DPRK (and Beijing) Day two, part two
01.09.2019 - 01.09.2019
Lotus flower in the lake at Bei Hai Park
Leaving the Forbidden City (see previous entry) behind us we strolled west through a couple of the typical older streets and lanes of Beijing, known as hutongs – alleys formed by the lines of traditional courtyard houses. Many of these were demolished during the 20th century as the city was modernised, but pockets still remain and are nowadays recognised as important relics of the country and city’s history, and are protected.
In the hutongs
Bei Hai Park
Following our tiring morning we were in need of a more relaxing environment for our afternoon explorations. Our guidebook told us that nearby Bei Hai was among the loveliest of Beijing’s city parks so it seemed the perfect choice for a scorching hot Sunday afternoon, and indeed it was.
We spent a good couple of hours here - people- and boat-watching, taking photos, enjoying a cold drink …
The lake in Bei Hai Park
The park was first laid out in the 11th century, as an imperial garden, opening to the public only in 1925. It was built to imitate famous beauty spots and buildings from various regions of the country, as was usual with these imperial gardens, celebrating what was loveliest in the emperor’s realm.
At the heart of the park is its large lake, and today many families were out enjoying an afternoon on the water in a variety of novel boats – large yellow ducks suitable for a single family; even larger lotus flowers, with a table in the centre for picnics; and dragon boats, the largest of all.
Boating in Bei Hai Park
Ducks in a row!
The island at the southern end of the lake, near where we entered, is Jade Flower Islet (Qionghua), topped by the imposing White Dagoba stupa which was built in 1651 to honour the visit of the 5th Dalai Lama, although today’s structure is a replacement as the original was destroyed in an earthquake. According to the China Guide website it stands on the former site of the Palace in the Moon where Kublai Khan received Marco Polo, and another source suggests that the then emperor, Emperor Shunzhi, the first of the Qing Dynasty, wanted to build a Tibetan pagoda to show his belief in Buddhism and his desire for the unification of Chinese ethnic groups.
Jade Flower Islet
After enjoying a cold drink by the lakeside we decided not to climb the hill to the stupa but instead to follow the lake shore and explore the northern area of the park. We passed an area where newspapers were displayed behind glass for locals to read.
Locals reading the papers
Just beyond this similar glass screens were used to protect photos in an exhibition. The theme seemed to be ‘Beijing through the seasons’ as the photos were clearly arranged in groups of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Many of them were excellent and we really enjoyed seeing them and picking out our favourites.
At the northern end of the lake the path crossed what appeared to be a stream feeding the lake. The two little girls in my photo were throwing food to the fish in the stream.
Locals in Bei Hai Park
In this northern part of the park we came across several beautiful buildings and gardens. We almost didn’t go inside the Jingxin Studio as it looked like a separately charged area (we had already paid 5 yuan for the park) but it turned out that the girl at the entrance was just keeping count of how many people went in, to restrict the numbers.
Above the entrance to Jingxin Studio
And we were so glad we bothered to check it out as it proved to be one of the highlights of the day - a succession of pools and structures sent among lovely old trees. There were carp and goldfish in the pools and beautiful paintings covering every wooden surface of the buildings. As you can see below, I took far too many photos of the latter!
Ceiling details, Jingxin Studio
Decorative details, Jingxin Studio
Jingxin means ‘Quiet Heart’, which seems an appropriate name for such a restful and calming spot. This ‘garden within a garden’ was initially built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and enlarged in the Qing Dynasty. During the latter period some members of the royal family used to rest or study here.
In Jingxin Studio
In one of the shady pavilions here we had a lovely encounter. A toddler was sitting there with his mother and singing to himself, but it was his choice of song that made us smile – Queen’s ‘We will rock you’! To hear ‘We will, we will, ROCK YOU’ from that little Chinese lad was somewhat incongruous but fun, and especially apt as I had so recently enjoyed watching ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the plane. Both he and his mother laughed when Chris and I joined in with his song - a memorable moment!
Further on in the park we came to a series of small Buddhist temples, Tianwang, which translates as ‘Heavenly King’. First built in the Ming Dynasty, this was originally a single hall where Buddhist scriptures were translated and printed. The site was expanded in 1759 to become a complete set of temples.
Tianwang Temple - entrance and carved wall detail
The entrance gate has four huge and colourful statues labelled as East, West, North and South Kings – the four Buddhist Heavenly Kings for whom the temple is named.
West and North Kings
Detail of North King
East and South Kings
Passing through this gate we found some beautiful carvings on the next entrance gate, and an amazingly intricate stone panel dividing the stairs leading up to this entrance – similar to some we had seen earlier in the Forbidden City but if anything more ornate, and a bit easier to photograph without the crowds and in better light. In the furthest temple building, of course, we found the Buddha himself, surrounded by burning incense.
Carved panel, and Buddha, Tianwang Temple
West of these temples we came across the Nine Dragon Screen. This is a length of wall covered with glazed tiles decorated with huge and colourful dragons. This is the only screen having nine huge dragons on both sides among the most famous three Nine-Dragon Screens in China (the other two are in the Forbidden City here in Beijing, and in Datong in Shanxi Province).
According to most sources I have found it was built in 1756, but Wikipedia says 1402, which seems unlikely. Opinions seem to differ on the size too, and as I didn’t measure it I will simply say that it is large – too large to easily photograph!
Nine Dragon Screen
~ I just about squeezed it all into the shot!
The dragons are shown playing with pearls on turquoise waves that some say depict clouds in the sky and others the sea – my vote is for the latter but see what you think. As well as the nine large dragons on each side there are numerous smaller ones – a sign explains that there are in fact 635 in total, so the name is more than misleading!
Detail of one of the large dragons
Local tourists at Nine Dragon Screen
By now I at least was flagging in the heat and we had done more than originally planned, so we went in search of the nearest subway station. We had overshot the exit from the park in our explorations of the various temples, so we asked some helpful locals, who were offering dress-up photo opps (which we declined), the way to the nearest one. Guided by them we retraced our steps, left the park and crossed the busy street to Bei Hai North station from where we caught the train, with two changes, back to Wangfujing and our hotel.
Photo opp near the Nine Dragon Screen
Sign on the Beijing Metro
Made in China
As we had had such a long and rather tiring day we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in the hotel’s upmarket Made in China restaurant. We had a really good meal including some delicious appetisers of spicy pulled chicken and a coriander-laden crisp salad, three mains (Sizhuan chicken, sizzling lamb with cumin and cabbage with chilli and dried shrimp) washed down with an unusual but tasty dark Tsing Tao beer, and a shared dessert platter. Not cheap but worth the treat!
Chef at Made in China