Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 10, Thursday, July 15

Morning: After breakfast at the bagel shop (french fires were the bigger ones with less salt), we headed to the Temple of Heaven via the subway which Joe and I had begun to feel quite comfortable using. We were finding our way around the city rather well. As usual, the sky was cloudy and it had begun to drizzle as we approached the subway entrance.

The rain would continue throughout the day but Joe and I were committed to seeing the Temple of Heaven and at least some of the Summer Palace before calling it a day.

Afternoon: Each year the emperor would go to the Temple of Heaven, most likely in the spring, to offer sacrifices. The grounds of the Temple are huge. By the time we walked from the subway to the entrance, we were soaked by the warm rain. Chinese ladies scurried up to us, chuckled at us and then tried to sell us an umbrella or some plastic rainwear but it was way too late for that.

The Temple of Heaven was becoming the Temple of Doom. We decided to take in the main temple and skip walking around the grounds. We were men on a mission, and we still had a long subway trek to the Summer Palace at the opposite end of the city. We took our photos and were heading away from the main temple when a Chinese father asked if we would have our photo taken with his daughter. Brandon told us this might happen, but it didn’t happen until our last full day. I’m not sure if the father was struck by the tallness of these two white people or the fact that they were tall, white and soaked to the bone.

On our way to the exit, we stopped to listen to some Chinese performers who had set up under the protection of a large gateway. One lady sang traditional tunes accompanied by a man with a harmonica. Another man sang what appeared to be a never-ending piece, perhaps from an opera, accompanied by a another man on a stringed instrument played with a bow. Joe made this observation: the Chinese are trying so hard to be Americans that they seem to neglect a cultural background so much deeper and richer than the often superficial current western ways.

As we neared the subway, I suggested to Joe that we visit the Pearl Market across the street. I was still looking for a gift for Michael and I’d rather not go back to the Silk Market if we didn’t have to. Well, the Pearl Market was sort of an upscale version of the Silk Market. The sales people there were not as aggressive as those we had experienced elsewhere. After a while, I settled on a “I (heart) China” T-Shirt, not to be confused with the “I (heart) BJ” shirt found at the Great Wall. Another idea struck me. Brandon had taken Michael out to some bars back in April. Maybe he had taken him to the Fubar. Perhaps after our meal at the Outback that night, we could go back to the Fubar and I would purchase a Buddha drink and give the Buddha to Michael. I was pretty sure Michael would like the Buddha more than the shirt. Maybe Mary Ruth would end up wearing the shirt, I thought to myself.

We arrive at the Summer Palace around 3:30 in the afternoon, too late for a “through pass” ticket that would allow us to enter all areas of the grounds. Instead, we get a general entrance ticket and begin our trek around the large lake where the Summer Palace, the summer home of the emperor's family, is located. Again, I am struck by the vastness of the area and the palace itself, located high on a hill overlooking the lake.

Hundreds and hundreds of visitors mill around the grounds despite the continuing rain and heavy fog. Paddle boats dotted the lake and larger tourist boats with dragon heads plowed through the water barely visable through the mist. Brandon told us to be sure to see the famous stone boat and so we made that our goal. Find the stone boat and then we could head back to the hotel. Joe suggested that we climb up the hillside to an area overlooking the lake so we could locate the stone boat. The climb was steep and there were no handrails. The Chinese are not big into safety. I may have mentioned that before. I assume that is because they are also not big into litigation.

Reaching the top of the climb, we spotted the boat nearby and headed in its direction. A beautifully decorated covered walkway winds its way around the entire lake. As we approached the boat, a Chinese man approached and struck up a conversation in excellent English. He said he was one of the artisans charged with the constant restoration work -- like the walkway -- there at the Summer Palace grounds. He asked if we might be interested in visiting his private art gallery. Yikes, I thought, an artistic Silk Market!

The stone boat was built by an empress who decided to spend money on the elaborate party boat instead of on a Chinese navy. That was a bad decision on her part. I understand she was China’s last empress.

Outside the entrance, we decided to take a bike-powered rickshaw back to the subway. We were tired and soaked. The extra expense seemed like a good idea. Because the Summer Palace is located on the next to last stop on the subway system, the cars are empty as they make their way back to the center of the city. We are able to get seats for the long ride. Again, I was aware of the many stares of subway riders. Who are these soaken wet white guys?

Evening: We get back to the hotel around 6:30 and check in with Brandon via cell phone. Showers and dry clothes for everyone. A quick update on Mel Gibson and when Brandon arrived at 7:30 we were off to the Outback Steak House for dinner and forks! Brandon requested the same last meal with his Mom. He ordered a bloomin’ onion and his regular prime rib, large cut. Joe got ribs and I ordered the chicken/shrimp pasta dish I often get back home. We order beers – large ones – and they are wonderfully cold. The Outback is a little pricey for Chinese pockets so the place was not too crowded.

Brandon liked my idea about the Fubar Buddha for Michael. He said that in fact he had taken Michael to the Fubar with some friends but he was not so sure Michael would remember the place. The bar was not too crowded, just a few tables of foreigners. We ordered our drinks and talked about the “good old days” at Tamaqua High School. I’m sure Brandon has heard most of the stories before but he laughed along with us as Joe and I reminisced.

We got back to the hotel around 11. Brandon stayed in the cab. He said he would see us around noon – check out time – the next day.

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