China:My Way, My Story 6- In Middle of Beijing

China:My Way, My Story 6- In Middle of Beijing

After 3 days of walking on places which are out of Beijing it is time to return in center of the city. Beijing where I lived.. I had for breakfast Bao Zi filled with meat.  It is one of my favorite Chinese dishes and during these 10 days I ate it almost every morning. I finished breakfast and  I got out on street -towards Dongsishitiao metro station.

It was again sunny day with clear blue sky. I am on road to Yonghegong Lama Temple. This temple is in heart of new Beijing. Area of temple is in middle of huge residential blocks and wide streets and on first view it seems that there cannot be any temple. This temple is not so big as Forbidden City or Beihai Park to be more visibly separated from modern buildings as these mentioned sites are much larger than Lama Temple. When you are standing on some wide and modern street watching residential blocks from 1970s or 1980s you don’t imagine that if you go deeper behind street are already hutongs or old temples or parks. That’s what makes Beijing specific. I am going now next to one wide street.  Many cars are passing in both directions, nothing shows even idea that temple is nearby. But as much as I was coming closer and closer to temple area started to show it. First shops of religious commodities appeared on both sides of street. Shops were full of Buddha statues. Small and big, from porcelain, bronze, wood or jade. They were colored in brown, green or golden color.  Except Chinese happy fat Buddha without hair Tibetan version was sold too. There were various sizes from small figures of few cm and those who were more than 50cm.  Small incense burners were sold too. Large number of chaplets was sold. -Yellow or brown color. Those chaplets are used for praying and relaxing in garden of temple next to the old tree. Some of chaplet balls were decorated with small paintings of Buddha. And of course here was big choice of incense sticks They were yellow, red or pink and they strongly smelled on sandal. Some of them were thin some of them very fat and long. Mantras were played on CDs in few shops. Everything was in Buddhist style. Sellers seemed to be so friendly and careful. According to Buddhist teaching  they must be tolerant and show peace and love to others. In one shop on floor there was a  plastic washbowl with turtles inside which were swimming. There were ordinary turtles and one Chinese turtle with bit longer nose. It was visible that they care about turtles in Buddhist style of giving life to them, they were not determined to be in soup, in turtle soup which is very healthy.  It really seemed that these turtles were their pets.

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I am finally approaching tall gate of the temple. There was one rope above gate which was decorated with many flags in different colors,- pink, red, green, blue  and white. In inner garden of temple on both sides are many trees. But this temple was untypically overcrowded. Usually temple you imagine as quite place, where you can come to pray, to have a tea with monks, to sit under some old tree to meditate and have chaplet in your hands which will make you calm. There are thousands of such temples in China but there are many like this one too. Yonghe Temple became tourist attraction.. But in such case they lose this mystical and unique in them and they lose their identity as place of peace and silence. In temple you want to see few monks sitting, maybe meditating, few visitors praying, few visitors which are just sitting and relaxing and few looking around. Here are 50 people praying, almost 100 sitting and relaxing in part while hundreds are walking around ,taking photos and speaking something in very hard understandable way. Many foreigners were here that day. But still this temple is beautiful especially its halls, decorations and paintings of main halls   and light brown golden roofs touching light blue sky.

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While sun is shining and trees are around you, when you are standing next to incense burners, feeling smell of incense sticks, watching people burning incense, when you are discovering  halls- part of temple atmosphere is still present. There is still something mystical in this garden of temple and in its halls. Temple still stays temple in part.  So I came to conclusion that still something mysterious and spiritual stays but it isn’t same like some calm temple which is out of city. It was built at the end of XVII century by Qing dynasty.  It is largest functioning temple in Beijing.

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In first hall was golden color Tibetan Je Tsongkhapa statue in front of which were oranges and peaches and flowers in one white porcelain plate with dark blue decorations. Some people were praying inside on the floor. On both sides were statues of other Buddhist followers. They were ordered with aim to symbolize process of enlightenment and reaching inner peace. Each of them had different position of body and expression of face- from most angry to most peaceful and happy. This hall is called The Hall of the Wheel of the Law.

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In another inner garden between halls were a few Wheels of Luck- few dark red wheels decorated with golden letters in Sanskrit ,each wheel had one sign. They have shape of prism and are hanged on sticks on low pillars. These wheels are typical for monasteries in Tibet autonomous region and in some areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. These wheels symbolizes circle of life and Buddhist monks while they chant their prayers they are turning them. One monk passed next to me. He had dark red robe which are common for Tibet, in other parts of China Buddhist robes are light orange.

 

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I came into another hall- Hall of Everlasting Protection. Here is statue of healing Buddha. Here people come to pray for their health or health of their family members or friends and their healing if they are ill. I came out and I came in front of biggest hall here- Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. It had double roofs, decorated with small animal figures. Above entrance was dark blue board with golden signs. I mentioned that almost all historical buildings have such board with Chinese signs but this one was different it had signs in Mandarin Chinese, Sanskrit and Manchu.  Behind board was wall decorated by hard describable combination of colors and paintings. This hall is taller than usually for temples here. Inside was biggest statue of Buddha which I ever saw. It was 26m dark brown statue of Maitreya Buddha made from sandalwood.  This Buddha in Buddhist teaching still didn’t appeared on Earth. Statue on first view seems like giant which is dangerous and can run over all people. But if you look at his calm and peaceful face you will see that he cannot do any harm to anyone.  Sunlight was falling on his head from one of windows.  Such falling of rays on his face with combination of low light in room created strange combination of light and dark. He seemed enlightened with such expression of face and light of sunrays on it.

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When I was child for me Yonghegong was place of fun, where I could burn as much sticks as I want to make big fire and play with fire what I always liked. Now in my todays visit of temple I saw it in more deeper and important way as I described above.

I got out from Yonghegong. I crossed wide street and continued going through long hutong street with shops of religious commodities and incense sticks. I was heading to Confucius Temple. It is one of most famous temples in Beijing, devoted to Confucius -one of greatest ancient Chinese philosophers.

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He lived between 551 and 479BC. His thought became special direction in Chinese philosophy like Taoism which was created by another great philosopher Lao Tzu. Confucian teaching became one of most important beliefs and way of life in China. One of his greatest quotations is”Do not do to others what you don’t want to be done to yourself”.   Confucius emphasized on high importance of ethics in society. He considered that each person must follow some moral principles about behavior in many spheres of life: respect towards other people,  behavior in public, in house, on table with other people, with wealth. Basic ideas of Confucius are that main value for society and government should be ideal family. In his teaching family is basis of everything. Ideal family according to him is family where younger give biggest respect and loyalty to elder, wife to husband, and all alive members of family to ancestors[2]. It was emphasized by him that people should follow ancient rituals related to worshipping Heaven and ancestors. Another crucial thing in Confucianism is importance of learning. Confucius decisively considered that each person through all his life must learn many spiritual, ancient, political and practical things. Main purpose of this learning wasn’t just status and respect in society but way to improve yourself, become educated, open minded and self-achieved person.  In all China there are many temples devoted to Confucius. They started to be built during Tang dynasty.

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Beijing Confucius Temple was built at beginning of XIV century. It isn’t very big temple but is interesting. It has typical decorations of halls like other temples in and around BJ. But unlike Taoist and Buddhist temples here are not images inside on walls of temple. On road to main hall is stone statue of Confucius, old man with rare hair and long beard and wise face. Paved in stone ground was very old. Between cracked stones grass was growing. Old trees were in inner garden and one of them was old for 700 years. I could imagine some old philosopher under that ancient tree. Tree was so old but tough, stable and strongly standing and unforgotten same like ideas of Confucius.  In garden was old well too. Water from that well was believed that has power of refreshing mind. Students from Imperial Academy which is nearby temple, before exams in imperial China used to drink that water.

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In one of halls was imperial throne were emperor was examining students for  state service and those who passed were accepted in imperial service which was biggest honor in imperial China. This is importance of this temple. Towards main hall were stairs with engraved dragons in stone.  Main hall is called Dachengmen.(Hall of Great Achievement) In one of  halls are big stone tablets with carved wisdoms and sayings of Confucius.  They had function to save great ideas of this great philosopher. His ideas are recorded on this stone tablets like they are recorded in Chinese history and philosophy. There were probably 100 of these tablets. From the stone time will never delete sayings, wind,   rain or anything else. Biggest was stone tablet on back of giant stone turtle. As I said once turtles were symbol of wisdom in ancient China. I totally didn’t had idea what was written on that biggest tablet, and why its biggest tablet, and why exactly that one on back of turtle. Probably one of his most famous and most appreciated wisdoms is written on that tablet. One of halls served as shop of souvenirs and there was big collection of Chinese paintings made on white panel. Some of them were calligraphy, another were describing scenes of everyday life in past: women in traditional clothes sitting in garden or pavilion who were talking, drinking tea, feeding ducks or taking care of children, fisherman in boat in lake, peasants in rice fields… There were paintings representing sceneries  from nature: birds on branches, cranes, pandas in bamboo forest, moon behind bamboo and moonlight in water, fishes jumping from water, two fishes ( one black one red) ordered to  present yin yang, mountain peaks, tigers , dragons, swimming ducks.. I spent more than 30  minutes there looking these great paintings.

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I left the temple and I went back to metro. It wasn’t sunny anymore like in morning and smog came down again. Next place on my trip was Ritan Park(Temple of the Sun) . I came here to see if my traces from childhood disappeared. Path which goes from main gate towards center of park goes between trees and fields of beautiful roses.  Policeman was shouting on children which were jumping on flowers and on grass. Probably 15 years ago he would shout on me too.  I am approaching decorative wall with paintings of: few flying creatures, Chinese dancing women and one crane in the middle with background of sun during sunset or something what reminds on that. I didn’t forgot this place. I came to old altar. It is large and wide clear place surrounded by tall red walls and white arches. While temple was in function it was used for religious ceremonies determined for worshipping Sun -one of most important components of Heaven. In my years of life in China father was taking me to play here with small gum balls. I used to throw them there from taller part of altar determined for bringing sacrifices to Sun. I was often shouting very loudly here and sounds echoed from tall walls. It was interesting like that I was speaking with myself. While I did it I used to run around all circle altar. Unfortunately today gate to altar was closed. It was never before like that. Since when it is closed I don’t know. I was just watching at altar with wish to at least pass again there  if not to run. .Just if I could get in there and feel that ground over which I was running so many times. We went to lunch in one restaurant nearby altar which stayed since that time. It is called “Little Wang”. But my favorite meal wasn’t there -something which we called nest, fried potatoes ordered in shape of nest and a lot of spicy beef meat inside.

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After lunch I continued between trees which had very low green trunks. I was passing here many times. I was trying to find something else for what I came here. But, there wasn’t anyone with cage with thrush inside. I remember often I walked here with parents in late afternoon, before sunset and many older people in traditional cotton clothes were sitting under trees. On branches used to be hanged wooden cages with thrushes inside. Thrushes used to cheerfully sing and enjoy nature. They were pets of this people. It is long Chinese tradition- coming with birds to nature and letting them sing. It brings mutual harmony and happiness. Bird enjoys nature, sun, fresh air and feels some  part of freedom and can sing cheerfully , while its owner except sitting in nature  and listening his/her bird is  even more happy when his/her bird is happy. Their voices relax your brain so you can be cheerful and calm all day or you can go relaxed to sleep. In new China it is just practiced by old people. But today in Ritan I didn’t saw them.  I asked myself: “Does this tradition still exist? Did it died when these old people died?”  I don’t believe that such common thing could disappear so easy. It was around 2Pm, probably that’s why I didn’t saw them. I think that such tradition must be alive but just I didn’t came at time when they usually do it. As I remember they usually did it in early morning or late afternoon when people go out to enjoy fresh air and listen to beautiful sounds of their pet. I was thinking about that while I was sitting on stone next to lake. Water wasn’t visible from big number of lotus leaves, flowers were closed as sunlight wasn’t visible today anymore. Small pavilion was there on another side of shore in which few people were lying like drugged from this wet heavy air. I was sitting there digging through my memories related to this place. I was thinking why there wasn’t t at least one man with trush in cage hanged on tree.

