall is the only huge palace made of camphor wood (楠木). The ceiling is colorfully painted, a stark constrast to the sixteen solid interior camphor column which was left unpainted. The floor is decorated with gold bricks. In the centre of the hall sits a giant statue of Emperor Yongle.

Ling'en Hall

Ming Tomb Museum

Dingling was the only intact imperial tomb that had been excavated. The excavation revealed a tomb with thousands of silk items, textiles, wood, and porcelain, as well as the skeletons of the Emperor Wanli and his two empresses. Unfortunately, most of the surviving artifacts today have severely deteriorated due to inadequate preservation and storage; or partially destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  The Ming Tomb Museum displays mostly the replicas and reproductions.

Gold Wine Pot

Emperor Robe

Empress Robe

The Crown of Empress

Changling Tomb’s Soul Tower

Soul Tower is a square double-storey structure towering in front of the tomb mound. The building is made of stone and brick, preventing the structure from erosion by rain and wind for the past four hundred years.

Inside the tower is a huge stone tablet with the inscription: The Mausoleum of Emperor Chengzu (明成祖) of the Great Ming. The top of the tablet has an intertwined dragon design while the square base is carved with designs of sea waves, mountain cliffs and dragon amidst clouds.

By now, my parents had probably information over-loaded by the tour guide; when they reached the Ming Tomb, they are attracted (or distracted?) by the peach trees surrounding it…

The Beijing Acrobat Show

After dinner, the tour arranged for us to watch a Beijing Acrobat show. The best acrobat show in Beijing is at the Chaoyang Threatre (朝阳剧场); but tonight, we were going to watch a children acrobat in another theatre. Still, you will hold you breath seeing the young kids stretching their limits to verge of the impossible in some acts which demand precise timing and perfect balancing skill.

One cannot believe such feats unless seen with his own eyes. I watched in great amazement of a young child balancing on a mono-cycle on a raised platform. He then used his foot to flip a bronze bowl upwards and balanced it on his head!

As the saying goes: One minute on the stage requires ten years of practice off the stage (“台上一分钟,台下十年功”). Most of these children came from poor families and were either sold or sent to the acrobat house at very tender age. Imagine the hours and years of practice to execute that perfect stunt on the stage. These children almost lived as orphans, probably far far away from their home and their love ones. As we saw a group of young girls juggling the plates on a stick, we were overwhelmed with immense empathy and sadness.

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Day 2 | 5 Sep 2005: Beijing, China

It was an early, bright and sunny morning. The whole Beijing city was already bursting with life. With a population of close to 20 million people, this Chinese capital is 14 times bigger than Singapore! As we passed by the Beijing National Museum, we chanced upon a display Beijing 2008, the proud host of Olympics in the year 2008.

The Forbidden City

Our journey into the elusive and mystical world of the royal began here at the Meridian Gate (午门 or “Wumen” gate). It was the front entrance to the Forbidden City (紫禁城).

The Forbidden City is constructed by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle ( 永乐, 1402 – 1424), whose name means “perpetual happiness” in Chinese. Emperor Yongle had an ambition dream to build a massive network of structure to reside all his government offices, officials and imperial families together. He made the bold decision to relocate the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. After a painfully long construction time, the Forbidden City was finally completed in 1420 and became the home to many emperors from the Ming Dynasty to the last Qing Dynasty for the next 500 years. The Forbidden City is located at the exact center of the ancient city of Beijing. It was rumoured that the palace has more than nine hundred buildings and reputed to have a total of 9,999.5 rooms (half room less than 10,000 rooms often associated with the Celestial Palace) as the number 9 was solely reserved for the emperor. However, according to surveying by the Palace Museum, only 8,600 room existed.

There are three main halls in the Front Court of the Forbidden City. This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿), the largest hall primarily used as the ceremonial centre of imperial power such as coronations ceremony or imperial weddings.

The Hall of Central Harmony (中和殿) is the smaller used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies.

The Back Palace (后宫) is the residence of the Emperor and his family. The Hall of Mental Cultivation (养心殿) has a significant in history of the Forbidden City – it was here that from the time of Emperor Yongzheng (雍正, 1678 – 1735)  the Qing Emperors lived and ruled the Empire.

