Summer Palace in Beijing
Asia, International Travels, Travels, China

Beijing Memoirs 2: Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tea House, Hutong and Days Inn Hotel

One professor said over an interview with Karen Davila on ANC Headstart mentioned that most Filipinos hate China in general because of the issues we’re facing in the West Philippine Sea. But no, this post is not about that. Here’s what I learned from him – we feel that way because we do not understand the history of China as a country, and its internal policies. I wish I learned about that before leaving for Beijing.

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Beijing Memoirs: Summer Palace

Mary and I had secretly been nervous going there, or roaming the streets knowing we are Filipinos and they could crush us anytime. But the Chinese people were like the Japanese in a way that they work hard, come morning or night, in the cold or in heat. Yes, they are less engaging than their Japanese neighbors because of the language barrier but they are a hardworking bunch.

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Beijing Memoirs: Days Inn Hotel on a cold morning

Our English-speaking tour guide Jerry and one-liner driver Tom (you got that right – they were Tom and Jerry) have always been prompt everyday. This made us maximize our time for the tour itself. Most of the tourist posts are far apart so it helped that we had a private car to transport us to and from the hotel, and Jerry to recommend where to eat.

1. SUMMER PALACE

The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a complex of palaces, lakes and gardens. It was windy the day we went and was about 3 degrees Celsius (37 F) so we were prepared with three layers. Mary’s black and red ensemble was a delight against the palaces and lake.

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Beijing Memoirs: A sunny yet windy day at the Palace; a taste of the grandeur that was Ancient China. That’s the Longevity Hill in the background of the top left photo, cradling the Tower of Buddhist Incense (the highest building in the Summer Palace) and Kunming Lake on the top right, with a pair of ducks that are likened to love birds – they can’t live apart for long.  The Hall of Longevity and Benevolence on the lower left picture is where they held court sessions in the past.

The Kunming Lake actually covers three-fourths of the complex, as in Chinese Feng Shui, water’s flow replicates the movements of the Chi energy in one’s life. Most of the tourist spots we went to always had a lake, or a moat.

Interestingly, the ducks shown above, more specifically called the Baer’s Pochard, are critically endangered and can only be found in eastern Asia and sometimes in Vietnam and India in the winter. They are so rare our guide had to pause and show us the two of them. That photo was zoomed in using the iphone 5s.

2. TEMPLE OF HEAVEN

Braving the cold were lovely couples and their crew, setting up their equipment or posing for a buwis-buhay pre-nup shot at the Temple of Heaven.

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Beijing Memoirs: A couple are photographed at the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Temple of Heaven. The structure is completely devoid of nails. This is wood on top of wood and was built and rebuilt due to the damages it incurred when a lighting hit it.

 

The Hall itself is full of symbolism. It was thought in the ancient times that the Earth was flat, so square represented it. Heaven is symbolized by the circle. The Temple of Heaven is a witness to a ceremony done by the Emperor, the son of heaven, offering sacrifices for a good harvest.

If you should visit, please do so in the morning before a crowd of tourists flock into the place. It opens as early as 6am and closes at 10 at night. In hindsight, it would have been wonderful to set up your camera here for a sunset time lapse.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Temple of Heave, Beijing
Beijing Memoirs: the photo at the bottom right shows the base of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which stands tall at 38 meters, resting on 3 layers of marble

 

3. TEA HOUSE

Just outside the gate of Temple of Heaven, you can indulge yourself in a feast of teas! Yes, all sorts of teas. The “famous” lady (when you google tea house in Beijing, you will see her photos), speaks English well and explains the different benefits of different teas. She even educated us on the correct use of the tea cups (we bought our own set at the Great Wall store in Badaling).

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Beijing Memoirs: Tea House outside the Temple of Heaven showcases an array of tea cups with intricate designs.

The lady was such a good talker, plus she had a good way to build rapport. We ended up buying Pu’erh Tea and a bag of mixed rose petals and fruits, and she gave us some Lychee and Green Tea because we were such good customers (insert giggle there).

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Beijing Memoirs: The “infamous” tea house lady

We spent close to PhP 5,000 worth of teas – and for a year we wouldn’t be shopping for teas at the grocery, was what we thought. It sure is worth it. We try to serve the tea to our family and friends who visit us at home, happily retelling some of our Beijing adventures as we sip the authentic tea.

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Beijing Memoirs: Tea set bought at the Great Wall Badaling store, at 700PhP (6 cups included)

I have never been a tea person until I gradually learned the benefits:

Lychee Tea – rich in Vitamin C and is known to be good for flu, cough and colds.

Pu’erh Tea – fights Cholesterol and Fatty Acid Synthase and generally good for weight loss for humans.

Green Tea – above all lowers the risk of cancer. No rebuttals there.

Rose petals tea – not only does it taste sweet (my boss even ate them raw), it also helps in digestion and is a great detox too.

Now i can safely say, “this is my cup of tea”. Yeah!

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Beijing Memoirs: Lychee and Rose teas from the Tea House in Temple of Heaven

4. HUTONG AND THE RICKSHAW RIDE

Before Beijing, I really thought Hutong meant the side-car like rides i see on pictures. Boy, was I wrong. Hutongs are actually a web of alleys joined together to form a community, or a neighborhood, which is also called Hutong. You’d see a lot of them in Beijing as cheap residences. But to get there, you either have to walk or get on a rickshaw because the alleyways are narrow.

If you’re a fan of Chinese movies, you would imagine a rickshaw to be drawn by a running man. That used to be what it was until of course bicycles came into play.

It gets cold during the ride, as most rickshaws have blankets but ours didn’t. So we were chilling the entire time.

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Beijing Memoirs: Clockwise from the top left – A rickshaw that took us to the inner residences, a man decorating the inside wall of a small vase, repeat – the inside wall. A gate to a household. Notice the 4 blue stars, signifies a well-off family. Mary and our Hutong guide walking the alleys

Aside from seeing the past of China through the many temples and palaces we saw, a walk around this neighborhood certainly let us see the modern-day life of Beijing’s grassroots. Like any family, they cook, look after their young, earn a living and sometimes, have Olympians for guests. How cool!

5. DAYS INN HOTEL – BEIJING FORBIDDEN CITY

The last feature of this article is not a tourist spot, but it made all our tours worth it because of a lot of things.

I had a bad experience with AirBNB when booking for our Hong Kong stay last year so this year I opted to do the traditional – online hotel booking and voila! The rate was not as bad. The Days Inn Hotel in the Fobidden City area – affiliated with the popular Days Inn chain of hotels, was accessible above all. 5 minutes walk from the Tiananmen Square – okay make that 10 with our small steps.

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Beijing Memoirs: Our neighborhood at night – walking the streets from the Days Inn Hotel

They had friendly English-speaking front desk staff, they let us stay at the lobby when we got there at 2am (early check-in option was available) and they let us leave our luggage after we checked out so we can still stroll the street and buy some pasalubong. Our flights were in awkward hours and because of them, we were able to enjoy our stay.

The room was also comparable to other high-priced hotels:

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Beijing Memoirs: A standard room with a queen bed at the Days Inn Hotel
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Beijing Memoirs: Second to a comfortable bed, a clean bathroom at the Days Inn Hotel.

I booked via Agoda and everything was smoothly transacted. I will blog more about tips, mistakes, lessons and funny things about the Beijing trip on the next installment of the Beijing series. We hope you stay tuned for the next blog!

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