The Summer Palace is a gorgeous area of Beijing that any visitor could easily spend a day or two exploring. There are lakes, gardens, and palaces sprinkled throughout; complete with paddle boats nestled next to giant lily pads, tranquil pathways to stroll down, and street vendors selling ice cream and other snacks around every corner.
It had a relaxing vibe, and I happily spent a large portion of my day there with my friends, Erica and Morgan, taking it easy and enjoying the views.
The Grand Stage was one of my favorite things at the Summer Palace. It was cool to think about all of the shows that took place there, dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
“Whenever there was a celebration in the Qing imperial palace, Peking opera was a must and it had become especially popular from the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Opera was the prevailing passion of Dowager Empress Cixi. When she came to the Summer Palace, she would watch opera on the second day. She was not satisfied with the little theater in the Hall for Listening to Orioles.
So when the Summer Palace was undergoing renovation in 1891 following destruction during the 1860 war, the site of previous Yichuntang was chosen as the place to build a new larger theater. More than two hundred different opera performances were put on here for her, during the period from the completion of the theater until her death.
The theater is 21 meters in height (68.9 feet), with three stories. From top to bottom, are the Fu Stage (Happiness Stage), the Lu Stage (Affluence Stage), and the Shou Stage (Longevity Stage). The floors of each stage have trap doors and under the Shou Stage, there are a deep well and five ponds. The well and ponds were used to amplify the sound effects through acoustic resonance and to make water appear to spout from a dragon’s mouth. Special effects could be performed from beneath the three stages. This made scenes involving immortals and apparitions more vivid and realistic as they emerged or flew onto the stage by means of a winch installed on the ceiling of the theatre.
The two-storey Dressing House is behind the stages and is connected to the theater. This was where the actors put on their costumes and makeup. It now houses an exhibition of opera costumes and props, Cixi’s sedan chair, and an oil painting of Cixi.” (source)
We climbed the stairs of an old tower to see the Thousand-Hand Guanyin Buddha statue. (It was a bit difficult to photograph since it was sort of dark in the tower, but here’s a grainy, zoomed-in photo I took with my phone, haha.) It’s located in the Tower of Buddhist Incense. “Cast in 1574, this statue was originally named the ‘Statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva.’ The five-meter bronze figure was gilded with a head of 4 tiers each with three faces – a total of 12 faces, and 24 arms. The statue sits on a lotus seat of nine layers of 999 petals. Cast with superb workmanship, the grand, solemn statue is of great historical and cultural value.” (source)
The view from the top sure was beautiful.
The Tower of Buddhist Incense seemed to be one of the main focal points at the Summer Palace, so no matter where you were on the grounds, you could always see the tower.
After watching everyone out on the water in their paddle boats, we thought it’d be fun to rent one for a while, too. “Around 1271, after the Yuan dynasty established its capital in Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing), the engineer Guo Shoujing initiated a waterworks project to direct the water from Shenshan Spring (神山泉) in Baifu Village (白浮村), Changping into the Western Lake (西湖), which would later become Kunming Lake. Guo’s aim was to create a water reservoir that would ensure a stable water supply for the palace.” (source)
We slowly paddled all over Kunming lake and even went under the Seventeen-Arch Bridge which was constructed in the early 1700’s. It was a lot of fun! I’m so glad we decided to do that.
Something else that was fun/strange while we were at the Summer Palace was feeling like a D-List celebrity for the day. Now, I was told before I arrived in China that I might get a lot of stares and/or people wanting photos with me, but I didn’t really believe it. I figured that in a place like Beijing, Chinese people had to be so used to seeing white tourists… But boy, was I wrong! Erica, Morgan and I definitely got a lot of stares no matter where we went in China. Generally, the attention was pretty mild, and most people would either just stare at us, or some would wave and yell, “HELLO!” as they walked by, thinking it was the funniest thing in the world. Little kids sometimes appeared frightened by us and would hide behind their parents, and teenage girls would whisper and giggle to each other, “wàiguó rén!” (外国人；foreigners!).
I decided to sit on a stoop while Morgan and Erica were in the bathroom, and almost immediately, I was bombarded by strangers wanting photos. There were people everywhere all of a sudden. I swear it was like they were coming out of the bushes. Everyone just started taking photos of me sitting there, and parents were making their kids sit near me so they could get a photo of us. One guy (with no shirt on) came and sat RIGHT next to me and put his sweaty arm around my shoulder while his wife got a picture. An elderly woman took my hand in hers and thanked me for a photo. It all happened so fast! Erica and Morgan came out of the bathroom and witnessed the tail-end of it, so Erica snapped this photo of me and three kids who really didn’t want to come near me, haha.
Honestly, while it did feel a bit bizarre at first, it never really bothered me. I know I look different. I figured most of these people were tourists to Beijing themselves and probably came from certain areas of China where white people never visit. The funniest part to me though was how I felt I was actually getting a pretty nice tan due to the extreme sun exposure in China, but after making friends with a local Chinese girl, she wouldn’t stop commenting on how very white my skin was. “You’re SO white!!!!” No, no. You’re supposed to tell me that my tan is looking quite nice, actually. Come on, now. (In reality, I burn pretty badly and then I’m white again. *sigh* But in my mind I’m very tan this summer.)
Gosh, I still have so many photos to sort through from China! I feel like I always try my hardest to narrow them down for each blog post, but no matter what, my posts still feel pretty picture-heavy. Sorry about that. Anyway, thanks for reading, and if I stay focused, more China posts will come soon! xo