The Hall of Mental Cultivation has a front and a rear hall, which served as the emperor’s bedroom. Facing the entrance wall is a huge piece of jade carving (玉壁). There were several sayings for the presence of this jade. It was commonly believed that Qing Emperors could see the round jade afar while reviewing their affairs of the state. The jade served as a reminder to maintain his virtue like the jade and calmly reflect on his words and actions (“比德如玉,面壁静心”). Another saying was the round jade symbolized the well that drown Qing Emperor Guangxu’s favourite concubine Zhen (珍妃, 1876 -1900) and the square structure was to prevent her unrestful soul in haunting Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后, 1835 – 1908).

As we spoke of the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi, we arrived at the East Warmth Chamber (东暖阁). I was eager to see the famous chamber with a yellow blind. It was behind this yellow curtain that the Empress Dowager attended to state affairs sitting behind a curtain (垂帘听政). She corruptly ruled China for forty-eight years – initially, as regent and domineering mother of her son Emperor Tongzhi (同治, 1856 – 1875) and subsequently as regent to her nephew, Emperor Guangxu (光绪, 1871 – 1908) after her son died.


Throughout the palace, we could see many copper and iron vats. In fact there are 308 copper and iron vats, of which 18 are copper vats inlaid with gold. And the use of these vats? As a firefighting equipment at the Palace, of course! How about winter? In winter, they were covered with quilts and had lids on, with heating from a fire underneath to keep the water from freezing.

The Pavilion to Usher in Light (延晖阁, “Yan Hui Ge” Pavilion)  was constructed in the Ming Dynasty with a rolled gable roof covered with yellow glazed tiles. Facing the Hill of Accumulated Elegance (“Dui Xiu Shan” Hill, 堆秀山), it was the place where the emperors selected their concubines and the venue which had inspired Qing Emperors Qinglong, Daoguang and Xianfeng in composing poems.

The Imperial Garden was where the royal members came to relax. The garden is a labyrinth of old trees, pavilions and footpaths paved with mosaic patterns made from small stones. Here is one that’s at least 500 years old.

As we exited from the northern Gate of the Divine Prowess( 神武门 orShenwumen” gate), memory flashed back the poignant scene whereby the “Last Emperor” Puyi (溥仪) was driven out of the Forbidden City through this gate in 1924.

Tian’an Square

Taking a decent photo at Tian’anmen Square (天安门广场) can be very challenging. This world’s largest city square was simply packed with thousands and thousands of tourists and locals. See what I meant?

After some observations, we finally learnt the trick to “evict” the crowd was to shoot your pictures from this empty square, right in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao.

Ironically, this Gate of Heavenly Peace turns out to be the central of Beijing. On its north lies the Forbidden City. To its east is the National History Museum. In its south is the Chairman Mao Mausoleum and Qianmen (front gate) while the Great Hall of the People is in its west. 

正阳门, "Zhengyangmen" Gate

Long Queue into the Chairman Mao Mausoleum

In front of the Tian’an Square is a pair of massive stone columns, known to the Chinese as Hua Biao (华表). The traditional Huabiao is usually carved with images of dragons, phoenix and other meaningful patterns. However, these Huabiao have squatting beasts at the top of the column, one facing away from the palace while the other’s head facing towards the palace. In the legend, the beast is called named Hou (“犼”). The symbolic Hou that faces “towards the palace” is to hope that the emperor does not indulge himself in the palace but spends time outside to visit his subjects. The other Hou with its head away from the palace hopes that emperor will not be overly obsessed with sightseeing and will return promptly back to the palace to deal with affairs of state.

For us, we need the Hou to quickly point and lead us out for lunch!

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Day 2 | 5 Sep 2005: The Temple of Heaven @Beijing, China

There is a place in Beijing which was regarded as of higher importance than the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven (天坛) was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties would worship Heaven and pray for good havest of crops.  The Northern part of the outer surrounding wall is semi-circular in shape while the Southern part is a square. This symbolic pattern confirms the ancient belief that Heaven was round and the Earth was square. The double surrounding wall separates the temple into two parts – the inner and the outer temples.

The Inner Temple is also partitioned by a wall into two groups of buildings. The North structure is the Hall of the Prayer ( (祈年殿), the principal altar used to pray in spring for a bumper havests in the year. The Southern structure is a large Circular Mound Altar (圜丘坛) used to worship Heaven at the  winter solstice (冬至). The two altars are connected by a 360m  long walkway called the Danbi Bridge (丹陛桥), which was specially arranged in a line forming a North-South axis 1,200m long and flanked by century old cypresses in a spacious area with a formal and solemn environment.