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I was thinking on so many things related to this park which I did and saw before – such as throwing small gum balls in the altar, and watching  kites in the blue sky which were flied by people in altar. I remembered how kites were balancing through wind and disappearing in the heights, becoming less and less visible like memories  by years are fading in your head until you try to refresh them by your thoughts or visiting place to which this memories are connected.  That’s what I did now. I came to Ritan with aim to refresh my memories of this what I did there and also to see if I will perceive this place in same way like at that time. Like many other places in Beijing which I visited few days ago didn’t have just value of my memories from childhood but also bigger historical and cultural importance which are related to ancient China.

 

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I realized importance of this place for Taoist ceremonies and past,  but here in Ritan I wanted my memories from childhood to dominate. I stood up finally and I started running around another bit bigger lake. I was running like I did it when I was 6. I was still running. Behind me was my brother. I was leading him around this lake, running over traces of my childhood, running over path over which I run and played so many times. I led him to climb over rocks which were standing next to lake. We passed through small cave and we climbed on top of rocks. I continued running towards stone bridge on another side of lake. I took him to bridge and I told him how I threw my bus toy into water there, when I was 3 and half old. No one, even me  didn’t knew why I did it that day long time ago.

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Before I left Ritan I came to check one more place. Small Luna park which was there, and it totally shocked me. When I saw it I realized that still there are few things that actually stayed same and completely unchanged in Beijing. Old wooden fence was still there which was almost falling apart. It was in same condition as when I was here first time in 1996. Benches were same- light blue and dark red  and they were peeled off and color was faded. On this benches parents used to wait me while I finished driving toy car. After few minutes I got used and I felt like that I visited it everyday. Full of impressions I left Ritan.

We were passing next to many foreign embassies, I passed next to US embassy. I remember how in beginning of May 1999 thousands of Chinese citizens were in front of that building protesting and expressing anger after American bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade. I tried to find silk market which was nearby their embassy. This market was one very chaotic place full of sellers, foreign and Chinese customers, thousands of clothes, smell of boxes and clothes. Most of foreign customers were Russians and Americans. But it wasn’t there. This market now isn’t anymore street market. All market was replaced into new modern building.  But still big crowd was in that building and full of foreign customers like before but I didn’t  want to stay shopping now. I left further on my trip.

Now we came to one of most modern, newest and most important parts of capital of China -. Beijing Central Business District (CBD.). It is situated in Chaoyang District. During 60ies and 70ies this area was like most of other undeveloped areas of Beijing where simply constructed brick buildings dominated. In 1978 new policy was initiated by Deng Xiaoping -Policy of opening of China and its economy towards world and creation of socialist market economy or building “ socialism with Chinese characteristics” Since that policy started, during 80ies.this area got importance. First modern buildings started to rise here. It became center of business and finance of Beijing and all China. Most important Chinese and foreign companies are headquartered here. Many most expensive hotels are here. Trade between China and other world is made here. Most important financial center in all China are Shanghai and Hong Kong but Beijing CBD isn’t much less important for foreign trade now. In this district development and urbanization of Beijing is most visible.  In middle of CBD 3rd Ring Road is situated. It is one of most important and busiest Beijing Ring Roads. Same like on Sanlitun there are many foreign embassies nearby CBD.  Here are also important diplomatic residential compounds such as Qi Jia Yuan and Jianguomenwai. This area especially after 2000 changed appearance of Beijing by new tall and modern skyscrapers. It is real forest of skyscrapers. Being here you are in one different world than in some garden or temple in Beijing or in some hutong area. I was passing on sidewalk of  Changan Avenue. It is major avenue and artery of Beijing. Changan Avenue goes through CBD until Tiananmen Square. It is probably one of longest and broadest streets in whole world. Thousands of cars are flowing in both directions like 2 rivers of cars.. My father was recording street with camera. Brother was amazed by tall buildings and with big interest he was looking at them. They were tall from around 100-120m to 330. CBD looks so modern and mighty. Specially interesting were LG twin buildings because of their unusual shape.  They were covered with blue glass. On top of them was biggest LG logo which I ever saw. Next to them were very  tall 2 or 3  rectangular buildings with shining black glass. I saw group of tall grey buildings which had approximately around 150m.. In front of them were 3 taller- in middle was one around 250-260m tall and on both sides was 1 190-200m tall building.  It is so called Yintai Center. This complex is one of most noticeable in all district and distracts your attention from other buildings on that side of street. In front of Yintai is China World Trade Center: important complex of offices, shopping centers, hotels and residential buildings and also conference halls and exhibition hall. Between 2 China World Towers (180m) there is China World Hotel.  China World Towers 1 and 2 with their shinning black windows were main among tallest buildings and one of main points of attention during 90ies in this district.

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But behind them since 2009 is tallest one and pride of Beijing CBD. It is China World Trade Center Tower 3.  It is 330m and is standing above every building here in Beijing, very proudly watching at them and touching grey smog sky. Its glass has light blue color. Over top floors are some kind of white steel bars going to roof. By trying to see whole building from bottom to top you start to feel pain in neck from moving your head behind with aim to see top. And your head is shaking from height when you try to see its top. Comparing to skyscrapers in Shanghai which I saw still just on photos this Tower 3 is not so tall. I continued walking through streets of CBD.  Behind Tower 3 are few tall dark green skyscrapers. A bit further is tall rectangular shape and light grey second tallest building (260m) in Beijing 260m. Behind her is Jing Guang Center- light  grey, building  in flat shape, which was tallest(208m) in Beijing in 90ies. I remember well that building. On another side of 3rd Ring Road ,behind few light  and dark green  rectangular buildings  is  CCTV Headquarters.  CCTV Headquarters are shining in its light grey glass with few tall anthenas. It is totally 234m tall and is specially looped shaped, having horizontal and vertical sections, creating an irregular grid on the building’s facade with an open center. It is one of most strange buildings of CBD with most modern way of construction and shape. In this streets between tallest and most modern skyscrapers. I noticed biggest advancement and development of modern and urban Beijing. This area definitely decisively shows development and improvement of China and how Beijing changed.  In CBD similarly like on Sanlitun not just buildings show prosperity of China but also high presence of middle and higher class citizens…

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So many expensive cars were parked here – BMWs, Audis, Porches, Land Rovers, KIA, Toyota, Hong Qi…  Most of them were black, white and metallic silver. Even one black Ferrari passed here. One of few which I saw in Beijing. Red light was on crossroad. Ferrari stopped. Driver was younger and  sitting inside proudly with sunglasses and fancy hair style which  modern young Chinese people often wear, which reminds on crest.  Probably he was returning from shopping from one of  many expensive malls in this district or returning to job after lunch break. Green light turned on-he disappeared with so big speed like that wind took him away or like thunderbolt which appears and disappears with extreme speed. People which were passing here were some businessmen in working suits.  There were not many of them as it was still working time. You could notice only some of them which in hurry were returning to job after lunch break. I saw  foreigners working for foreign companies here too. I got inside China World Shopping Mall. I noticed there many teenagers dressed in expensive fancy clothes. They had packages of Prada, Gucci, Dior, Burberry, Sephora  and other brands…

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Currently CBD is still under development. Now I remembered what guide told us during trip to Ming tombs about new projects in CBD and I will mention them now. In 5 year plan of CCP is included biggest and final expansion of this district. It means even bigger forest of tall skyscrapers will rise. One of them will be China World Tower 3B which is supposed to be tall 280m tall.  I saw basement of Tower 3B Under construction is already new pride of Beijing- China Zun, supposed to be tallest one in Beijing and all Northern China and third tallest in all China. It should reach height of 520m. China Zun should have spiral shape of ancient Chinese vessel for wine. It will be next to CCTV building. Windows will be covered by modern glass with self-producing energy with solar panels. Also 2 new parks in district will join already existing parks there. And one lake will be there. Main aim of CCP is to make more ecologically clean buildings and develop more clean and green Beijing. Zun is supposed to be finished in 2016. I saw machines for construction at place where China Zun should be…. Also I saw one skyscraper in distance which is still not completely constructed. Its shape reminds on standing raghbi ball. I hope I will visit this area after 2016 to see new even more modern and more interestingly shaped buildings., And tallest one of course.

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As I know there are many modern buildings in  famous Beijing Financial Street. In chapter about  Sanlitun I mentioned many other modernized areas of Beijing. Those areas experienced most rapid development in second half of 90ies and after 2000. One of most modern areas is Zhonguazun- Sillicium valley of Beijing and main technological hub. It is famous as main place for  shopping of technological devices. Samsung, LG,A pple, Sony and Lenovo  all of them have shops there. Buildings there are not very tall, tallest one is 160m,but are interestingly and modernly shaped. It isn’t only composed of shops and pedestrian area but of offices too, where this technological companies have their representatives. I was thinking before coming here if I should visit Zhonguazun also because things which I saw on internet and what I read attracted me to see this modern area in real, but I decided that my time and attention I should devote to other places. But when I will come to China for a bit longer I want visit it definitely.

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Simply everyone who passes through Beijing or who visits dozens of other most modern cities of China, who is travelling by Chinese speed trains, who sees Chinese airports, who travels across China over modern highroads, can realize that period that just USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea are famous for their development, technology, rich people, modern lifestyle and fashion is coming to an end. On world scene is appearing new actor- China…  At beginning of XIX century great French leader and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said “ China is a sleeping giant. When she awakes it will shake the world.”[3] It seems that he was right completely. Today China is world second largest economy, world biggest manufacturer, world largest exporter and second largest importer. It has world second largest military budget, largest army and world third strongest army in world.  China and its rising strengthens position of China in world and shakes it peacefully… China overtakes mentioned countries in technologies for production of various goods, robotics, IT, highways, bridges… China has fastest speed trains in world and largest network of fast rails which was built for very short time.  China is one of biggest consumers of various types of energy resources. China is developing more ecologically clean sources of energy and building solar panels across country.    I already spoke about improvement of living standards in chapters before. Simply Big Red Dragon is awake, standing strongly and proudly on world scene.  It is better to say that it is standing again and that China is not overtaking but retaking leadership in many aspects in world. I say that because for thousands of years China was leader in civilization and various discoveries which were discovered in Europe few hundreds even thousand years later. So China is just returning to position number 1, where it belongs. All this is achieved thanks to Chinese Communist party which saves China, leads it to bright future and realizes Chinese Dream for its people.

1 Vladimir Malyavin, 2007, Confucius

2 Vladimir Malyavin, 2007, Confucius

[3] Goodreads-  http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/875112-china-is-a-sleeping-giant-let-her-sleep-for-when

China: My Way, My Story 5- Two Palaces of Beijing

China: My Way, My Story 5- Two Palaces of Beijing

“ Beigongmen.Beigongmen” Here I am at same station as yesterday… I got on surface. There are 2 differences between this day and previous one.  My path wasn’t supposed to be through Xiangshan again and sky wasn’t so pure. Smog fell down over Beijing like curtain which is hiding sky and sun.  But weather was so hot and wet. It was hard to breath that day and to move. This time my trip leads me to Summer Palace. Chinese name is Yihe Yuan, and it means  Gardens of Nurtured Harmony. It is complex of imperial gardens. Gardens are dating back from XVIII century which were built by Qianlong emperor.  Summer Palace was built with aim for emperor to  have rest and enjoy in wonderful scenery.

