What lay further to the north? On my weekly walks in that direction to church, or perhaps to the Xinhua bookshop, I had stopped shy of a mysterious overpass. I had used the overpass as a landmark for my worshipful destination, but the church was on this side of it.
Today I would see. Up Suzhou Street I marched, a little dizzy due to a hive on my face (resulting in a swollen cheek that made me look like I had a dreadful communicable disease).
The overpass was, of course, no mystery at all. But I had to walk it to find out. In fact, the street became ‘Yiheyuan Lu’, the ‘Summer Palace Street’. Soon enough the western wall of Beijing University arose, with its ornate gate from times past. At the T-intersection, about 4 kilometres from my apartment, I could head west to Yiheyuan, which is commonly known as the Summer Palace, or walk a little east to find the gate for Yuanmingyuan, sometimes called the Old Summer Palace.
The latter had reopened only a few years ago, after extensive restoration and landscaping. ‘Restoration’ is perhaps the wrong word. The extensive ruins had been stabilised and protected, with viewing areas to view the ruins. What ruins? In the nineteenth century, it had a significant number of ‘Western’ – or what they called ‘Overseas’ – style buildings in the midst of traditional style Chinese gardens. Construction began in 1709 and took 150 years to complete.
In their search for world domination by whatever means possible, the British had been stung by a significant naval defeat by the wily Qing commander. They resolved to punish the ‘deceitful’ Chinese and gathered a joint force with the French. Part of their activities involved burning the buildings in Yuanmingyuan to the ground and looting the many cultural relics and manuscripts that had been gathered there – as ‘cultured’ countries like England and France do.
150 years later, the park – after much work – was finally reopened. But today I was not interested in the park itself. I had been therefore, on a winter’s day when few were there. Today was different, not merely because of the crowds seeking the first flowers of spring, but because I was interested in walking to places, not in them (mostly).
I followed the outskirts of the park to the western gate of Tsinghua University, which is actually on part of the grounds of the old summer palace. Here Zhongguancun Street took me south and back home. With more than ten kilometres walked even today, it felt like relatively short distance.