Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 4 - Summer Palace and Tea House Performance

We awoke to very misty weather on our second full day in Beijing. Despite the mist, we decided that we would head to the UNESCO listed Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was first built in 1750 and is a collection of halls, pavilions and temples gathered around a large man-made lake called Kunming Lake. The ground are dominated by Longevity Hill, which is more than 60 metres high and which was made from all the earth that was excavated to make the lake. The palace is popular with tourists but is also a public recreational park so there were plenty of ordinary Beijing citizens there enjoying the sights. 

Decorative gate (known as a 'paifang') at the entrance to the main Summer Palace grounds.

A cute little traditional shopping street inside the palace grounds. You had to pay extra to go in though which was a bit annoying. 

Close up of the traditional style houses on the shopping street.

This artificial hill was made of rocks piled up against the north side of the palace wall. It  is called the Hill of Accumulated Elegance and was about 10 metres high.

This is the nicely named Cloud Gathering Temple which houses a bronze statue of Buddha. 

Rowan standing by the old palace walls with a view out over Beijing.

I really liked this circular hole that you walked through to get to the hall. 

Detail from a building's wall. 
The Tower of Buddhist Incense is the highest building in the Summer Palace.

A rather more modest building facing the lake.

The roofs were beautifully painted with animals and scenes form folk stories. 

Detail of a painted roof.

Looking out over the roofs of the palace buildings and onto the man-made lake. 
Rowan standing at the foot of the steps up to the Hall of Virtuous Splendour.

Wall panel painting.

Another beautiful paifang.

After climbing up Longevity Hill and exploring the buildings we decided to take a boat ride on the lake. I was starting to feel ill by this point as I'd ill-advisedly eaten some weird Chinese street food form an impromptu stall in front of the Summer Palace. It had been delicious at the time, some kind of fried battery pancake thing stuffed with veggies and sauce, but by the time we got to the lake I could feel my stomach churning - not good!

Boats on Kunming Lake.

We bought a ticket to take a ride on one of these dragon boats on the lake. It was good to relax after all the climbing up and down the hill.

Even the roofs of the boats were nicely decorated!

This is the Seventeen Arch Bridge.

The Marble Boat.

We took the boat back round to the entrance and visited the traditional shopping street where I bought another hulusi - I'm such a sucker for musical instruments!

We went back to the hostel for a bit after that as I was feeling pretty awful. We decided to use the time to find out about seeing a performance of traditional music as I really wanted to see/hear some Peking Opera (though Rowan wasn't so keen!). After a bit of internet hunting and LP guidebook scouring we came up with the Laoshe Tea House. This place is pretty famous for its opera performances and also has acrobatics, puppet shows and other acts depending which night of the week you go. We got our hostel to book us a couple of tickets for the evening variety show and just hoped that it would be something good. 

So we set off to the teahouse that same evening and found it to be an elegantly decorated building done out in 1930's Beijing style. We picked up our tickets in the lobby then made our way up the grand red painted staircase to the main hall. 

Up the stairs to the performance hall.

It was all very nicely decorated although the tea house was only opened in 1988. 

It was dark and pretty crowded in the theatre but there was a cheerful, expectant atmosphere. We were sat at a table with a Chinese family and were served traditional tea and imperial style snacks. As the performance went on the uniformed attendants would come by and fill up our tea pot with more hot water to keep us going. I drank far too much tea but it was soothing for my poor insides! We saw a variety of different acts over a 90 minute show including a folk music play, a sample of some Peking Opera, Danxian (story-telling to musical accompaniment), a Sichuan Face Changing Dance, some vase juggling, a totally incomprehensible (to us - because it was in Chinese) comic dialogue show with sound effects and some Chinese Martial Arts combined with a traditional tea performance. 

The compère of the show.

Musician playing  a traditional string instrument.

One of the Peking Opera performers.

The other Peking Opera performer.

The vase juggling guy was pretty awesome and juggled progressively bigger and bigger jugs.

A short clip of the juggler in action.

This is the Sichuan Face Changing (Bian Lian) performer. 

"Face-changing" is an ancient Chinese dramatic art that involves the brightly costumed performer moving to quick dramatic music while changing form one vividly painted mask to the next. The mask changes are so quick you never see them do it.

Here is a short clip of the face changer in action.

All of the acts were pretty good but I think my favourite was either the Peking Opera or the Sichuan Mask Changing performance - they were both amazing. It was nice having the tea in a tea house thing as well and most of the people there weren't even westerners either surprisingly! 

At the end of the performance we were walking down the stairs when I saw something fast and furry running along against the wall. I shrunk back thinking it was a disgusting rat but it turned out to be a mink! It hid under a display case of female performers clothing and some American women came over and stood around looking at the display unaware of what hid underneath. I stood around expectantly, desperate for it to run out and make them them all shriek and panic but it stayed hidden away - you can't always get everything you want in life though!

We made our way back to the hostel via Tiananmen Square again and it was all lit up which was quite pretty in a kind of monolithic manner. There were even some people flying kites on the the roads that run beside it. 

Tiananmen lit up at night.

Flying kites by street light. We got duped into buying one of those kites. The sellers' ones are really long as you can see here but when you open up the one you just bought it's only 3 or 4 pieces long.

So ended our second full day in Beijing. We had booked onto a tour of the Great Wall of China for the next day so were feeling quite excited. Check out the next post for our adventures on the Wall plus a novel way of getting back down it again and our one obligatory slap up meal that we treated ourselves to after.

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