|View of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill (Summer Palace)|
Occasionally, the Chuckster surprises me. He hears a story on the nightly news when he’s lounging in front of the TV or he spies a photo in a magazine and suddenly he gets a yen to go somewhere and see something.
That’s what happened when we were traveling around Beijing, China recently.
Chuck overheard our guide Julia talking about the Dragon Lady--code name for the Empress Dowager Cixi--and he became obsessed with seeing the palace she reconstructed and enlarged at the turn of the century---yes, the infamous Summer Palace--because her selfish efforts to make her summer resort more comfortable almost brought down the Chinese empire.
Well, not exactly, but it’s a fascinating story of how one high-powered and spoiled woman can cause so much damage.
Chuck became fascinated by the story and demanded to see the palace.
It seems that the Dragon Lady wasn’t happy with the run-down condition of the Summer Palace, her summer resort, and truth be told, the palace and surrounding landscape was in poor shape when the Dowager Empress first arrived. So she decided to divert funds that were supposed to go to the Chinese Navy. These funds were the equivalent of thirty million taels of silver. A tael is a unit of measure used to weigh silver, and by today’s standards, each tael would be equivalent to approximately 4,000 Chinese yuan or $666.00. Now take that amount TIMES thirty million. You do the math. This decision cost China dearly and is said to have caused the loss of the First Sino Japanese War.
Reconstruction of a summer resort versus national security?
Today, when the average tourist comes to pay a visit, one can’t help but marvel at the opulence of the place. The grounds are magnificent, covering an area of 1.8 miles, three quarters of which are water. In fact, the first thing you notice is Kunming Lake, the MAN-MADE lake that is said to have been built by 10,000 laborers. It is difficult to imagine that this lake that stretches as far as the eye can see was dug by man and so many hundreds of years ago--dating back to 1755. The dirt from the lake was used to make Longevity Hill. On top of the hill sits the Tower of Buddhist Incense . . .
You can wander around the Summer Palace for hours. There are palaces, gardens, a pavilion, a bridge and architectural structures. Dragon Lady and the Emperors and Empresses before her always had quite a staff, and they needed places to live.
I came to the Summer Palace to see the Long Corridor, a covered walkway that runs along the lake, originally built in 1750 for the then Emperor’s mother so that she could stroll along the water edge even when it was raining outside and not get wet. The corridor is uniquely decorated with paintings depicting all aspects of Chinese life. What is absolutely amazing about this corridor is that it is decorated with 14,000 paintings! The corridor was damaged but rebuilt in 1886. As you walk along the corridor, which stretches for what seems like a mile, you can’t believe the wealth of paintings. I was impressed but . . .
|The Long Corridor with 14,000 paintings|
Chuck came to the Summer Palace to see the infamous marble boat in the lake, not the paintings.
I know what you’re thinking. A MARBLE BOAT IN A LAKE?
But it was never designed to sail. How could it? Rather it was built as a decoration, part of a classical garden.
|The Marble Boat in Kunming Lake|
Originally built in 1755 and called the Boat of Purity and Ease, the boat was revitalized by the Dragon Lady in 1893, following a Western design.
Chuck wanted to see the marble boat, and I think, he actually half hoped the Dragon Lady would be sitting there, sipping tea.
Amazingly enough, with all the tourists who had come to visit the Summer Palace, we were standing on the edge of a kind of pier, staring at this marble boat, and we were alone. I glanced around, but there was no one else near us.
And the boat sat just close enough to land to entice Chuck.
But this time, I was one step ahead.
“No way. You hop on that boat, and you’ll be arrested by the Chinese police and taken away, and we’d never see you again. And for what? So you can say you were on a marble boat? It’s not worth it, Chuck.”
Chuck let out one of those sighs. He was not a happy camper.
He was also walking around in a circle. Very restless. And I was not entirely convinced that he was not going to do something impulsive or reckless.
“Come on. I think we might be able to at least see a photo of the Dragon Lady. Would you like that?”
In the photo the Dragon Lady--Empress Dowager Cixi--is seated, wearing a fancy dress, very impressive, very stilted.
I don’t know what Chuck expected to see--a lady who looked like a dragon? You never know how cats process things. They do see the world slightly tilted.
I’m sure, at this point, that Chuck expected to see the Dragon Lady on the boat.
When we returned to our hotel in Beijing, I’ll admit I gave the Chuckster extra snacks that night. To make up for his disappointment.
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THE CHUCKSTER AND I WISH YOU AND YOURS A VERY HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!