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It is large beautiful garden where you have China in small- imitations of architectural and gardening styles which exist in other parts of China. Emperor wanted to have such garden so he can at the same time enjoy something what reminds on beautiful sites and gardens from other areas of China while he doesn’t have to go too far. But at the same time to symbolically show power and rule over all China, to show that by walk he can come to site which represents different parts of China and emphasize that he is ruler of everything of Middle Kingdom- Son of Heaven. So at one of main entrances of palace there is street which seems like that it was brought directly from Suzhou.  As I heard Suzhou is one of most beautiful cities in China in Zhejiang province. It is also known as Venice of East. Between houses are canals through which main transport are traditional wooden boats which are moved by rowing. Houses are white or light grey, with grey roofs with jagged edges. Red, blue or yellow lanterns are hanged on roofs or walls. This town is famous for pavilions and gardens. Gardens have ponds which are full of lotus flowers and goldfishes. There are few other similar towns-  Tongli and Wuzhen in Zhejiang province, Zhouzhuang in Jiangsu province.

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In ancient China these towns were symbol of economic and cultural prosperity. They were centers of trade and wealthy people.  These towns were also centers for scholars, education and arts.  After such description  maybe someone would think that I was in Suzhou. But no I was in Suzhou Street -name of that part of Summer Palace, which is direct copy of Suzhou in architecture and general looking of area. Walk between canals and this houses and you would be able to imagine Suzhou of XV or XVI century. Place looks beautiful and I can imagine that it is even more romantic during night when beautiful red or yellow lanterns would reflect in water, while I would drink tea in one of pavilions and watch on boats passing and rows touching water slightly dissolving reflection of lantern lights in water. I climbed upper on one pavilion where I was playing with plastic Pikachu toy when I was child. I was watching at canal and boats. Now I came down and continued  walking between houses next to canal. I was trying not to pay attention  on modernly dressed Chinese or foreign tourists with their modern cameras. I started to follow sound of flute which was heard and   I tried to imagine old China, without anything modern here. Following finished, I reached  old man dressed in traditional black cotton clothes. He was in small shop and he was flute player and seller. He was bald but he had long white beard. That’s how musicians and artists in China in past looked like.

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I wanted to stay much longer in Suzhou Street but I had to continue across wooden bridge, and to climb Longevity Hill.  It is highest place in Summer Palace. I was climbing over steep and tall stairs towards temple.  Here was scenery which was supposed to imitate area of Tibet- Holy Chinese land. I was never on Tibet but while climbing Longevity Hill I could imagine how Tibetan monastery looks like. Tibetan style monastery on Longevity Hill is called Temple of Buddhist Virtue. Climbing over stairs was hard but I handled it. Monastery had few golden color roofs and white walls and windows with red cover. It partially reminded on Zhao Miao Temple where I was day before. Over entrance door was blue board with golden 3 Chinese symbols, which almost every pagoda, temple and pavilion has. I am still climbing and watching on few small pagodas, They are white with stepwise walls and roofs with golden rounded tops. When I achieved top of hill I passed between these pagodas and trying to avoid big crowds of tourists. I focused on view. I was watching over brown roofs of temple. Through very dense smog which was very low hills, and Xiangshan were visible.

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On another side, there was tall Yu Feng Ta Pagoda built between X and XII century.  Pagoda was visible despite of very big smog. I passed around Duobao pagoda, smaller glazed pagoda.  It has free stepwise roofs, and is colored in green and orange glazed Buddha statues- there are hundreds if not thousands of them. Duobao is nice pagoda but when you look around your attention takes another one-biggest and tallest point on Longevity Hill.  This pagoda is known as- Tower of Buddhist Incense Pagoda.  It is not just tallest one here but widest one too. It has 3 orange roofs which have green edges and on top is golden peak. This pagoda is visible from every part of palace. After watching pagoda I decided to go on another side of hill and palace. I was going down on path between many tall pines. I watched around while I was going down… Over biggest part of area extends very large lake. Its Kunming Lake, named as capital of Yunnan province.  Because of foggy weather water seemed grey and had similar color as sky. Lake was full of small boats. In the middle is small island with pavilions which are visible from hill . Long stone 17 Arch Bridge extends from island to shore of the lake. I like scenery of Kunming Lake. While going down I remembered how in this area between Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake I took so many pictures with Chinese children. When I was child I had very curly hair and because of that I was real attraction for Chinese. Their parents asked my parents if me and their children can take photo. It was always funny and I still remember it with smile.

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In the bottom of hill is big and tall paifang composed of 3 arches with tops colored in blue, green, golden and other combinations of colors, grey roofs with edges which remind on dragons heads. That construction is standing on tall red pillars, which are at the top blue and colored in different paintings. All this side of shore is full of pavilions. One of them is called Marble Boat or Qin Yan Fang, built on Kunming Lake by Qianlong emperor. Later it was destroyed by imperialistic British and French troops in 1860 in Second Opium War and at end of XIX century it was reconstructed on initiative of empress Dowager Ci Xi. She was empress between 1861   and 1908 until her death and was most powerful empress in all history of China. She invested much in this palace and in boat. Boat was made from white marble  and determined for having rest and enjoying scenery around. When you look at it, it seems like ordinary boat but for someone it can seem strange that how it stands on water if it is from marble. It stands because it has basis underwater on the bottom of lake. This basis provides stable standing of boat on surface and falling under water is avoided. Nearby are few canals, pavilions and one tea house where ancient Chinese music is played. I wanted to have a tea there and look around these pavilions a bit more. But I don’t have time on that side same as I don’t have time for going on another side of Kunming Lake  and to pass around lake over stone path between hundreds of willows like I did once with Milica and Danica in 2000. That day we made all circle around lake and  we went over 17 Arch Bridge to small island.. If I wanted to follow my planned route I had to go. Sometimes you always see some pavilions and bridges in far and you cannot reach them if you want to see something else that you planned before. I am continuing through Long Corridor -roofed corridor with red pillars with dark blue beam which connect pillars on top and under roof. Beams are decorated with paintings of cranes, sceneries from nature and gardens and people in traditional clothes. Appearance of this corridor reminds on roofed circled corridor which goes around pond in Xiangshan about which I wrote.

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But Long Corridor is very long (720m ) and it has 14 000 different paintings on beams. I am passing through corridor. On the right side is Kunming Lake. On the left are pavilions and  inner gardens, decorated with lianas which are spread over roofs and walls. In these pavilions and inner gardens people were: sitting on benches , having rest, eating chips, sweet sausages and drinking tea. While walking I was watching up on paintings. It seemed like it is never ending corridor as end  wasn’t visible from almost any part of corridor. While walking just more and more paintings above me and more and more pavilions on the left side were appearing.  For me after Suzhou Street this Corridor is one of most impressive places in Summer Palace. Corridor took me to Benevolence and Longevity Hall. In front of hall there are bronze statues of cranes, peacocks, phoenix,, dragons, lions and one qilin statue. Qilin is  Chinese legendary unicorn from mountains. All of mentioned beings have important place in Chinese symbolism. Here were hundreds of tourists: speaking, walking around and taking photos.

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I got out of palace what I saw I saw.  Despite that I saw a lot I felt sorry that I couldn’t stay longer in Yihe Yuan.  I went back to metro. After few stations I went out again and I was approaching another palace- Yuan Ming Yuan (Gardens of Perfect Brightness).  It is another palace where emperors spent their time. In Western world it is more known as Old Summer Palace.  It is large amazing complex of lakes, gardens, lotuses, goldfishes, trees, pavilions and bridges. Today this palace wasn’t so overcrowded like Yihe Yuan  but it was also too big to see everything without detailed and slow walk.  It’s a bit calmer and more romantic than previous palace. Old Summer Palace is composed of 3 big lakes with gardens- Garden of Perfect Brightness, Garden of Eternal Spring, and Elegant Spring Garden. Area is 5 times bigger than Forbidden City. I was passing next to one of this 3 big lakes but I am not sure which one it was. Over wooden bridge on small island behind willows was beautiful pavilion, one of hundreds which are  there.  On my surprise it was really silent and few people were nearby.  It was too hot and it was too steamy and hot wet air was drying out from you all possible fluids.

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After short rest and one lemon ice tea I continued to walk around one of 3 lakes. Lake was surrounded by a lot of trees with big green trunks and green reed on its edges. There was wooden bridge leading to small island. Under trees on small island there were yellow wooden houses covered with straw roofs. Such houses are typical for Yunnan or Hainan. Scenery seemed slightly tropical and reminded me on south China, on Yunnan or Hainan provinces. Wet air additionally made such atmosphere. That’s how I would imagine day somewhere in middle of Yunnan. Only difference between these houses here and real houses in Yunnan was that no one lived in these houses here, not anyone from Han Chinese or various minorities from Yunnan. These houses here were just copies of real existing. As you see in Yuan Ming Yuan there is also emphasizing of emperors rule over whole China as there are sceneries which are determined to look like far parts of China.

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Now I was standing on one bridge. On left side of lake was one pavilion where were sold cold drinks. I watched one old wooden boat which was floating over big lake. It reminded on scene from some past times in China somewhere very far from all other world. Such scene – standing on bridge and watching at old wooden boat could remind on some legend of warrior going to war on his boat. Or on some romantic love story from ancient times, a couple standing and watching at boat. Or it could be story about fisherman on boat. But reality was much different. This wasn’t any ancient century and man in old boat who was rowing wasn’t village fishermen as he looked like in simple dark blue cotton clothes and straw south Chinese hat. He was searching if some rubbish would appear to clean it. Moreover it  wasn’t south China but imitation of it. And last thing even this old place was changed since last time I was here. In 2001 there still existed small zoo. Zoo was located behind houses from Yunnan and there were a lot of ducks, chickens, emus, donkeys, swans and gibbon monkeys on trees. These monkeys were shouting and jumping like in tropical jungle in south China or even in jungle of Indonesia. I was very afraid when we used to go to this zoo as I thought that all this ducks, swans and monkeys want to attack me. But still I liked to go there. In past my first associations of Yuan Ming Yuan was this place with animals. Now as adult I saw this place in deeper and  more significant way but still I wanted to see this zoo  which reminds on my childhood . But it wasn’t there, no single chicken or emu, no single monkey, nothing stayed here. They totally changed this part of garden. Yuan Ming Yuan made great impression on me this time because of significance of this place for Chinese culture and history.

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Now on my daily plan only remained one part of this amazing palace to see, which is sometimes better not to see. It reminds on sad part of Chinese history and big injustice which colonial empires did to this great land which has much longer history and oldest civilization. So this part of palace where I came now is known as European Palace or Western Mansions. Emperor Qianlong wanted to have part of his palace with lakes, fountains, decorations and architecture which will remind on European gardens like Versailles in France, Shonbrun in Vienna, Petergof in Russia or various gardens across all Italy. Qianlong Emperor wanted to have something what rulers of powerful European monarchies and states had.  Therefore he employed Italian architect Giuseppe Castiglione to project his gardens in European style. Many stories say that this European style gardens were very beautiful and that this combination of European and Asian gardening made Yuan Ming Yuan to be amazing and very specific place. Unfortunately I couldn’t be witness of it, like many other Chinese or foreign people which came here. It is like that because you cannot be assured in beauty of something what doesn’t exist anymore. For this we should thank colonial empires, to those who wanted to write history of China. In this their writing they deleted this beautiful place. They destroyed it in severe canon bombing. Briatain and France at that time controlled half of world- Africa, India, Indochina and in semi-colonial way China.

