We woke up as stiff as before, but still game for what lay ahead. Sandy and her driver were right on time and we headed out to the northeast of the city to see the place where the emperor moved his court during the summer months. Although only a few kilometers from the Forbidden City, the Summer Place was as green and pleasant as the Forbidden City had been barren and dirty. Trees and flowers lined the walkways, and the grounds were boarded by a pleasant lake on which there were scattered hundred of little paddle boats. We strolled through a colonnade whose beams were painted with scenes of pastoral China, and climbed to the top of the Buddhist temple, twice razed by colonial powers in their attempt to humiliate the emperor and gain trade access to China’s vast market. Rebuilt in 1902, the temple affords a lovely view of the lake, its vista tempered by the ever present smog which hangs over this country like a veil.
Along the way we stopped to watch some traditional Asian dance and listen to some local residents serenade the morning air with songs filled with patriotic fervor and pride; unaccountably accompanied, by a band consisting of trumpet, saxophone and tuba!
After buying a couple of small souvenirs, we came out on to the street only to find the police in the process of hauling away the carts of some local vendors who clearly did not have the proper permits. I was impressed not by the efficient taciturnity of the authorities, but the enthusiastic protest of the vendors, who at one point took to throwing their wares – sweet potatoes, in this case – at the backs of the officers. These are a passionate people!
Sandy insisted on taking us to a silk factory, which is always part of the deal of renting a driver in Asia. We reluctantly agreed, and Shelley and Moochi did in fact end up buying some stuff. We pulled over to look at the Bird’s Nest Stadium, again obscured by smog and took a couple of pictures. Then it was on to the tea factory (Dr. Tea) for their song and dance. Once again the experience was lovely, but the whole ‘drag the dumb tourist around to buy things’ was beginning to get to us, and we bought nothing. Then Sandy wanted to do lunch. We knew what that meant: a pedestrian meal at an exorbitant price where the driver and guide would eat at our expense. We declined; they were ticked. They picked up some food at McDonald’s and drove us to the Olympic site, as agreed, but only to get a foot message. Again we declined, and went for a walk around the grounds instead.
On our return we asked to be taken to Prospect Hill and were told it was “out of our way” and they wanted an extra 100 Yuan to go there. It was time to play the heavy. I had kept the agent’s card and with my trusted Malaysia SIM card called the agent and told her that I expected her to keep the terms of our arrangement and direct her guide to do the same. I then handed the phone over to Sandy for what I hoped would be a firm rebuke. This was not to be; after a few minutes Sandy handed the phone back and the agent then said that the site was out of the way and they wanted another 100 Yuan. It was time to play my trump. In a militaristic culture everyone is afraid of the authorities. I threatened the agent with reporting her if she did not comply, hung up, and waited. A few minutes later Sandy’s phone rang. I didn’t need a translator to hear her compliant tone. After the call she turned around to say we were going to Prospect Hill. She also added, most unconvincingly to my ear, that she still wanted 100 Yuan. I simply said ‘no,’ but to help her save face, I offered to make this the last stop, as it would be 3 o’clock by the time they picked us up at the East Gate and it was still a half-hour back to the hotel.
Disdaining our complaining muscles, we once again set about to climb to another temple. But this one has the distinction of having the best view of Beijing in general, and of the Forbidden City in particular. That may be, but short of closing down the city for three months as China did prior to the Olympics, no one may ever know. The smog was so thick you could not see much beyond the temple gardens on the north side of the imperial grounds. The flowers on the other side of the hill looked much more inviting, and we made our way down into the gardens of tulips and peonies that line that side of the hill. It looked so much like Ottawa in the spring it made Shelley’s heart ache.
Linking up with our guide and driver at the East Gate we drove back through the impressively wide boulevards of Beijing. Politely declining the offer to ‘tip the driver,’ we had a quick stop to refresh before we headed out for an early evening meal.
A couple of blocks brought us to the Honglian Roast Duck Restaurant where we intended to try the local specialty. The duck, to be honest, was nothing special. But the rest of what we ordered was fantastic. Salad, roasted cauliflower, lotus root, ocean perch, kale, sweet and sour pork, roast duck and drinks all combined came to about ten dollars Canadian each. It was a memorable meal and we happily waddled home like ducks ourselves after it!