Saturday, May 04, 2013

Bullet to Beijing

Brother Calee checks out the Chinese countryside
On Friday, we hopped the bullet train from Hongquio Railway Station in Shanghai, bound for Beijing. Although it is a journey of some 760 miles, we covered that distance in roughly 5 hours. That's an average speed of 152 miles per hour, for those keeping track. It was a smooth easy ride and it made me all the more convinced that President Obama's plan to restore and improve American passenger railways is the way to go.

High-rise apartments springing up everywhere
We arrived at Beijing South railway station where we were met by our Chinese guide for the day, a young woman who went by the American name of Maggie. We took a drive into the city, got checked to our hotel, then set out to see some sights with the remains of the day.

Middle Kingdom rolling past at 150+ miles per hour
Our first stop was Beihai Park behind the Forbidden City. This 1000 year old park was originally established as an imperial garden. It's proximity to the Imperial grounds made it the site of an important and sad event. Specifically, the demise of Chongzen, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1644.

During Chongzen's reign, catastrophic floods plagued China and caused much suffering in the countryside. But the Emperor angered his people with Marie Atoinette-like callousness and disdain for their suffering. Resentment smouldered and then burst aflame when 800,000 peasants rose up and assaulted the Forbidden City. Chongzen, facing death at the hands of the angry masses, chose an easier way out. He and his eunuch consigliere hanged themselves from a cypress tree at the foot of a hill in the Imperial Garden. Two solemn stones mark the spot.

Thus ended the Ming Dynasty after 276 years of rule.

'Twas here where they found Chongzen and the eunuch
It's a beautiful park. A serenity hangs over the grounds like the gaze of the Buddha, despite whatever tragedies may have played out there over the centuries.

Temple on top of the hill
Our tour through the park wandered like a lazy river. We climbed up and down many stone steps. Each path revealed new marvels.

Nine Dragon Screen
Our wandering eventually led us to the Nine Dragon Screen. This exquisite piece of art was built in 1756, but you'd never know it by the vividness of the colors. Each side of the screen depicts nine dragons. The number is significant, although I can't remember why.

Dog tired and bedazzled
At this point, I was exhausted, but we pressed on to take in a few more sights from Beijing's cacophonous streets.
Drum Tower
Including the ancient Drum and Bell Towers. It was at the Bell Tower, you will recall, where a deranged Chinese pushed a foreign visitor to his death during the 2008 Olympic Games.

Bell Tower
Our day ended with dinner at the highly-acclaimed and elegant Peking Duck restaurant. We had (what else?) the roast duck. Calee thought it fabulous, but I was too tired to care one way or the other.

Sniff... poor little duck
Three days until I head for home. I'll tell ya, this has been one fantastic trip.

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