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China didn’t gave up to them completely. They exploited people and raw materials from this countries.  They were often proudly considering themselves above colonized countries and their people. Even in relation to China, which has many thousand years longer history and older culture than they have, country which used powder, paper money, typing machine, and compass few thousand years before it was discovered in Europe they behaved like that.  Who gave them right to do this to country with such history and civilization??? They by themselves, because they were in XIX more strong than China, which was isolated from Western world where  new advancements appeared, industrial revolutions and new way of producing, modern armies with new weapons. China didn’t followed this trends because it was self-sufficient. Colonial powers used their strength to try to colonize China completely and distribute its large land and wealth between them.

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In 1860- Second Opium War, China rejected buying opium from France and England which were harvesting it from colonized India. It became reason of war. British and French armies had more modern and better equipped armies. That caused their victory and with aim to frighten China and show their power they destroyed this palace like many palaces and temples they destroyed and robbed. They bombed and destroyed all palace, fountains and statues … English and French soldiers stole all what they could all ancient treasures, decorations, vases and statues and brought it to their homes as war trophy. Only what remained from Western Mansions, what I saw was mess of white pillars and arches from pavilions and parts of palace. Many of pillars are still standing while some pillars are on ground. It really looked sad, so much people watching and walking around this empty and dead place. It looked like some ghost town or post-apocaliptic world., especially on this foggy day. Like ruins of some rich and advanced civilization, which ceased to exist after some disaster.  I passed through one stone maze which stayed preserved. It is called Huang Hua Zhen. Maze  is in circled shape and seems complicated and easy to get lost but in fact isn’t . It leads to the  white pavilion which is in middle of maze and in good condition. That pavilion is rare thing which remained from Western Mansions. But I didn’t felt very good here.  While sitting in pavilion  nearby were visible pillars of destroyed pavilions.

As a conclusion of my visit of these 2 large palaces in one day I can say that one day isn’t sufficient to know them completely.  I also regretted because day wasn’t sunny. If it was sunny both palaces would look even more wonderful. Next time I want to devote 2 days for 2 palaces. One day I want to spend completely in Yihe Yuan- to pass around lake and over 17 Arch Bridge, to check every corner, every pavilion and to review it in detail… Another day I want to spend in Yuan Ming Yuan since dawn till dusk and calmly walk through this great palace. .  

 

China: My Way, My Story 4- Paradise on Earth( Xiangshan)

China: My Way, My Story 4- Paradise on Earth( Xiangshan)

“Beigongmen, Beigongmen,” Automatic Speaker in metro repeated. .Metro arrived on that station.  I am heading towards exit of  metro station, through sea of the people. It is hard to find more overcrowded   place than metro stations as some people  are going in metro while other are going out from metro at the same time. People are in hurry to get into metro like that it is last train going or like that if they skip one they lost their life chance to catch one. Same rushing continues inside train when people are trying to catch free place for sitting. Everyone tries to be faster than you just to catch free seat. If you are older person or pregnant woman people will give their sit to you. In China like in all world today you must be strong and stand for your place, in train, in bus, at street, in life. In today world if you want to survive and have your seat you must be tough and never to give up. You must be priority to yourself. You must stand for yourself and for your own goals. In China there exists Gaokao state exam which every year millions of Chinese students want to take when finish high-school. To achieve good results in Gaokao they need to study more than 15 hours daily to get chance for more appreciated university which will provide them chance for more paid job and better life. Gaokao brings fairness and equal chance for everyone in Chinese society. Exam can take any student which belongs to rich, average or below average family. It means that any student has chance to be successful and get on prestigious university and later have well paid job. Simply it gives chance for everyone who takes exam to get in elites of Chinese society. Therefore spending so much hours learning shouldn’t be useless. For higher position in foreign or Chinese company or position in government competition is very high and only best of the best can get there. You must be always on alert and careful not to lose your chance. Even when you already have job in todays world stress doesn’t disappear and time for relaxing in this fast world is very limited. Such stressful daily life and hardworking requires some place where you can relax and feel yourself with energy after hard working week.

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Entrance gate to Xiangshan area

On such place I am going today. After metro ride I took bus 696 , after advice from one man which was on bus-stop and  came to us to ask if we need help. He smiled when he heard that we are from Serbia. His first associations were” Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Tito very good, NATO aggression, Kosovo”. He didn’t seemed on first view that his English is not so bad. We exchanged few words with him. That’s what I like among Chinese people that they are always smiling to foreigners and offering to help you if you need to get right direction. I was in bus now. Well I couldn’t believe at that moment where I was going really, it was so unreal and unimaginable for me- to Xiangshan Gongyuan or in English Fragrant Hills Park. It is very beautiful area of hills, lakes, gardens, villas, temples, pavilions…Fragrant Hills are part of Western Hills located 20km from urban Beijing. This area probably got such name because of smell of incense which are burnt in temples- even its peak is called Xianglu Feng( Incense Burner Peak).

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Villa and garden at the entrance

It was place where Emperor could spend free time enjoying in gardens or hunting in hills or attend religious ceremonies in some of temples there. Except Xiangshan on Western Hills are located other important areas such as Botanical Garden, Ba Da Chu, Yu Quan Pagoda and nearby is Summer Palace too. I can say that Xiangshan is one of my favorite places not just in China but comparable to other countries and among one of most beautiful places which I ever saw. I love this place because of its beauty, its peace and calmness but also because of amazing memories which connect me to this place.

This place is great because almost all history of China is present there- from Jin dynasty ( 12-13th centuries) including  Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, period of Republic and events related to Civil War and communist victory. During story you will realize what I am speaking about.

I got into park area through main gate. Inside was inner garden, small pond, bridge over small pond  and red residence buildings. This was one of residences of emperor when he was coming for hunting. Day was amazing, very hot and very sunny and sky completely pure and azure. Even single white cloud was not present at sky.  It’s a place where you can finally have a rest out of city and place which is not so big tourist attraction and  not commercialized. This place isn’t famous as Forbidden City, Ming Tombs, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven… It is more specific than Beihai park or some other parks and temples in middle of Beijing which are very old and interesting but they are in middle of city. Xiangshan area is out of city and that’s what gives it special charm and is not overcrowded by people. It is not on list of 5 most important things which tourists and travelers go to see. Here come those who want to meet and understand China deeper and its ancient value. Because of this calmness there this place becomes more mysterious and unique.  Overcrowded and most visited parks and temples in Beijing lose that mystery when they are seen by everyone possible. Such less visited places are better preserved when they are hidden from millions of eyes. Those who experience it will understand me. Even when you meet groups of other walkers there they are more peaceful and calm than noisy groups of tourists in other places.  Only period of year when Fragrant Hills are overcrowded by visitors is October when people attend Red Leaves Festival. It is a famous festival during which thousands of people come to see trees covered with red autumn leaves. People like to watch on hills which become red from so much trees covered by red leaves. I attended that festival once in October 2000 and that’s only time in my life that I saw so much people in Fragrant Hills…

During weekends some people like to come here individually to have rest from daily life, busy city, other people, and just to be in nature, and with their own thoughts and enjoy peace. It is not necessary to speak how much air is more fresh and healthy in this highland area. Some of people come early in the morning with their small music players and listen to Chinese traditional music, walk, sit in some pavilion or on grass, and listen to slow wind, birds, watch at leaves, lotus flowers, drink tea or simply they experience peace. I have a feeling that here they experience biggest possibility of doing nothing, having rest, and being in their own world. If I lived in Beijing I would be coming every weekend there to just forget everything what worries me and my daily life. Here I want to be only me and nature, peace and relaxation. Sometimes I think that when I come here I don’t need anything else than this place around me, listening to silence and drinking plum juice and that’s all what I would need for all weekend. Some peaceful music for tai chi would be good. It wouldn’t be bad if some other traveler would interrupt me for short to exchange few words. On such places people that you meet are very friendly and happy when they see that foreigner came here to feel true spirit of China. If someone knows best, what to do for long and healthy life than these are Chinese people, because they know how to make tranquility for mind and body at the same time and how to live in harmony and respect with other people and  nature. Chinese people did it more than few thousand years ago. If it was good at that time it should be now. That’s why once a week going here is necessary I think to stand not easy life full of competition, crowds and noise in one of biggest world metropolis where around 20 000 000 people live- Beijing. Tai Chi is good for this inner and outer balancing and it makes you to feel healthy and calm.

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China is so big and I am sure that there are at least hundreds similar places hidden behind hills where you can devote time to such thoughts. They are hidden and you must discover them like you must discover and understand traditional Chinese spirit and way of life and to discover mentioned values of peace and balance. I am happy that I discovered one place like that.  This is something on what I didn’t paid attention when I was coming to Xiangshan to play and have fun as a child. But even at that time I felt calm and safe there I felt that I could run and jump as much as I want and no one will tell anything to me and car wont hit me what can happen on busy city streets if you are not careful.

I was thinking on mentioned things while I was sitting on rock under willow tree next to Jingzui Lake. Behind me was pavilion with, red pillars and grey roof, where were 3 people playing on ancient Chinese instruments. While playing they spoke very silently. I listened to them, to nature, peace, silence and   some bird which still remains mystery for me since childhood, some kind of gale probably. Its mysterious sound was echoing from hills around and slightly interrupting silence and soft sounds of Chinese traditional music. Except 3 players there were just one woman on another side of shore and 2 people practicing tai chi under trees nearby.  Only few people passed next to me. Everyone was calm. My parents even my brother became silent too. I watched at green water of lake, reflection of willow leaves in it, beautiful lotus flowers which were blossoming. Then I watched on hills behind lake, on blue sky, shinning sun, than on ground, on stone path which leads between green trunks to lake from direction of entrance gate of park. Slight wind which suddenly appeared didn’t move lotus flowers almost at all, maybe slightly and they remained to stay toughly on surface of lake.  That slight wind was slowly moving willow leaves and it was cooling me. Willow branches and soft wind protected me from strong sun passing between willow leaves but they allowed sun to pass enough to warm me. Even lakes name Green Tranquility Lake or Jingzui Lake emphasizes what you should do here: to have rest and enjoy in beautiful nature.

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My favorite spot at Jingcui lake

Half an hour passed and  I had few drops of plum juice and still I didn’t moved from that place.  I was still sitting and relaxing. I could stay here all day… If it was spring it would be even more perfect with pink and white blossoming flowers on trees.

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My avorite spot under willow next to Jingcui

Suddenly I remembered how on same lake many years ago me, Milica and Danica ( my Serbian friends in China) used to catch tadpoles.  We experienced amazing games here as children. We used to climb on rocks and hills around Jingzui Lake. Once I fell in lake when I was running away from big hornet which tried to bite me. During cold winters we were walking over frozen lake.

