Saturday, July 21, 2007
Swarming the Sights
Some friends are visiting Beijing and they wanted to go to the Summer Palace today so I joined them.
It was definitely a test of patience combined with the hot sun.
We arrived at noon and already there were bus loads of sweaty locals and tourists alike jostling to buy an admission ticket. That was a sign of things to come.
Everywhere we wandered through the sprawling former Imperialist grounds, swarms of people either followed us or were already there. They lined the Long Corridor, a covered wooden walkway that has a delicately hand-painted ceiling; families sitting around, munching on watermelon or popsicles, young people taking vanity photos with scenic backgrounds; wheel-chair bound visitors carried up stairways; students wearing uniform T-shirts on a field trip.
The Summer Palace has a number of things to see, including a Buddhist temple on top of a hill. We managed to escape most of the crowd, but even then there was a number of people there to see the five-foot high Buddha complete with four heads, and 24 arms. The gold paint was flaking off the statue and people continued to take flash photographs even though staff tried to tell them not to.
And as we were trying to leave, there were more people arriving, probably because it's cooler in the late afternoon. As we were leaving, we saw a board saying that an estimated 389,000 people visited the grounds yesterday, and today there were probably a few thousand more.
The ironic thing is that the Summer Palace was built for the Royal family to escape the heat and busy life in the Forbidden City.
But now it's become a destination for an outing -- for a good number of Beijingers eager for a taste of the Imperial lifestyle.