The Circular Mound Altar

Hall of the Prayer

Nine-Dragon Cypress Tree

The Imperial Vault of Heaven & the Echo Wall

To the Inner South of the West Celestial Gate is the fasting palace where the emperor observed abstention before the rituals. There is also a Imperial Vault of Heaven (皇穹宇), a circular building surrounded by a smooth circular wall known as the Echo Wall. The eaves of the wall and the hermetically laid bricks make wireless communication possible between two people who are speaking in normal voices. 

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Day 2 | 5 Sep 2005: Beijing, China


If the Forbidden City represents the glamour of the royal life and the elite culture, the Hutongs (胡同) reflects the lifestyle of the grassroots and the commoners of Beijing. Hutongs are the narrow streets or alley of the residential neighbourhoods in the heart of the Old Beijing. Almost every hutong has its own anecdotes and some association with historic events.  However, following the modernization of the city in the last 60 years, many hutongs have rapidly disappeared and replaced by wide boulevards and high rise buildings. Recent attempts are made to designate many ancient Hutongs as protected areas, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations.

Motor Tricycle

Guess what? Coal fuel for winter use

Jingshan Park

Once an imperial garden, Jingshan Park (景山公园) is now a public park located at the north of the Forbidden City.

Constructed in the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, this artificial hill is 45 m high. It is most remembered as the site where the last Ming Dynasty Emperor Chongzhen (崇祯, 1611 – 1644) committed suicide by hanging himself here in 1644. Emperor Chongzhen was the 16th emperor of the Ming Dynasty who suceeded the throne at the age of 17. Years of corruption had emptied the treasury, making it impossible for him to find capable ministers to rule the country. He tried to rule the country by himself but could not place his full trust on the few reliable ministers. Eventually, he made the grave mistake of executing General Yuan Chonghuan (袁崇焕, 1584 – 1630), the famed patriot and military commander who sucessfully battled the Manchus in Northern China.

The collapse of the Ming Dynasty became imminent during Emperor Chongzhen’s reign. Li Zicheng (李自成, 1606 – 1645) was the the Chinese rebel leader who finally overthrew the Ming Dynasty. In 1644, Emperor Chongzhen learnt of Li Zhicheng’s plan to take over the Ming capital of Beijing. Rather than facing the capture, Chongzhen arranged gathered all imperial members for a feast and killed all of them there with his sword. All of them died except for his second daughter, Princess Chang Ping (长平公主, 1629 -1646) who resisted the sword blow and resulted in her left arm being severed by her father. Then, Emperor Chongzhen fled to Jingshan Hill and hanged himself on a tree here… 

As the tour guide related the sad story, my parents had gained interests at the lotus and the blooming peaches. After all, they were familiar with the story of Princess Chang Ping told through the story adapted into a television drama called the Emperor Daughter’s Flower (帝女花 or Di Nv Hua). Another legend recounts that Princess Chang Ping became a nun after the fall of the Ming Dynasty. She became a leader of the resistance movement against the Qing Dynasty. One favourite folklore surrounds one of her disciples, Lv Si Niang (呂四娘), the heroine who attempted to assassinate Emperor Yongzheng (雍正, 1678 – 1735).

Speaking of peaches, we were fortunate to purchase the juicy and sweet Doughnut Peach (蟠桃 or Pantao meaning “flat peach”). These nectarines are smaller and flatter than the regular peach and their skins are less fuzzily red. According to the Chinese mythology, Pan tao peach grows in the garden of ancient goddess, the Queen Mother of the West (西王母). The magical fruit takes 3,000 year to ripen.

Beijing Underground City

Finally, it was shopping time at a special Beijing Underground City (北京地下城). Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong ordered the construction of this underground bomb shelter during the 1970s  in anticipation of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It was known as the underground great wall because of its extensive network of tunnels beneath Beijing’s city center, covering an area of 85 square kilometres! The complex was equipped with facilities such as restaurants, clinics, schools, theaters, factories, warehouse, etc. Its thick concrete doors protect the tunnels from intruders and against floods. With the collapse of the Soviet Union powers, the complex was officially opened in 2000 as a tourist’s attraction, which displays a silk factory operating in one of the underground rooms. Of course we went back with a few silk quilt covers.

The largest shell I had ever seen, laced with pearls

Beijing Tong Ren Tang

The Tong Ren Tang (北京同仁堂) is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) company set up in 1669 on the 8th year of Emperor Kangxi’s (康熙) reign of the Qing Dynasty. The founder was Yue Xianyang (乐显扬) who served as a senior physician to the royal court. Beijing Tong Ren Tang enjoys a high reputation as a prestigious TCM; as it was the exclusive medical supplier to the royal families of the Qing Dynasty for 188 year until the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. 