I am continuing my trip, and speaking what I saw around. There are few places on Xiangshan where I felt similarly like here next to Jingzui Lake, even through slow walks. Now stone path is taking me through hills between pines and cherries to Mao Zedongs residence and one of old PLA headquarters- Shuangqing Villa. On road I saw few exercisers of tai chi and few walkers. Next to villa is pond and small pavilion next to pond. In that villa Chairman Mao lived and commanded PLA troops in last years of civil war before victory of communists. In front of villa  was large billboard with flag of Chinese Communist party. At entrance of villa was Maos large black and white portrait. Inside were few chairs, table, teapot and one room for conferences… Few Chinese traditional calligraphic paintings were on walls. Maos private room looked modest: simple wardrobe, shelf, bed, shoes and his famous grey coat.  From this place Mao was coordinating last battle and liberation of Beijing from hands of Kuomintang, in winter 1948-1949. That battle brought communist victory and setting order in China. I climbed on mound in front of pound where Chinese flag was proudly standing under sun and pure blue sky. I took a look behind. There was bunker in hill.  Bunker was determined for hiding from airstrikes of Kuomintang.  Two older women were sitting next to flag and staring at me curiously. I looked straight at pond. .Next to pond where exercisers:  group of older ladies which danced with green and red fans waving in rhythm of music. Flashes from past passed  through my head: I remembered on running around pond as a child  and  on one old carved statue of Buddha in white stone  which was next to villa  and which used to attract my attention when I was child but also today.  I came in front of statue. Dark green liana was covering  wall around Buddha. Sun rays were falling on them. It looked so puzzling.  Origin and age of this statue remains mystery for me.  While I was watching at stone Buddha I felt like that I was here everyday 12 years, but at same time it was unbelievable that I am again in my life on one of my favorite if not favorite places, my Xiangshan. We continued up on path from stone towards remains of Fragrant Hills Temple- oldest temple on Xiangshan built during Jin dynasty… It was destroyed and burnt by colonial British and French imperialistic troops. This temple was oldest construction at Xiangshan dating from 12th century. Unfortunately only few stones, base and pieces of pillars  remained. On some remains were carved scriptures of Chinese symbols. I watched at beautiful hills and I saw few pavilions in far… We came to have rest at peaceful place in shadow, under white pines in small pavilion. Tall pines and pavilion roof produced good shade for relaxing and having rest after walking on such high temperature.

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After short rest trip continued. We went down further to visit other parts of this place. During going down from higher parts of hill me as child  and my father used to run away from mum and brother and shout “Bas nas dva briga” or “We don’t care about you”. It was funny game which we played always when we were going down in this part of Fragrant Hills. Next to that path was small canal with small stream, where we used to put leaves into stream as we played that this are boats and were competing whose boat will be faster… Path took us, to one grass field  which was next to flower gardens. Gardens were full of red and white roses.  Many years ago me and my brother used to play and lie on grass here. Often we used to play anaconda catching and killing man, he was victim of course. We used to play that while parents were having rest in nearby pavilion.

We went for lunch in one of our favorite Chinese restaurant which totally didn’t changed since 2001, and food was amazing and delicious. After great lunch we  continued trip. Next important place was pond in front of remaining walls and hall of Zhao Miao Temple ( Bright Temple) build by Qianlong emperor in 1780. It was built with aim to be residence for sixth Panchen Lama during his visits to Beijing. It was Tibetan style lamasery with white walls, red covers of windows, golden brown roof, and high stairs  which take you towards red door in the middle. That’s  visible from this what remained. In 1900 it was destroyed by English and French colonial armies. It was part of their surpassing of Boxer Rebellion. “Who gave them right to make such harm to this holly temple, to culture and tradition in Chinese land”, I asked myself. They did it, made harm to  this old civilization which blossomed for few thousand years before they even existed.  As a children me, Milica and Danica called this Zhao Miao Temple –“Castle of Ghosts”  because it looked scary for us. At that time it had faded red walls and entrance of the corridor in middle of hall was open. Dark corridor which was leading to inner garden was very scary. At end of corridor was always visible mystical light from sun which was falling into inner garden and passing through dark corridor. We often imitated sounds of ghosts here. Once one Chinese man replied through corridor with similar sounds, we were scared but still we continued going in through corridor to  inner garden.  Garden was surrounded from inner side by grey burnt and damaged walls. Especially it was frightening at dusk when parts of temple looked even more mystical and strange because red rays from sunset were falling on roof and door and tall paifang which was in front of temple.

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Zhao Miao Temple is under reconstruction now. As I said bigger parts of main wall and hall are recolored in original white, behind I saw new walls which were excavated in recent years still not reconstructed- more walls which were around inner garden of temple.  Except history of this temple on guide board which was standing next to temple it was written that plan is that it will be completely reconstructed until 2018 or 2020.  Pity that inner garden was closed this time  as I would like to walk inside again. Who knows what will workers and scientists find during excavating and reconstructing temple. I am sure that under destroyed walls are interesting bronze or jade statues of Buddha or some other religious subjects. Also probably there can be found out interesting carved stone Buddhas hidden under ruins.

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Sounds of mysterious bird were all the time present and were following us during walking through this area. Some stairs which lead down from Zhao Miao Temple were taking us to small pond with old white stone bridge in middle. Over that bridge we used to run and chase each other when we were children- Me, Milica and Danica. We  were often sitting under apricot tree next to pond, and telling stories about ghosts, Serbia, China, Pokemons, airplanes, fishes, frogs. Mine and their parents were speaking nearby too. At that time my small brother Dushan used to run around pond and he tried all the time to jump into water to undo high temperatures.  I never wanted to imagine swimming in that dark green water, full of frogs. Once we caught one.  One Chinese man tried to explain us that this type of frog isn’t for eating, he had full package of frogs which he caught  for dinner in same pond. In China frog meat is considered as healthy and pure and as I heard from my father it reminds on chicken meat.

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When I speak about this sometimes it seems like that it was some other life.. It seems so far and mystical. I was so exhausted from so hot weather and after hours of walking I wanted to have a rest next to pond under apricot tree.  I was sitting for few minutes watching at pond, bridge,  on Bright Temple which was above stairs, behind wall and behind paifang.  There was no one except one fisherman and one older man who was lying under pine tree and one young couple sitting on bench next to pond. I was so nostalgic and  I wanted to stay here, wait for dusk, see sunset and red rays falling on paifang and Bright Temple and wait evening here like we did many times many years ago. But If I wanted to see other important places I had to go now.

I continued up towards green pagoda which remained almost undamaged. It was part of Bright Temple too. Pagoda was standing on one small hill above temple. Sun was hitting pagoda directly. Green glazed pagoda among hills under blue sky and under sun were interesting scenery. This pagoda is famous for those who know Xiangshan and is one of most common associations for Xiangshan. Next to pagoda I took picture with 3 Chinese boys which were very friendly when they saw red star on my hat. We went on another side of hill on which was pagoda. We went next to pond which was surrounded by rounded roofed corridor. Now we were sitting next to pond which was full of goldfishes. On both sides of passage are green pillars, connected with  blue and green decorative beams between them.  Beams had paintings of cranes and people dressed in ancient colorful clothes. Interesting was that each beam had different painting… Tall pines were reflected in water. It was peaceful and calm like 15 years ago. My father bought food for fishes, like in old days. We started throwing food – in shape of small balls. Bigger and bigger fishes were appearing on surface trying to catch food. In China taking care and feeding goldfishes has important place in their culture. Almost every .garden has smaller or bigger pond with fishes. I already mentioned that goldfishes are unseparable part of most of Chinese gardens. I enjoyed feeding them now like before as child and still curiously watching which one is bigger and which one is able to jump higher to catch food. When I was child I was even a bit  scared of them thinking that with their big mouths they can jump and swallow me. Some of them were big even more than 1 meter. Nearby us few people were drinking tea and enjoying nearby and some boys and girls fed fishes too.

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After feeding fishes we went towards Azure Clouds Temple or Buyin Si. It is a Buddhist temple from XIV century. I passed over stone bridge  between 2 smaller lakes. In one of lakes was reflected tall pavilion. Next to second lake  were tall stones with cave and waterfall. I came inside cave  and I was watching on bridge and pavilion through falling water. It reminded me on movies about ancient China, for example on some Kung Fu movies. I stayed here a bit  to take a shade and to enjoy drops of water which were falling on me and refreshing my body which was all sticky from sweat. After that I continued  towards Azure Cloud Temple.

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It is amazing  temple,  very specific ,silent and mystical.  Its entrance is protected by few meters tall and scary statues of guardians of temple. They have big strict and scary eyes, large heads, strong muscles , sword or spear ( determined for defense of temple).  According to traditional belief they have purpose to protect temple from evil ghosts. I am not sure from which material they were made. When I was coming here as child mother to calm down my unpredictable behavior had to tell me that  if I wont be silent they will eat me. This usually worked and made me to be most silent and polite boy during all visit of temple.  In first hall of temple is big brown statue of fat Chinese Buddha. He is watching tranquilly and around neck has chaplet ( determined for praying) made from big balls. Entering inner garden of temple influences your thoughts about peace and harmony like everything in this area. It was so quiet inside garden between halls of temple..

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Pillars and facades were red, roofs dark green and grey. Naturally there was pond with lotus flowers and goldfishes. Pond was surrounded by stone fence. On few trees were hanged red ribbons with written wishes. It is a typical Buddhist temple. But untypically silent and different than other temples in Beijing which are overcrowded and noisy.  Discovering this temple seems going back to some ancient century. In all Xiangshan you have feeling that you are in some different world, different than Beijing which isn’t so far. It seemed like that time stopped in Azure Cloud Temple.

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Few monks passed in dark orange robes.  In temple except monks were only few visitors sitting on grass or on stairs without making a noise. Sun rays were very specifically falling from sky between roofs  and through leaves on walls, stairs, trees and ground. It created very mystical atmosphere.  Buyin Si is so isolated and preserved from modern world. Because of walls around temple you feel like that you are in some other dimension.  That’s why if someone asks me what is my favorite temple that I saw I would say this one.  But I am sure that mountains of China are full of many other mysterious and silent temples.

 

Funny was one man with completely  naked sweated fat stomach who was sitting on ground   He was looking at me curiously when I was buying incense sticks. Me and my family were only foreigners in temple that afternoon. I burned my sticks and put them in incense burner- big metal container determined for burning of incense sticks. Burning incense sticks has long tradition in China. It is done for praying to deities and ancestors. It is way of showing respect and worshiping them. Ancestors have important place in Chinese families. Chinese people traditionally believe that ancestors deserve high respect and honors.

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I passed next to memorial hall of Sun Yatsen, first president of Republic of China  He was initially buried here. There is his big white statue in one hall.  I entered one mystical dark room in which light was only coming from small windows. In that room is collection of brown wooden statues of Arhats.  As it is said on board Arhats are those perfected in Buddhism, those who reached complete inner peace, complete harmony with themselves and with all other beings and nature.  There were also statues of Buddhisatvas and one statue of famous Buddhist monk Ji Gong.  It was unique atmosphere in this room. Something what I never experienced before. Like some secret place, like in some ancient time, some specific world.

I went through corridor towards peak of white Tibetan style- Vajrasana pagoda with few stepwise cupolas and golden colored rounded peaks. On top was main golden peak. Walls of corridor towards pagoda were decorated by carved Buddhas. View from top of pagoda, on afternoon sun and on all area of Xiangshan was very nice.

