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August 22nd, 2003

Beijing, China

After grabbing a danish at the bakery in the ground floor of my hotel, I caught a cab to the Summer Palace, where the emperors and their entourages would go to escape the city. Although there were Chinese tourists galore at the entrance and around the main buildings -- many of which were again shocked to see a foreigner and eager to snap pictures of me -- the tree-lined, often byzantine pathways were blissfully empty. The temples and other buildings were fairly standard, but the dramatic setting -- rife with hills, trees, and centered upon a massive lake -- was evocative of Chinese wall paintings and kung fu movies.

With sightseeing out of the way, I spent the afternoon exploring Liulichan, a small neighborhood chock full of antique shops. The selection of crafts, some of which dated back four thousand years (or so the owners claimed) was both impressive and varied. Beijing would be my last stop before flying home, and I relished the possibility of filling my backpack with souvenirs to lug home.

Thembi and I had met a British couple while hiking the Great Wall, and they joined us for the evening's festivities. Matt and Susie were ten months into a yearlong round-the-world trip, and I could fully relate to their comments about time flying by on the road. I did my best to mollify their anxiety by pointing out that I only had three days left.

Our pre-dinner entertainment was an acrobat show, where teenage boys and girls flawlessly jumped through hoops, spun plates on sticks, rode bicycles, and balanced on top of each other's heads. It was a far less relaxing and enjoyable experience than I expected, as I was constantly worried about how they would pull off the next trick. The acrobats emerged unscathed, but not so the two ducks that constituted our dinner. They arrived at our table whole, though plucked and roasted, and two men in tall white hats carved them into consumable slices. Susie was a vegetarian, but had long ago decided to make an exception for the legendary Peking duck. Not only was it a delicious meal, but it was the most civilized dinner I'd had in months.

Strange beast
Dragon statue
Temple door
Walkway along the lake
Temple at the Summer Palace
Another temple
The Summer Palace lake from above
Temple facade
Marble boat
Ornate gate
Temple across the lake
Dragon ferry
Statue on the bridge
Arched bridge
Typical hutong alley
Another typical hutong alley
Acrobat lattice
Good balance
Plate spinners
Flying over the Great Wall
Jumping through hoops
Through the tall hoop
Many girls, one bike

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