The tour arranged the physicians from Tong Ren Tang to give a free lecture about TCM, followed by a free consultation. I found that the doctors very enthusiatic in prescribing the Chinese medicine that might be useful to us. The precriptions, usually over a period of three months, were in fact very pricey! As for me, I politely declined the free consultation and enjoyed the 10 minutes shoulder and back massage instead.   

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Day 3 | 6 Sep 2005: Beijing, China

Today, we are heading towards the western outskirt of the Haidian District to visit the Summer Palace. Like most group tours, we are stopping by a factory which produces the Chinese Cloisonne.

 The Chinese Cloisonne

The Chinese Cloisonne (景泰蓝) is an art that originated in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty (元朝, 1271 – 1368) but it became more prevalent during the reign of Jing Tai period (1450 – 1456) in the Ming Dynasty. Blue of Jing Tai (“景泰蓝”) gained the name from the dominant colour used for enameling. The art of making Chinese Cloisonne improved with time and reached its artistic summit during the reigns of Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). Finer colours were used and the design scope was enlarged beyond the common wares into snuff bottles, folding screens, incense burners, tables, chairs, chopsticks, and bowls. Surprisingly, my father asked to be photographed beside this giant Chinese Cloisonne vase. 

The making of the Chinese Cloisonne involves elaborated and complicated process such as designing, hammering of the base, inlaying the copper strips, enamel filing and burning, polishing and gilding.

Summer Palace

We finally reached the Summer Palace (颐和园) in the late morning. Covering an expanse land of 2.9 square kilometres, the Summer Palace is dominated by a 60m-high Longevity Hill (万寿山) and a man-made Kunming Lake (昆明湖). It was originally called the Qingyi Garden (清漪园 or the Garden of Clear Ripples), a summer resort for the royal families’ rest and entertainment. But in 1860, the garden was burnt down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces. Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) rebuilt it using embezzled navy funds and renamed it as Summer Palace. She spent most of her later years here, dealing with state affairs and entertaining.

The Summer Palace can be divided into three areas: the Court Area, Longevity Hill area and the Kunming Lake area.

The Court Area

The Court Area is a group of courtyard houses connected by porches. The center building is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿). This is the place where Emperor Guangxu (光绪, 1871 -1908) held court and conducted official business during his stay at the garden. On display in the front hall is an exquisitely carved screen, a bronze dragon and bronze phoenix. It was said that the bronze phoenix and dragon have hollow abdomens. When incense was burnt inside, they would smoke, adding aroma to the atmosphere during the ongoing court in the hall.



To the northwest are another three halls: the Hall of Jade Ripples (玉澜堂) where Emperor Guangxu lived; the Hall of Virtue and Harmony (德和园), the biggest theater in the Qing Dynasty; and the Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂), the splendid residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. In the northeast is the Garden of Harmony and Enchantment where the emperors spent their leisure time fishing. And there is the Yiyun House (宜芸馆), where Empress Longyu (隆裕) once lived.

Hall of Jade Ripples

The Hall of Jade Ripple (玉澜堂) is the living quarters for Emperor Guangxu, the nephew of the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi. Emperor Guangxu ascended the throne at the age of four as a figure-head with his imperial power puppeted by Cixi. In 1898, Guangxu started a political reform to overturn the outdated laws which resulted in a fierce conflict with Cixi. The ill-fated reform lasted only 103 days after Cixi‘s suppression and Emperor Guangxu was imprisoned here for ten years until his death in 1908.

Hall of Joyful Longevity

The Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) was the occasional residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. This complex is significantly larger than the Hall of the Jade Ripples and enjoys a prime view of the Kunming Lake and the backdrop of the Longevity Hill. Displayed in front of the hall are bronze deer, cranes, and vases, signifying peace and longevity.

Planted inside the yard are magnolias, haitang (Chinese flowering apples tree) and peonies, symbolizing riches and honor.

In front of the courtyard is an exquisite huge rock (青芝岫) measuring eight meters long, two meters wide, four meters high. It has existed since the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty. According to the legend, the rock was a large sea-blue stone from the suburban Fangshan County. A rock lover official Mi Wanzhong (米万钟) wanted to transport the big rock back to his garden but failed after exhausting his entire financial resources, and had to discard it on the road. Since then, people called the big bluestone the prodigal stone (“败家石”). One day, Emperor Qinglong (乾隆皇帝) saw the big rock and transported it back to the Summer Palace.

