The fabled Summer Palace – Yiheyuan. Finally I was inside. But not as easily as I had anticipated. The walk there was fine, some 4 kilometres along roadways and through the surprise of Haidian Park (more on that place later). The east of gate of Yiheyuan had none of the new zhifubao payment systems – whether Alipay or Wechat pay. It was cash only.
But my cash turned out to be counterfeit. I had three 100 RMB bills, from where I do not recall. They did seem a little bright, but I thought it was because they were new. The woman at the counter ran them through the machine that checks things a few times. Each time the same result: fake.
Why? I wondered. Hardly anyone in China uses cash these days, so why would one bother with counterfeit notes. Perhaps were a relic of the wild days, when such notes were more common and the machines she used came into regular use. No matter: I had to find some cash. On my map, I spied one some two kilometres away. There I marched, withdrew what I hoped were genuine notes and marched back to the gate. The woman smiled, ran the note through the machine, and smiled even more widely. With my ticket in hand, I entered the Summer Palace.
The sun was already low in the western sky, making for some stunning views. Whoever had designed the place a few centuries ago certainly knew what they were doing. Kunming Lake gave the impression that the whole area sat at the foot of the western mountains. A pagoda rose in the mist before the mountains, while the sun itself threw long shadows over the water.
At each turn was another delight, especially given its long history: originally dating to the 12th century, the park as we know it owes much to the indefatigable Qianlong emperor of the Qing Dynasty, who ordered its construction in 1750. It may have been destroyed on a couple of occasions by those barbarian invaders, the British and French, but it has systematically been rebuilt over the long years since.
My favourite – after hiking long around the lake – was the Farming and Weaving Picture Scenic Area (Gengzhi tu Jingqu). Many are the distinct gardens, waterways, bridges and buildings one can explore, but this one recalls the daily lives of the peasants upon whose backs the feudal imperial system lived.
By the time I left the farming and weaving area, it was almost dark. I had originally planned to hike the hills on which most of the palace buildings are constructed. Indeed, I thought I could simply dash through to the north gate and my way home. Of course not, for by now the many buildings were locked for the night and I had to make my way around the side hills, across ‘Suzhou Street’ and out the north gate. A metro station was not far away (on line 4), but by the time I walked home from the station at the other end, I had covered 18 kilometres.