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After visiting Vajrasana pagoda we made circle around it through small forest. On road back from temple it wasn’t possible not to notice one special gingko tree and board about 3 generation tree. On that board was written that from same place were growing 3 trees- Chinese scholartree, cypress and gingko one after another and that each lived for several hundred years. Currently there is still alive for 300 old gingko tree. We went out from Temple of Azure Clouds. We continued climbing to another hill over walkway between bamboo and pines. After a lot of climbing, we came to one of viewpoints of Xiangshan..  This viewpoint provides nice view on hills and buildings of suburbs of Beijing. There is old  villa  next to viewpoint. In this villa emperor after hunting drunk tea and had fun with his concubines. Today part of this villa is closed for public while another part has function of small shop of cold drinks, chips and sweets. I was siting on stairs and drinking my favorite plum drink as I did many years ago.. Also I used  to shout and try to listen my echo from this viewpoint. Now I was just sitting and enjoying shade because finally sun was on another side of hill and was not chasing me anymore. Few  older walkers came and they just said “Hi” and smiled to me. I replied in Chinese: “ Ni Hao”  and they smiled even more.  They continued their path. These walkers just appeared and disappeared on path through pine forest. I saw their faces and forgot them. Like many other faces I saw in China. They were going back from Xianglu Feng (Incense Burner Peak) highest point of Xiangshan, which provides best view on all area.  Height of Xianglu Feng is 557m. As I heard from some people which have been there I know that on peak are two rocks which shape reminds on incense burners- that’s why this peak got such name. On photos that I googled I saw that this peak provides breathtaking view. From viewpoint of Xianglu Feng you can see even Summer Palace.  It takes 2-3 hours by walk to get to that peak but today isn’t day to go there. I never had luck to get there. When I was child parents though that I am too small for so much climbing that I would get nervous and bored… Today I gave priority to visit other places in area of Xiangshan. So if I wanted now to continue to Xianglu Feng night would catch me in forests of these hills.  There is also cable car which can take you up very fast but it isn’t point. I wanted to achieve peak of Xiangshan by myself. Reaching Xianglu Peak is my aim in next visit of Beijing when I will have more time. I am sure that I will be at Xianglu Feng once at least.

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Day was coming to an end we already went out through main gate. I looked back last time to main entrance to Xiangshan. This was first place of Xiangshan which I saw this morning after 12 years when I thought: “  am I really here??? Is it again in my  life?? That  I am again here??” Now its last place of Xiangshan which I see- I was thinking :“ Good bye my Xiangshan it was nice to see you again, thanks for refreshing memories from childhood and thanks for helping me to experience and understand China in some deeper way, appreciate and love this place even more. Hope to see you soon. ” I rushed fast to Botanical Garden which wasn’t so far from Xiangshan with aim to see one interesting place. I thought that all China can be discovered like that -Walking, having short rest, walking..  But as much hard as you try to be fast and travel all day to see everything what you planned you will be always late somewhere.  There will always be temple whose gates will be closed for you one day. I was standing  in front of closed red gate of Wofo Si ( Temple of Sleeping Buddha ) ancient temple famous for statue of Buddha which lies and sleeps..  It was on my plan for today to visit this silent and isolated temple.  I am standing in front of closed gate because I spent all day on Xiangshan. I didn’t had time to come to Wofo Temple before it was closed for visitors. By standing on fingers I was trying to see at least something inside. I saw, only few stairs, and some red door, and one grey wall. That’s all. Light wasn’t enough bright there to see everything better.  “What is behind that door?? Sleeping Buddha or room for praying or something else.??” It  remains mystery like all China . Watching through gate seemed like trying to see all China completely. Than I remembered that I was never on Xianglu Peak too.  So already two important things I couldn’t see today. Anyway I was happy that I saw so much what I wrote.

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China: My Way, My Story 3: Never ending path!

China: My Way, My Story 3: Never ending path!

China: My Way, My Story 2- Between Beihai, Jingshan and Shichahai

China: My Way, My Story 2- Between Beihai, Jingshan and Shichahai

I woke up. My first waking up in Beijing after 12 years. At the same time it seemed like any other usual Beijing morning but also it was unbelievable.  I was in bed sweat from wet hot air and watching in direction of window of room of apartment realizing that I am really in Beijing. It was untypically sunny for this period of year. No smog today, blue sky was visible and sun was cheerfully shinning.  I told myself: “Get out of bed Beijing is waiting for you”. While eating baozi for breakfast I was watching from window. From that side of building, sounds of cars and people on streets where not heard almost at all. Below  window was older residential block. I saw people in that alley who were going to job on bicycles or by walk until closest metro station. In far CBD was visible, part with tallest skyscrapers whose glass was shining on sun.

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After ride in metro we were there at one of main gates of Beihai Park. Finally there. “Was it real??” “After 12 years in 1 of my favorite places there”, I was saying in myself.  It was place where we took every guest from our family who visited us.

It is historical place, imperial garden from XV century. Emperors spent their free time in these wonderful gardens. Beihai Park is situated northern from Forbidden City. Beihai means Northern Sea in Chinese. It is garden with large lake and island in the middle. Area has significant number of pavilions, few temples, one pagoda in middle of island and few smaller gardens with pavilions and ponds. There are grass areas, many stone paths and various trees with green trunks under which you can hide from sun. Between trees and next to walkways there are morning exercisers of tai chi and other kinds of exercises and dances with traditional music. Even small colorful balls were used for different games and exercises. Usual exercisers are older retired people. Tai Chi is ancient Chinese practice composed of various exercises determined not just for physical but also psychical health.  With tai chi you can make balance between your mind and body become softer and with tai chi moves you can float through air but standing on ground. Except exercisers there are people who just came to relax and sit under some tree or on bench.

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Listening to traditional music and standing between willows which  branches are falling on the water, watching white pagoda which is across lake on small island, you had feeling that you are in some other time there somewhere in past much further past than 2001 or 1997 somewhere in XIX century for example. Sounds and life of modern streets which are not far from here were not heard at all. As I said Beihai Park is good place for relaxing or practicing tai chi. I was able to sit all day here on ground relying with back on some tree and watching big lake or some smaller pond in one of gardens there. Everyone is busy with his way of relaxing or exercising, no crowd no noise. That’s China which I missed the most- peaceful and old China full of friendly people around you. Perfect would be also sitting for example in front of old wooden temple which dates from 11th or 12th century which is also part of Beihai Park.  That temple is very mystical place from outside and inside too. From outside temple was all brown with few golden Chinese symbols over entrance.. Inside is not very strong light- half light, half dark, with figure of Buddha which is having inner peace what is visible from his face. This temple was one of favorite places of my father and both of us never believed that we will be ever again in this park and standing in front of wooden temple. I was sitting in front of that temple, drinking my plum juice from my childhood. I found that juice again in 1 shop at Qianmen day before, design of bottle a bit changed but red paper with green plums was  same, but most important its taste was same that famous taste of sweet and sour green plums. Despite fact that Behai is good place for relaxing there are other places which are better for that. These places are not in center of city and they  are less visited by people. Such places are even bigger mystery and even calmer than Beihai. More will be about such places later.

 

Not far from temple was dark blue wall with light yellow decorations of dragons-  9 Dragons Wall. Number 9 is most important and lucky number in China.  In ancient China it symbolized longevity and it was considered as imperial number. This 9 Dragon Wall is one of three such walls in all China. This wall is made from glazed bricks combined in 7 colors but most visible are those 2 which I mentioned.  These 9 dragons are playing in sky on both sides of wall. Such interestingly colored wall and shapes of dragons were always attractive for me since childhood.  It is amazing when you know how old it is and when you know how Chinese people were creative in architecture and symbolism. After looking around 9 Dragon Wall we had short rest next to lake in Five Dragon Pavilion. Each of 5 pavilions has dark green roofs with brown edges which are standing on red pillars. I remembered how on spring 2000 when my grandfather Ljubomir visited us, one afternoon we were sitting here and watching sunset. Falling of rays on water of lake made interesting combination of red rays  and dark green almost black color of water. I remembered on that afternoon while I was sitting in pavilion over white stone hedge with arches and carved decorations. Around pavilions and over lake were flying and beeping swallows same like that spring afternoon.

 

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Boat took us towards Jade Flower Island same like once it took us there to eat KFC on that island, which fortunately isn’t there anymore because it doesn’t distract attention in this historical and cultural place anymore. It was replaced by Chinese restaurant what is much more suiting for such traditional area. However this KFC was often visited by me and my father when we were going for hot orange juice and fries after  skating  on frozen lake around island during cold and long Beijing winters.  Jade Flower Island is not less peaceful and interesting than park around lake. Shore of island is surrounded by stone arch hedge, paths and few paifangs.

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One big pavilion is also at shore. One of paths which leads to top of island is roofed and above that path are beams which are standing on pillars. Beams are decorated with interesting paintings. I was going now towards famous white pagoda or Bai Ta  through temple garden between bamboo trees, over high stairs and  next to few souvenir shops,. I climbed into one bell tower in temple garden. I hit the bell and it made its mystical sounds which echoed through temple garden. Temple trees were decorated with red ribbons, and branches were almost not visible from them. These are ribbons on which wishes are written by  people and hanged on tree as according to traditional belief written wishes on ribbons hanged on trees in temple gardens should become true. I bought one ribbon and wrote my wish and I placed it on one branch among hundreds of other red ribbons. “Road to Heaven” Chinese patriotic song performed by Han Nong and Peng Liyuan(wife of current Chinese president Xi Jinping) was listened by exercisers next to path on small radio. That song describes train heading from Xining (Qinghai) to Lhasa (Tibet). It is first rail line connecting Tibet with other parts of China directly and one of highest if not highest in world.  I heard this song few times on You Tube. This song and area around were very specific combination. Maybe stairs leading to pagoda are also kind of road to heaven as on the top of island it looked like that pagoda is touching blue sky. Before Bai Ta stairs are taking you to one lower viewpoint decorated with roof. That viewpoint wasn’t enough high to see above trees. It was possible just to watch through leaves and branches. I continued through short tunnel decorated with carved Buddhas and one bigger statue of white stone Buddha.

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I approached Bai Ta. I am here on top of Jade Flower Island standing in front of White Pagoda. Sun,Moon and Flame are carved on surface of pagoda which are important symbols in Chinese culture and traditional beliefs.  From top of Beihai you can see all lake around you and all Beijing, blue sky over old and new Beijing. It looked interesting   bSAM_0151ut I knew for a place with more interesting view – Jingshan Park. It is another park which was part of imperial gardens. Before leaving Beihai I wanted to visit one special part of this park. It is set of amazingly beautiful gardens with small ponds, willows and pavilions next to them. I wished to visit it so much remembering how beautiful they are. I remember that in ponds lived goldfishes what is typical feature of Chinese gardening.  If you visit few Chinese gardens you will see that goldfishes in bigger or smaller ponds or lakes, pavilions, and willow trees next to pond or lake are main components of Chinese gardens. It is believed that goldfishes together with lotus flowers in pond or lake in your garden bring wealth, harmony and energy intro your life. Father often used to tell me about importance of goldfishes, lotus flowers and gardening in ancient China. But unfortunately these gardens were closed. It was written that they are under reconstruction. I hope next time when I visit Beijing I will have luck to get in there and sit a bit there to enjoy their beauty.

 

We left Beihai Park and we went to Jingshan Park.  That park is situated on north side of Forbidden City walls.  Most important thing in this park is high peak with viewpoint. Pavilion on viewpoint is visible from Forbidden City and Beihai Park as well. Amazing was that view from top of Jingshan park, from which you can see all panorama of Forbidden City, its roofs washed by afternoon sun.  White pagoda is visible as well. A bit farther are visible Great Hall of the People and also new opera house which is modernly designed and has shape of egg. Its light grey glass was shining under sun. In far were visible skyscrapers of Beijing CBD. All this your eyes can see from 1 single viewpoint. This  Jingshan Park has historical meaning as in middle of XVII century on one of trees last emperor from Ming dynasty hanged himself to avoid torture because rebels were chasing him. After that Ming dynasty was replaced by ethnical Manchu Qing dynasty, which  ruled over China and over majority Han population until dissolution of empire in 1912.  You can get this information about last Ming emperor on guide board which stands next to tree where he committed suicide. Jingshan Park has a lot of gardens, green trees and tall stairs which are leading to main viewpoint.  I liked this place during winter too. During my life in Beijing we visited it often and we were: watching ice figures- different figures of animals, buildings made from ice. They looked so realistically as they were very carefully designed. It was visible that during making them attention was given to every detail. They were similar to those made in Harbin( Heilongjiang province) which are made for biggest ice festival in world.