Yiyun House

Empress Longyu (隆裕, 1868 – 1913) was the niece of the Empress Dowager Cixi and was married to her cousin, Emperor Guangxu in 1889.  She was made the Empress Dowager when both Emperor Guangxu and Cixi died in 1908 and adopted Emperor Xuan Tong (commonly known as Puyi) as her son. Following Yuan Shi Kai’s advice, she was infamously known for signing the abdication on behalf of the child Emperor Puyi in 1911, ending imperial rule in China.

The Longevity Hill Area

In 1749, Emperor Qianlong commissioned work on the imperial gardens in celebration of his mother’s 60th birthday. He named the hill as Longevity Hill.  The 60 meters high hill faces the Kunming Lake and has several grand halls built along it. Notably, the  building complexes were built in Tibetan lamasery style and were often considered to be a miniature Potala Palace in Tibet.

The Long Corridor

Measuring at 728m in length, the Long Corridor (Changlang) is the longest corridor in the world. It was built in 1750 because Emperor Qianlong wanted his mother to enjoy her walks through the Gardens under protection from direct sunlight and rain. The entire corridor has 273 sections all decorated with paintings and four elegant octagonal pavilions, each representing one season of a year.

The long corridor is truly an exceptional art gallery, featuring more than 14,000 pictures of landscapes, flowers, birds, human figures and stories on its beams and ceilings. Many pictures depicts or narrates traditional art, history and literatures from the Chinese culture. Hence, it is an excellent place for visitors to learn alot about the 5,000 years old of Chinese Culture just by visiting the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace.

The Kunming Lake Area

After the long walk, you can feel the tranquility at the Kunming Lake area – the gentle breezes comforting the soft willow trees along the bank and kissing on the gleaming waves. The central Kunming Lake was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. Unfortuately, we had little time to explore this area and to sight the famous Bronze Ox, the Jade-belt Bridge or the Marble Boat. Nonetheless, we did admire the Longevity Hill from a distance with the Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) and the famous Sea of Wisdom Temple (智慧海) on the hill top. 

The Archery Tower for the Gate of Virtuous Triumph

The Gate of Virtuous Triumph (德胜门 or Deshengmen Gate) is the name of a city gate that was once part of Beijing’s northern city wall located on the northern 2nd Ring Road. Built in 1437, only the archery tower and the barbican survives till today, which house a museum of folk customs inside. It was here that we were introduced to the Chinese theory of Geomancy (风水 or Fengshui), the art of balancing the five Chinese Elements (五行 or Wu Xing), namerly, Wood, Fire, Metal, Earth and Water. In the end, most of us left the museum carrying back home a Pixiu.

In Chinese mythology, Pixiu n(貔貅) is one of the Dragon King 9 children, which possesses supernatural power to attract wealth and ward off evil. According to Fengshui experts, Pixiu is commonly used in protecting homes and bringing good fortune to its Master.

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Day 4 | 7 Sep 2005: Beijing, China

Today is a free and easy day for us. I took the initiatives to bring my parents around to see “the other side of Beijing”.

Yonghe Lamasery

Commonly known as the Yonghe Temple, the Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple is the largest Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery in Beijing. It was built in 1694 as the residence of the Qing Dynasty Prince Yongzheng (雍正). In 1725, it was made a palace called Yonghe Gong (雍和宮) after Prince Yongzheng became the third Qing Emperor. However, in 1744, his fourth son, Emperor Qianlong (乾隆, 1711 – 1799) formally changed its status to a lamasery. A unique feature is its building and artworks of the temple is a subtle combination of the Chinese Han and Tibetan styles. Yonghe Lamasery is one of the most elegant and almost perfectly preserved lamasery in present day China, thanks to ex-Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, who intervened the destruction of the temple during the Cultural Revolution.

As you arrive at the southern yard of the Yonghe Lamasery, you will see a screen wall and three gateways (牌坊). After entering through the gateways, you will come across the Gate of Peace Declaration(昭泰门), a large three-archways, of which, the central one was for the emperors’ exclusive use.

