National Day (Part 1)

It’s been a while since my last post, both due to very poor internet connection and being away for the week, both of which were as a result of the National Day holiday (国庆节). I had decided to take advantage of what will be my last bit of time off until January(!!!) and go back to Beijing to explore a bit more. I had a great time and crammed as much in as I could so I have a lot to write about! Because of this I’ve decided to split the blog in two so you don’t need a whole week to read about it. I also took many, many photos so there will be lots of those in here too!

I left pretty early on Saturday and got a D train from Dalian to Bejiing which, even though it only takes 6 hours to cover almost 600km, is considered the slow train! There is another which only takes 4-5 hours. It was a very comfortable ride, lots of leg room and remarkably smooth considering we were travelling at upwards of 185 miles per hour! Once I got to Beijing I had secured luxury accommodation for myself – a sofa in some of the other Edinburgh students’ flat. A big thank you to them! They live in a pretty studenty area in the northwest of Beijing called Wudaokou (五道口), near to Peking University (北京大学) where they study.

Beijing Railway Station (北京站)

For my first day in Beijing, after a travel induced lie-in, I decided to head to the Summer Palace (颐和园) as it is one of the sights closest to where I was staying. The Summer Palace is a large park based around Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake that dates back to 1153, although it was massively enlarged in the 18th century by Emperor Qianlong. Kunming Lake is entirely man made and the excavated earth was used to construct Longevity Hill. Because of these feats of landscaping and engineering, the Summer Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

I entered from the north gate and splurged for the all access ticket (a whole 60 yuan/£7, hey big spender) so that I could hit all the added bonus buildings, museums and gardens inside. I went in by the north gate so started with Suzhou street which has cute walkways along the river and is supposed to look like the famous canal town, Jiangsu (江苏).

A teahouse (茶馆) on Suzhou Street

Then I had to climb up to the top of Longevity Hill and wandered through the Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom, the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion and the Cloud Dispelling Hall before coming across the most beautiful view of Kunming lake, dotted with little boats and glittering in the sunshine. I wandered along the Long Corridor down the side of the lake and finished my day at the 17 arch bridge.

For day 2 I headed to the opposite side of Beijing to the Lama Temple (雍和宫), also known as the Palace of Peace and Harmony. The temple used to be the royal residence of Emperor Yong Zheng but was converted to a lamasery in 1744. It survived both being the site of an uprising against the Nationalist government in 1929 and also the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution, completely intact. 

It is actually still a functioning temple and also a wildly popular tourist attraction. Because of this, some visitors are actually there for religious purposes and work their way around the five main courtyards, burning incense and praying. I really enjoyed walking around the temple. It was very relaxing and absolutely beautiful, with its mix of Han and Tibetan styles, strong colours and intricate designs.

My favourite, and most unexpected part was the massive, 18m high Buddha statue! It was carved out of one block of sandalwood, each toe is the size of a pillow and it even has a plaque of recognition from the Guinness book of records! It was a gift from the seventh Dalai Lama to Emperor Qianlong and it took three years to transport from Tibet.

Tuesday 1st October was the day the whole country had been waiting for. National Day marks the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Communist party on 1st October 1949. It is one of three Golden Weeks in China, along with the Lunar New Year Week in January or February and the Labour Day Week in May. These weeks are hotspots for domestic tourism which is a burgeoning industry while also allowing people to make long distance trips to visit family, the idea being to improve everyone’s standard of living. For the important anniversaries, like the 70th anniversary this year, there are huge military parades around Tiananmen Square. Internet connection also becomes slightly more limited and VPNs are also cracked down upon so sorry if I left anyone waiting for a reply last week!

I had a pretty quiet National Day because a lot of transport and shops were closed so I just hung out with friends. Another advantage of staying with friends, other than saving some money, was that in the days I could do all the touristy stuff and then the evenings were spent hanging out, eating amazing food and having a few drinks. I was introduced to the spicy wonders of Sichuan food and took part in my first ever karaoke performance, a group rendition of 500 Miles (what else were a group of Scottish uni students going to choose?). A big thank you again to Tom, Ruby, Cameron and Thomas for putting up with me on their sofa all week!

That’s it for now! I’ll fill you in on the rest of week soon.

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