Archive for April 11th, 2008

A cool day but still not cold enough to deter hundreds of tourists, from China and West, bent on exploring 290 hectares of parkland which were the Empress’s escape from the oppressive heat of the Beijing summer. (For perspective, Central Park in NYC is 341 hectares) Foreign tourists (read Caucasian) have become common enough in this city that we are not stared at quite as much. Well, for as long anyway. I imagine that at one time if you saw another Westerner on the street or in a cafe, you would flag them down and engage in conversation, if only to hear the English language. With so many tours and business people here, you quickly glance at each other to seek an obvious connection (Blue Jay cap? Canadian flag patch on the backpack? RIM ID badge hanging around the neck?) and then move on just as swiftly. The pictures I attach are from the 1886 pleasure gardens of Empress Dowager Cixi, rebuilt from the 1750 original which was “brutally burned down by the Anglo-French forces in 1860”. I italicize the later expression to highlight it, since it seemed to be repeated on nearly every descriptive plaque in front of every building on the extensive grounds. There are a lot of buildings. That’s a lot of Anglo-French destruction. I found the repetition amusing after awhile, in ah geez, I get the point, no need to tell me twice or twenty, we were bad dudes, where can I offer apologies for the Anglo portion for something that happened 150 years ago? Needless to say, I amuse only myself with these thoughts. There is no sense of humor where their history is concerned. Think of it: according to a recent piece in the Globe, “by 2040, the Chinese economy is projected to be twice as big, as the combined economies of the US, Japan and the biggest European states”. And what we in West don’t understand, yet, is that the Chinese would consider that state “a mere return to the natural order of things.” Again, from the same article: “For almost 2000 years, with the exception of the last 150 years, China has been the world’s largest economy…..the rulers are very conscious of history. If you probe beneath their calm exterior, there is a deep anger over the humiliation of the past 200 years. And there is a belief that only a dominant economy will allow China to win the global influence it seeks”. So, with that as backdrop, I will keep my “tongue in cheek humour” well in check.

The reconstructed buildings in the Park are stunningly beautiful as are the cherry blossoms that bloom profusely and the lavender violets that cover the hills. But when I noticed the glazed over looks on my polite hosts’ faces as I ran through the results of my happy snapping day, I learned that it is much of a muchness. The vibrant colours, the opulent gilding, the elaborate pagoda styling and delicate scenery paintings on every surface will be repeated throughout Beijing in all of the historic sites. Of course I will still visit the major ones regardless, but it speaks to the need to label the pics before I forget where I took them!

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