I remember it like that it was yesterday. A cold foggy October day in Beijing in 2000. I was a young schoolboy. We sat in car and father took us to my favorite destination Xiangshan park about which I wrote you in previous stories. But today was special day on Xiangshan. It was Red Leafs Festival that occurs every year between October and November and lasts about 1 month. We parked car below the entrance. We had to pass through one hutong alley and reach entrance gate. Atmosphere was very lively and cheerful. It was visible that some festival is going on. There was large crowd of people going to the direction of entrance gate. Many of them were speaking loudly and holding herbarium of red leafs that you could by from street vendors which were on both sides of the street selling it- red leafs on very beautiful background. Except red leafs there were sold cotton candy for children. Vendors were selling balloons filled with helium on several locations in that street. Also there were few vendors selling grilled lamb skewers. Their smell was spreading across all area. One of vendors was shouting to us and saying” Hello, Hello, Kebab, “. We entered one of souvenir shops on the right side of street. In shop was felt strong smell of sandalwood and cheerful mantra was playing on CD. There were hundreds of wooden chaplets, figures of Buddha, Guanyin, turtles, cabbage, monkeys, dragons, rabbits, roosters made from wood, jade or porcelain.  In one corner there was altar with statue of Guanyin, few fruits and two red candles. There were other figures. that are believed to bring good fortune, health and fertility.  Incense sticks were sold as well. Also paintings on linen were sold that described various sceneries from daily life in ancient China or scenery from nature.

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Jingcui lake my little paradise and place where miracles happen

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Red leafs in Xiangshan

All this I was remembering last year in June 2015 when I realized that this street stillexists. When I was with family in June 2013 we couldn’t find this street we saw few new hotels and we thought that development and time have taken away this amazing street. But this I was remembering last year in June 2015 when I realized that this street stillexists.  But fortunately I discovered it by coincidence last summer when I packed my bags and left to China alone on my own to find my way and feel China by myself. So I came here to my favorite Xiangshan about which I wrote in 2013 and how I love its peace and breathtaking nature. Now I came alone to grasp its beauty and tranquility on my own and to feel it the best only me and my Xiangshan. I was so happy that I discovered this street again. Unlike in October 2000 there was almost no one and  there was only one shop that was selling vegetables open. Also this time I was much older and came here to discover and enjoy nature and culture not to play football as I wanted in October 2000.Like that day in 2000 day was foggy. This time it was so hot and wet.  I entered souvenir shop on right side of the street. Shop was almost the same if not the same one as the one in 2000. I was so touched and curious whether it was really the same shop. There was one middle aged seller holding a little grey kitten. When I asked him about price of two chaplets and box of incense sticks he put the kitten into a little cage. It was so funny and cute. He offered price 100RMB for two chaplets and box of incense but I bargained and bought it for 50RMB.

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Street leading towards hills park

Then I proceeded into gate through Xiangshan park. Unlike in autumn 2000 there were not red leafs. That autumn like every autumn red leafs are everywhere, on the paths, over grass, on the trees nearby you but also in distance. Whole hills seem completely red from these leafs. Crowds of people were everywhere going from every direction. They were taking pictures of trees and red leafs. It was interesting for me because of red leafs but a bit annoying as I wanted to play football with my father. I was nervously holding the ball in my hands searching for at least small piece of free grass area where no one was sitting or taking pictures. We went to Azure Clouds Temple where was ferry- there were even more people who were hanging red ribbons with written wishes or throwing coins into the fishpond for good luck. After visiting that temple we passed near ruins of Zhao Miao Temple which was still far from reconstruction at that time. Fog was big and it really looked scary. I was becoming more and more angry on my father that we couldn’t play football anywhere. Even we couldn’t climb to viewpoint at Yuhua villa where we used to drink plum juice because my brother( 1 year and half old at that time) was crying and felt cold. We had to sit in a restaurant for long time but it was good for me. I got a glass of cola and we ordered my favorite Chinese food. I was eating noodles with vegetables, grilled bacon in spicy sauce and amazing pork with spicy sauce garlic and cucumber. When we finished eating father ordered a delicious green tea. I really enjoyed it. I was annoying my brother on purpose as I took his balloon that they bought him and I let it fly and it hit plafond. Balloon stuck on plafond made my brother cry as he was sitting in stroller and couldn’t get out. After about 1h and 30min of siting and warming we went outside. Before going back to car we went to our favorite Jingcui Lake. It was really cold there and we were standing for a few minutes next to lake and watching all hills around and how red they were. Red leafs standing on trees on hills seemed like fire so garish, heatedly and beautiful Still I remember this day with nice memories and emotions and nostalgia.