The second courtyard has a Drum Tower on the western side and a Bell tower on the eastern side

In the Devaraja Hall or the Hall of the Heavenly Kings (天王殿) stands the statues of the four powerful Heavenly Kings. In the Buddhist faith, the Four Heavenly Kings are the four guardian gods, each watching over one cardinal direction of the world. The Southern King holds a sword (the “edge” or 鋒), the Eastern King holds a Pipa (the “tune” or 调), the Northern King carries an umbrella (the “rain” or 雨) and the Western King holds a snake (“shun” referring to the symbol of a crimson dragon). In Chinese they are known collectively as Feng Tiao Yu Shun” (风调雨顺), which means “Good Climate”.

The main palace, Hall of Harmony and Peace (雍和宮), displayed three bronze Buddhas. Buddha Sakyamuni (釋迦牟尼) sits in the centre, accompanied by his chief disciple, Kasyapa-matanga (迦葉摩騰) on the right and Maitreya (彌勒菩薩, a future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology) on the left. Positioned on both sides of the hall are 18 statues of Buddha disciples or Arhats (十八罗汉) . The picture on the west wall is of Avalokitesvara (commonly known as Guanyin, 觀世音菩薩), with its thousands of hands and eyes.

The highlight of the visit is at the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness(万福阁), the three-storey high palace housing a 18-metre tall Buddha in the centre, carved from a single piece of sandalwood. Unfortunately, photography of this amazing masterpiece was disallowed inside the pavilion.  

Here, we found a Panchen Lama Exhibition Hall. At one time in the Qing Dynasty, the Yonghe Lamasery became the national centre of the Lama administration. The Tibetan Panchen Lama (班禅喇嘛) is the next highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama. The successive Panchen lamas form a reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitabha Buddha.

At the backyard, my parents caught sight of a few low hanging fruits on the trees. Picture please, they requested!

Xiu Shui Street Shopping

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Xiushui Street (秀水街 or Silk Market). Opened about six months ago, this new shopping centre replaced the old alley-based Xiushui market that I was familar with. The complex houses over 1,700 retailers and is notorious for selling a wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparels and handbags. But prepare to bargain hard here!

Ya Xiu Clothes Market aka  Sanli Tun

Located on Sanlitun Lu (三里屯) in the Chaoyang District, Ya Xiu Clothes Market (雅秀市场) is another famous shopping area among the tourists for cheap and fake goods.  Similar to the Silk Market, Ya Xiu had also been modernized and relocated to a four-storey bazaar complex. The basement, as well as the first two floors, houses a comprehensive collection of imitation of designer clothes, branded handbags and luggage.

Wang Fujing

As the evening fell, we made our way to the capital’s most famous shopping street – Wangfujing (王府井) in Dongcheng District. Since the Ming Dynasty, there had been growing commercial activities in this place with aristocratic estates and princess residence were built within the vicinity. It was said that they discovered a well filled with sweet water, thereby giving the street its current name “Wangfujing” which means “Well of the Prince’s Residence”.  The first mission was to locate this famed well…

Today, Wangfujing is a popular pedestrianised street with two very large shopping malls one at each end.

Another place not to be missed is the Wangfujing Snack Street (王府井小吃街) which offers a selection of exotic street food, such as deep fried insects, scorpions and silk worms.

Beijing Liangzi Foot Reflexology

Our legs were totally worn out from the excessive walking over the past four days. At dinner, I suggested that we go for foot reflexology to revitalise our feet. I was pleasantly surprised that my parents were quite receptive to the idea! We went to the Liangzi Foot Bath Health & Fitness Centre (良子健身) oppsite the TGIF Restaurant. Founded in 1997, Liangzi is one of the most established chain of  massage centres in China. We took up the package of 60 minutes of foot massage and 40 minutes of body and shoulder massage at RMB 138 each. Good value considering that this branch was the winner emerging from a recent national massage competition.

According to the study of Chinese foot reflexology, the condition of your body is affected by the sole of your foot. It is believed that each organ in the body is connected to a specific reflex point on each foot though an intermeriary of 300 nerves. This is the reason why a precise and skillful foot reflexology could stimulate the vital functions, elimimate toxins, improve blood circulation and soothe the nerves. Nothing could be more enjoyable than a foot reflexology for the overworked feet. And the enjoyment started with a foot bath in a wooden tub filled with a mixture of hot water and Chinese herbs.  Some reflexology practitioners follow the theory of yin and yang, begining on the right side for men, and the left for women. Other beliefs include the female practitioners should massage a male patient and vice versa.

Tonight is our last evening in Beijing. Despite being in Beijing on several occasion, I still enjoyed myself thoroughly. So did JL and my parents.

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