Sophia met me at 7.30am, shortly after I’d popped into a bakery/dumpling/pancake shop and stepped out with a piping hot stuffed pancake.
For the princely sum of 4Y (about 50p), breakfast was served. What was I about to eat? No idea, but it smelled good and turned out to be a leek pancake.
The lady on the counter had lifted it onto the griddle to give it a quick burst of heat before I left the shop to eat it in the rain.
Yes, day 34 of travelling and only the second day of rain. After the previous day’s heat, this was welcome.
Sophia met me with her breakfast, meat dumplings and we waited for the driver.
Once we were seated in the dry car, she outlined today’s itinerary: the Summer Palace, about 15miles from the centre of Beijing (but still within the city), then back to Tian’anamen Square but this time to go to Tian’anamen Street, then on to the Temple of Heaven before stopping for lunch and then heading to Jingshan Park.
Even in the rain, these key attractions were crowded, though not as much as I had expected.
It’s the scale of the places that continues to surprise me – so much space for a small and highly powerful and privileged individual, the emperor.
Sophia again shared stories of the intrigues and power struggles that had take place throughout the centuries.
My favourite tale was the story of the marble boat on the lake at the Summer Palace. It was placed there to show the power and stability of government.
It’s message was a reaction to the belief that the water represents the people and their will. Government is a boat that rides on the water… and it can be overturned by the people.
Being English, in 2019, I can’t think why this message resonated so much.
However, the marble ship was placed there to show how strong and steady the government is. This is a boat that the water cannot sink.
A strong message in China.
We headed for Tian’anamen Street or rather one of the streets leading off it. The street has been there for over 600 years though the whole area was extended and improved in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
I also went hunting for birthday cards. They were not proving to be easy to find.
Sophia advised that bookshops were a good place to find them. We tried three in the centre of town. No luck.
At the Tiantan Park, we saw the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Prayers for an Good Harvest.
I watched people taking turns to the stand on the centre stone of the Altar of Heaven where apparently someone’s voice is amplified to be heard from all of the corners of Earth and Heaven or at least the boundary walls of the temple that signify Heaven and Earth
At the Echo Wall, children and adults were testing the belief that whispering at one point on the wall will be heard on the other side of the circular enclosure.
When I say “whispering”… it was impossible, above the din, to know whether anyone heard the message intended for them or if they heard everyone else’s.
It may be named for the Temple of Heaven but it’s the Temple of Prayers for an Good Harvest that is the most impressive site.
Next stop was lunch which was excellent. I’d enjoyed the previous day’s but pork and onions in a rich sauce stuffed in bean curd parcels were delicious
I’m also relieved to say that my ability to use chopsticks has improved. I had decided, on arrival, that I had a choice: learn to eat with chopsticks or starve.
(While I appreciated the kindness of the lady, in the noodle soup bar, who handed me a spoon as soon as she saw me, I didn’t want to be the Westerner sitting in the corner unable to eat like everyone else).
Starvation is now unlikely and meals are not taking three hours for me to clear a small plate of food.
The ten minute drive after lunch to Jingshan Park took an hour.
The impact of the National Holiday was the continuation of road closures around Tian’anamen Square.
The crowds at the various sites were undeterred by the rainy day.
By the time we arrived at Jingshan Park, the rain had stopped.
The mound overlooking the Forbidden City is a result of digging the moat around the palace.
Again, only the emperor came here so there was no likelihood of a commoner looking down on the imperial court.
The beauty of the rain was that it temporarily cleared the smog from the sky and the views over the North of the city to the mountains and the Great Wall were stunning.
Central Beijing is very green. This is not only a result of the historic parks and gardens.
The majority of the wider hutongs (the residential streets) are tree lined and the city is doing a lot of work on the creation of green ways.
However, while the majority of cars and scooters on the roads are hybrid or electric, there is still significant work to be done to address the air pollution.
Seeing the view so clearly this afternoon, without a shimmering haze masking the buildings, emphasised that need.
And the day concluded with more food. Prawn and mushroom dumplings, successfully ordered by noticing that the lady at the next table was eating them.
I asked her to show me them in the menu, via the international medium of mime. She was pleased to help.
At least the guidebook got that bit right. People here don’t seem to mind you demonstrating at interest and wish to eat what they are eating.
The family at the next table were keen for me to eat the dumplings with chopsticks but they were more like pasties. I’m afraid I went English style on this one – fingers.
*Featured Photo: Around Tian’anamen Street