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Jingcui with artificial red leaf lantern
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gate of azure clouds temple

Unlike in October 2000 last June 2015 everything was green. It was working day and not a festival so it wasn’t overcrowded. I was passing alone and enjoying in amazing scenery. I stood up next to Spectacles Lake and did round of Tai Chi. Than I went to Azure Clouds Temple which was quiet like usually and like when I was in June 2013. I burnt incense and put own red ribbon there on a branch of tree. When I was sitting on one of benches next to path old grandmother with her little grandson was passing. He was about 2 years old and curiously stared at me and pointed finger on me. Grandma was a bit embarrassed and maybe afraid of my reaction trying to push his hand away. I raised my hand and waved to him and smiled to his grandma to show that everything is fine. I was so happy when I passed next to Zhao Miao Temple after rest on Yuhua villa viewpoint where I had my plum juice. Zhao Miao was almost completely reconstructed. It was completely colored and finished. From path there was visible even finished altar in its courtyard. I was bit sad that it still wasn’t opened for visitors and I hope on my next visit it will be open. There was just a little slot between two sides of red gate where I tried to take a glimpse into tunnel of my childhood, a tunnel and courtyard where I played with  my friends  and believed that ghost lives. I did a round of Tai Chi again what attracted curious views of passersby. Then I went to my favorite Jingcui lake and place under willow tree near pavilion.

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view on Zhao Miao Temple
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inside azure temple courtyard

I did one more round of Tai Chi and sat on rock to have rest next to lake. I was again like in 2013 listening to birds, watching lotus flowers and green water. I was watching at completely green hills whose leafs remind waves of an ocean. I remembered everything from past that I saw or did here and mostly that autumn of 2000. I was so happy alone here thinking,  feeling peace, closeness to nature, grasping beauty, uniqueness and specificity of this amazing paradise,  my Xiangshan, my favorite Jingcui lake. I was thinking about my girlfriend and wished her to be here next to my Jingcui lake hold her hand and catch flower for her. If it was autumn I would take red leafs for her. Or in joke I would throw her into water.  Sitting and thinking I felt someones presence. I heard something was moving from pine forest behind pavilion and my back. I slowly turned back I saw old man with yellow hat sitting on little wooden chair staring at me. He peacefully asked me in English where I am from. I replied from Serbia. His English surprised me but his response in Russian surprised me even more. He said its very clean place in clear Russian. I replied in Russian and explained how I love this place and that I was here many times. We spoke for about 1 hour. We spoke a lot about China, its communist success, better life, Yugoslavia, Tito, Russia, NATO, my childhood, wars in my country. We spoke about beauty and spirituality of this place. He was happy to hear that there is peace and that situation is much better than 15-20 years ago. He also told me that his ancestors worked as gardeners here and that since childhood this place is important for him. Same as this place stuck in my heart since childhood. He told me that he comes here almost every day since he is retired. His view was so simple, calm and kind and so wise. He had small beard. Scene was really like from some Chinese ancient story an old master and his student. After that I went back slowly outside so curious and surprised what happened. On a road to bus I saw big black rooster with his chickens similarly as we saw them in 2000.

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Red leafs everywhere
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like a fire

These days autumn comes and I often think about China. When I walk in park with girlfriend and if we see few red leafs on trees I tell her about that day in October 2000. There is no day that I don’t mention China especially my Beijing and my favorite Xiangshan. I promised her to take her next time with me.  I want to show her how great China is and how I love my second home, my China.

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