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I hope that once I will visit that festival. After watching ice figures we used to drink warmed orange juice and eat chips sticks with ketchup. In this park people were often making calligraphy with big brush dipped in water and they painted it on ground. Also it is place where many old people which experienced beginning of communism and Cultural Revolution are gathering to share their nostalgia for old times.  They were singing old communist songs here in choir. Most often was sung “East is Red”. Song which was almost like national anthem of China during Cultural Revolution period when Chairman Mao was mostly glorified.

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We left Jingshan and we went to Shichihai – complex composed of 3 lakes. It is not far from Beihai and Jingshan. We were walking around lake where many people were around you on path. Next to lake is nice and clean pedestrian area with many bars. It seemed that some of these bars were not ordinary bars but they were more expensive. I remember that beer which I had there cost around 50RMB. Almost every third bar was offering shisha for smoking.  Many people were sitting outside and smoking it. In China shisha was never typical but it seems that it became one of popular way of entertaining for young Chinese people. You could notice scenery from XVIII or XIX century nearby lake. Many hutong streets were there and Drum Tower was visible in far- red tower with dark green roof.

When you go through hutongs nearby lake you see that this are commercialized hutongs. Most of them are clothes or souvenir shops and coffee houses or tea houses.  When you get in these streets you see that traditional spirit doesn’t dominate because of so many tourists and people who came for shopping.  But still walking through them old spirit is felt in some part because of many traditional souvenirs which are sold there: vases, Buddha figures, traditional lucky frogs and turtles, Xian soldiers figures, CDs with traditional music, tea, cups for tea, teapots, traditional paintings with fishes, leaves, birds, tigers, pandas, bamboo and of course with dragon and crane.  They offered traditional clothes made from silk or cotton in different colors with classical Chinese decorations such as flowers or dragons. There also are sold many communist and patriotic souvenirs -flags, Mao Zedongs pictures, clock with Mao head, green hats with red stars, dark green bags…  Street food was sold there too. Some tea houses were in traditional style as well. But McDonalds restaurant is at the end of one street which leads to Drum Tower.  Presence of McDonalds restaurant changes impression of this old area. But anyway such combination of old and new makes this area specific and attractive and more about it I will speak later.

 

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Between Qianhai and Houhai lake( 2 of 3 Shichihai lakes) there is  one old white stone bridge, with traditional decorations and stone dragons heads  in middle of bridge. This bridge was border between mentioned 2 lakes. Larger lake is surrounded by sea of undiscovered hutongs.  I was standing on bridge and watching at sunset. Sun was becoming more red, its rays were falling on dark green water making golden color from water, rays  were passing between green leaves of trees which were on both sides of lake. Wooden boats with tourists were passing under bridge. This were things which I was watching while I was thinking on so many things…

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For concluding this day I will mention what I saw walking between this 3 areas. Between Beihai, Jingshan and Shichihai. When I walked from Beihai to Jingshan and from Jingshan to Shichihai I passed through real unchanged hutongs. They were not commercialized hutongs like those which I mentioned previously. There were no clothes or souvenir shops, no McDonalds and no bars. They weren’t overcrowded by people, customers or tourists which were taking photos of everything. These streets were calm with only 2 food shops. Old lifestyle was present here. Few bicycle drivers passed next to me. Many of bikes were parked near gates.  Gates were red some of them even faded and very old. Some of gates on both sides were decorated with 2 red typical Chinese lanterns. Few gates were open and inside were visible flowers and smaller trees in inner gardens of hutong houses.

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In one of inner gardens I saw old man who was sitting alone and playing erhu, ancient Chinese traditional instrument.  Through other opened gates were visible people doing some house and garden works. Gardening for Chinese people who live in hutongs is important hobby and way of life. In front of one gate was fixer of bikes in old faded clothes and was repairing wheel of one bicycle, working hard and sweating to earn money for his family. Houses here were grey with a bit dilapidated facades, but it is point. They should look like ordinary, like 100-150 ago. One street seller of fruits when we were buying bananas was friendly towards us. On few corners were groups of neighbors eating noodles and drinking Yanjing beer. I saw very friendly relations among people living in hutongs- eating together on streets, playing Chinese chess and everyone speaking and smiling to everyone. Simply their close relations were reminding me on friendliness and close ties among people living in villages in Serbia. That’s how life in old China looks like, those who will see it here they can conclude same as me. I was happy when I saw that old lifestyle and China which I remember didn’t die.

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I hope old lifestyle in this area will never die, that this area will never be changed and that these hutongs wont experience commercialization, opening of clothes shops, crowds, big attention of tourists, or in another case that all area will be completely destroyed and replaced by some modern shopping center or skyscrapers. That was destiny to many hutongs. I heard few times from some Chinese friends that this area is protected from any changes by state authorities. Old life style is more rare and rare.  It is fading like walls of hutongs but still exists and will exist.

 FOR FIRST PART CHECK- https://windowintochina.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/china-my-way-my-story-1-after-12-years-and-revisiting-of-tiananmen-forbidden-city-qianmen-and-sanlitun/ 

At Guangming daily- http://en.gmw.cn/2015-03/27/content_19672264.htm  here is last story but on right corner you can enter all previous stories and see all collection!!!

China: My Way, My story 1: First day after 12 years!

China: My Way, My story 1: First day after 12 years!

Short introduction: –  It is hard actually to say what is China. After my latest trip I can try to define it  as one specific world, one entirety of old and new. You will understand it, when you pass over hills, walk  through hutongs,  sit and relax in gardens, pavilions and temples, walk among skyscrapers, visit shopping streets , drink tea and taste food.  Every new day  there will bring you experiences which  will enrich your knowledge and views on this  large country,  oldest civilization and glorious nation.  Read about my observations on my trip in China and hopefully you will get what I mean. This my story shows my returning to Beijing after 12 years. I will talk just about this what I knew before, what I saw, what I heard and what I learnt during walking and looking around, reading guide boards, … Basically my perception on China (changes, various places, life, tradition and people ) will be here. If you read my story maybe you will understand this great country better and learn something new what you cannot find in media often. This story offers you guide to Chinese history, philosophy, food, tea, people and main historical and modern places in Beijing and around with their basic characteristics.

16 June 2013, 2:35am Chinese local time, we landed. Aeroflot airplane Boeing 767 reached Terminal 2 of Beijing airport. Nothing was visible except strong airport lights of terminal building, runway lights and many airplanes around you waiting for first morning flights. We proceeded towards terminal building through air-bridge. At the end of corridor were people- stuff of airport, passengers… Everything was new but at the same time old for me. New because long time I was not there and it was new experience in my recent life and old because once long time ago I already saw all this. Almost 19 years ago I landed by Aeroflot airplane at Beijing airport for the first time.

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There were so much details on airport:  many people waiting for police control, waiting their luggage, some of them sitting and watching their tablets, notebooks or sitting in Starbucks drinking coffee or in KFC eating hamburgers or drinking cola ,some of them sleeping on chairs without  shoes on their legs. I was sitting now and I was able to watch at them all night until morning. It wasn’t possible to be bored there thinking what new will wait me here in next 10 days. It seemed like that I didn’t need anything else at that time except looking around and preparing for leaving airport.

Hours were passing like days, I was expecting that morning impatiently, looking at the exit door through which was visible lighter and lighter sky and coming of dawn. This door seemed to me like door to China, place where my 10 day trip through Beijing and around will start. Well what I said start of some trip??? If I think better it will be big mistake if I say that trip to China starts at door of Terminal 2 of Beijing Capital International Airport, because airport is in China also so when you land with airplane and when you feel Chinese soil for first time maybe than trip starts. But I realized that this day isn’t start of my trip in China it is just returning to trip or continuation of one trip which started on 6th may 1996 when I stepped on Chinese soil as a small child. With that day my journey and 5 years of life in this at that time unknown for me country started. They were full of adventures, nice moments with parents and friends, trips, laughing, tears, crazy things, first childish “love”… I can differ years of my life in China and my returning there.  During my life there I was child and my mind wasn’t on that level to be deeper interested in China and to understand it completely. But anyway these 5 years determined my future life highly.  These 5 years taught me to treat every ethnicity or race equally and not to judge people on their religion or ethnicity. I lived in diplomatic compound and went to Russian kindergarten and later school where I met so many children from various countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan,   France, Algeria, Sierra Leone… These 5 years made me to become communicative person and person which can easily function in new unknown background.  I had some basic background about China, life and habits but it wasn’t deep. Since I left China in 2001 I read Malyavins books and watched many documentaries about China. That’s why I came to refresh memories which are fading and partially unclear like some dream but also to learn new things and to experience and try to understand China as an adult.  Because you cannot know anything so good if you don’t experience it by yourself simply if you don’t see it by your eyes.  Especially it is like that when it is learning about some country. I came to fulfill empty holes in my knowledge about China. This returning after 12 years is continuation of one road and one story which started in 1996. I will show here that for complete discovering of all China one life isn’t sufficient as it is too big and there is lack of time, simply there will be always temple which gate will be closed once and some hutong streets for which you wont have time to get in and research more.  That country has too much surprises and things which you never saw before and simply you will realize that one life isn’t sufficient even if you devote yourself to discovering China very much. I am here to try to understand contrasts between old and new or ancient and modern in this country, country which changes so fast but core stays the same.

 

At  6am and finally we  decided that we should go to search taxi. We got out through that airport door and finally that moment came which I was waiting for few hours. It was visible without street light now as it was already morning. At the moment when I got out of terminal building typical Beijing air hit me through nose. Foggy dawn full of smog was around me. That air of some strange and not very pleasant wet smell was in me again after 12 years. Maybe you will think that I am crazy when I speak about this air but such air is during summers often here and if you like Beijing this air must remind you on that city. Those who know what I am speaking about they will understand what I mean. You don’t have to like it but it is like that , without this air you cannot experience Beijing. Million taxi cars surrounded us and drivers started calling for customers. Everywhere here was heard “Hello”, “Taxi”…

Driving on  modern highway which connects airport and city was amazing. Highway wasn’t still full with cars as it was still early dawn and beginning of one story or better said continuing of 1 story which started long time ago in similar way like this day started- from airport to city. Passing through this road, watching trees and later buildings which were on both sides of road it was like something already seen but still that feeling makes you to feel stunned, as  it seemed that I am returning to past or living it again. Such feeling I had especially when I recognized tall buildings in distance: famous Kun Lun Hotel and Capital Mansion- tall grey building. They were visible despite of big fog. Through forest of tall buildings and broad streets we reached building where our apartment is. After dealing with owner of apartments Mr. Sun we got out again. It was around 7am now. Street seller of breakfast snacks greeted us in very friendly way, as we were among his first customers that morning. His smile showed happiness and admiration after he heard few Chinese words from us.

After metro ride we arrived at Qianmen Street- famous old but recently modernized street which has many new shops. Street has name according to another name of famous historic gate- Zhengyangmen. Zhengyangmen or Qianmen was one of main gates of historical Beijing area. Beijing was waking up here and great combination of sounds, people and smells was appearing.  Sounds of   bicycles, cars, rickshaw drivers calling you to offer their service, sellers of plastic bird toys shouting “ukwai, ukwai” were heard.  Big crowds of Chinese tourists were around me. Smell of baked buns was felt from street food stands. Clothes and souvenir shops were opening slowly. Wide street was modernized old part. There were newly reconstructed old buildings which are in style from end of XIX or beginning of XX century but with modern brand shops such as Zara, H&M… On the right side, was old part of street with houses with green or grey façade, windows covered with red shade and grey roofs.  It was part of Qianmen which I remember. I was there last time in June 2001 during my last days of life in Beijing. In older part of Qianmen from one shop was heard some kind of Buddhist song. Looking of that part of street was identical to its looking in 2001- crowds of people, food sellers and various ancient and also communist souvenirs which were sold there. New reconstruction of wider part of street is interesting and with modern brands makes specific combination but still I preferred old unchanged street parallel to main one. More about Qianmen will be in chapter about Beijing night adventures.

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Fast breakfast in McDonalds gave me at least part of energy after 2 nights of no sleeping in airplane. I was ready to head from Qianmen to Tiananmen Square- biggest square in world.  This square is symbol of Chinese revolution and symbol of Communism, symbol of new, independent and strong China and its people. Square got name according to Southern gate of Forbidden City. Tiananmen means Gate of Heavenly Peace. This place got biggest importance for Communist China on 1.10.1949- When Peoples Republic of China was founded.  Chinese 5 Star Red Flag was raised first time in blue sky over square and Gate on that day. Many military parades in honor of Chinese National Day were held. It is one of most visited places in Beijing. But wait before going to square I needed something-5 star red flag. I found 1 small for 1 yuan in one souvenir shop next to Qianmen Gate.  Now I continued towards Tiananmen towards Great Hall of The People and Tiananmen Gate, with my flag in hand.

Square-on all 4 sides seems like that it has no end. Tiananmen is large like many football playgrounds. At southern side of square there is building of simple architecture. It is mausoleum of Mao Zedong who was buried and embalmed after his death in 1976. I continued passing over square and I was watching grey color which was down on ground and also above because of smog sky. Great Hall of people looks so powerful and was proudly standing next to square. On the top of main entrance of this glorious building is national emblem of PRC- red emblem with Tiananmen gate and yellow stars over it. Monument of fallen heroes of Chinese revolution is one pillar decorated with statues of PLA soldiers, heroes which gave their life for fighting for freedom of China and for communism. In front was Tiananmen Gate straight across Changan Avenue. Gate had red wall with portrait of Chairman Mao in the middle and roof of gate had brown color. That gate was entrance to Forbidden City. I was keeping going towards gate among hundreds of people around me.. Most of them were not from Beijing but who knows from which parts of China. But they came here to see Beijing and biggest symbol of modern Chinese statehood. I was passing next to soldiers who were wearing light olive green uniforms and who were on guard. I  put on my head a dark green hat with red star in middle which I bought from one of sellers on square. Then I passed next to main flag standing on spear. Flag was guarded by few soldiers.  This flag is famous as it is raised by guard soldiers every dawn together with sunrise and is lowered every evening at sunset. This ceremony is followed with Chinese National Anthem- March of Volunteers. On Tiananmen Square I felt so small, not because of its size, size of Great Hall of People or Maos Memorial Hall and its monuments.  I felt small because of its importance and significance and because of importance of buildings and monuments there for Chinese history and statehood of communist, new and modern China.

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After short break on another side of Tiananmen Gate, we continued through sea of people which were around us, through Forbidden City. We were now in second most famous symbol of Beijing ( most famous and important is Tiananmen Square)- Forbidden City. It is one of world largest imperial palaces and was residence of Chinese emperors from XV century until 1912.  Palace was called Forbidden City as no one from ordinary people could access there. Whole complex was protected by tall red walls and large gates which were closed for everyone. Only emperor, his family, his servants and important officials could be there.  For 5 centuries life in that complex was mystery for most of the people.  No one from outer world of Beijing or China could see anything inside. Most of them never even saw emperor. Nowadays thousands of people daily visit that place of large importance. It is always overcrowded by Chinese tourists and tourists from every part of the world.

It was built to be residence of Chinese emperors when Yongle emperor of Ming dynasty declared Beijing to be new capital after Nanjing. Since that time Ming emperors and all Qing emperors lived there in Beijing. Such palaces were built in previous capitals of China since imperial tradition of China started with appearance of legendary dynasties such as Zhou, Shang and Xia around 5000 years ago.  As I knew before from fathers stories ancient Chinese people believed that China is in middle of earth and that’s why they called their country Middle Kingdom or Middle State ( Zhong Guo). Emperor was considered as son of Heaven.  It meant that he was considered as someone who should have full power in his hands, and right to have various services. Emperor was right hand of Heaven and its representative on Earth determined to rule by Middle Kingdom.

Imperial Palace is full of various large halls determined for living, spending free time, accepting officials, governing and ceremonies. Each of them had special function. In main largest hall is yellow throne where emperor was making main decisions and accepting visits of high state officials.  Important detail in complex are carved stone dragons next to or in middle of  stone stairs which are leading to important halls. Dragon in China since ancient times has special importance as it was considered as symbol of power and symbol of emperor. Therefore dragon was considered as main symbol of Empire. In all complex there are many statues of lions made from stone. Most of them are located next to entrances of imperial halls. Lion was also one of symbols of imperial power, governing and dominance in China. There is also hall where emperor could enjoy with many concubines.   Thousands of them were on service to emperor.

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While I was passing through Forbidden City among white stone lion figures, among many large halls with red walls and brown roofs of halls I was fully impressed and without words. Knowing importance of this place for Chinese history and knowing how many centuries such great halls stayed unchanged, strong and tall made me to be completely stunned. Maybe I don’t have special memories related to this place but it is together with Tiananmen Square most important place in Beijing and China because of its significant place in Chinese glorious and long history and statehood. Once when I will have time I want to devote one all day to Forbidden City. I want to visit its every hall, every garden and every corner of this amazing complex.

Despite many foreign tourists for many Chinese from far provinces where foreigners are rare, foreigner is real attraction. You notice attention of some of them by way how they smile to you. For example 2 girls in shorts and white t-shirts were smiling to me for few minutes but were too shy to ask me to take picture with them. Next what I saw in far in that grey sky was white pagoda hitting the sky with its roof. I knew that this place will be part of my trip too.

After some troubles in searching exchange office and after lunch in Pizza Hut we continued to Sanlitun Bar Street. Evening was coming slowly and lights of bars and discos were already shinning in red, blue, green… This place is full of foreigners- diplomats, businessmen and students same like it was when I walked there last time in 2001. Many foreign embassies are located here. After passing next to various embassies and while walking through Bar Street I realized that something is missing here on the right side at the end of that street. There wasn’t anymore old block of buildings made of brick in 1950s at beginning of communist period. Food and clothes market disappeared. Toys which were sold there which my mum was often buying me also weren’t there. “Where they are?? Where is all that?”, I asked myself. Answer is short -it was replaced by block of completely new steel and glass buildings built before Olympics. On the corner is biggest Adidas store in the world standing instead of block of brick buildings. Famous white sign and letters were standing on black glass windows of building. Behind Adidas store  across small square with fountains, LCD screen and a lot of customers dressed in fancy clothes was building with big sign of big white Apple. It is one of biggest Apple stores in Beijing, paradise for fans of modern technology, iphones and tablets. If you are searching something like that Sanlitun is perfect place for you. But still I a bit regretted that this area isn’t same like before what would remind me even more on childhood. If just for 2 minutes at least I could return time and be in  tight streets of old alley, to pass next to vegetable and fruit sellers,, to stand in front of old dairy shop and wait mother to finish buying and go with her to choose which new bus or airplane toy she will buy me. But you cannot return time and you cannot live your memories again, you can just refresh them as much as area allows you.  China must develop and such areas shouldn’t be here in center.

三里屯太古里北区 Sanlitun

A bit deeper in block was large Armani store with typical sign. Across long and broad street were few strangely flatly shaped and  very modern buildings belonging to Beijing Soho company. After such description you would never imagine that here 12 years ago were old low buildings made of brick, tight streets where you could easily get lost.  Only what stayed from old Sanlitun was  building of Yeshow market where clothes and toys are still sold. Also KFC was still there together with old supermarket which is still in my memory and memory of my parents when they got lost me for 20min and they were in biggest panic although I didn’t noticed that they weren’t behind me. I was busy with playing with buttons on vacuum cleaner as it was typical for me to touch something what wasn’t supposed to be touched, or to do something what wasn’t supposed to be done, or to eat something what wasn’t supposed to be eaten. For example in front of 1 food shop nearby which doesn’t exist anymore, one old man shared his green ice cream with me while father was buying food ,(he left me in front of shop to prevent me of making mess inside(throwing fruits and peppers on floor). But he didn’t expected to see me eating ice cream with unknown man.  Father wanted to kill me when he saw that.

Sanlitun is perfect place to understand how fast China changes, not just in appearance of streets and buildings but also lifestyle. Here you see how old blocks turned into modern buildings and streets but also how way of life changes. Seeing Armani, Apple, Lacoste or Adidas shops, square with LCD screen and fountains, or new fancy clubs and pubs you see that China became modern consumer society. Here are hundreds of Chinese and foreign young people  walking in fancy shirts, short miniskirts and high quality shoes, Ray Ban glasses  and holding iphones or tablets in their hands… You can see them in pubs drinking coffee, cola, cocktails, beer and so on… Many expensive cars including BMW, Porche and Ferrari you could see nearby. Changes in streets and buildings of that area were followed by different appearance and looking of people who are present there. Fifteen years ago here were mostly present different people than today. Some of them were wearing dark blue, black or white cotton clothes, with traditional buttons. People which used to live there were living from-selling clothes, toys and various food from vegetables and fruits to meat and dairy products. They held so much reserves of cabbage on their balconies determined to be eaten during all winter. It was visible that this people which were present there didn’t had a lot money. Today most of people here are Chinese middle class or upper class and upper or middle class foreigners. Chinese youth today is modern, follows modern trends in clothing, interests, chilling out, travelling…  People which previously lived here in return for leaving their homes and shops got money from state and new flats in newly constructed buildings. It is very nice to see how China prospered in last 15 years. Improvement of living conditions thanks to rapid economic growth is visible drastically. Thanks its policies Chinese Communist Party saved around 500 000 000 people from poverty in last 30 years across all country. Poverty reduction is one of main priorities of Chinese authorities and Chinese Communist Party manages it successfully.

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Such great change which happened on Sanlitun occurred in many other now modern areas of Beijing. For example in Wudaokou, Zhonguazun, Central Business District (CBD),   Dongzhimen, Dongcheng,Wangfujing, Dongdan and etc… As I know you can see prosperity and development in various other cities across whole country such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou,  Nanjing, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Qingdao. Such process of fast development are experiencing other less worldly famous cities too- Chengdu,  Xiamen,  Fuzhou, Ningbo, Jinan, Shenyang, Harbin, Kunming, Wuhan, Nantong, Nanchang, Dalian, Hangzhou, Suzhou,  Changsha, Urumqi…

At Guangming daily- http://en.gmw.cn/2015-03/27/content_19672264.htm  here is last story but on right corner you can enter all previous stories and see all collection!!!