I went back to Beijing, China for almost three weeks in October to both visit my parents and to see one particular Imperial garden that I have never been to before: The Summer Villa at the city of ChengDe. The weather was very nice with many clear days, although air polution is still an issue and it would probably be a problem for quite some time since there are already 3 million cars in Beijing. The local government has a new policy of limiting cars on the road by their license plate numbers, but I heard many callers on a radio program complaining that their civil rights were violated by these executive orders. I think it is an encouraging sign that with prosperity people are demanding a society of law and people do have much more freedom in openly criticizing the government.
Here is a street scene near my in-laws’ home in Beijing. Because of the high population density, there are lots of stores that cater to people’s daily needs. I think it is not only good for the environment but also for personal health since people walk instead of drive for their haircuts. Even excluding all the gardens I went to, I probably walked more in those three weeks than I normally do in three months here in the American suburbs.
A lot of people in Beijing use public transportation for commute. The subway system is rapidly expanding and very reliable. The newer lines have nice and clean cars, although they get fully packed during rush hours. This short branch line to the Olympic Parks represent maybe less than 10% of normal ridership.
I also took the one-year-new inter-city bullet train to visit my parents in Tianjin, which is about 80 miles to the southeast of Beijing. This train has a top speed of over 220 mph and it whizzes through the whole stretch in less than 30 minutes. There is a network of similar high-speed rails under construction with the 820-mile Beijing to Shanghai line scheduled to open in 2012. The estimated trip time is 4 hours and many domestic airlines are extremely worried.
Beijing is a city of contrast. On one hand there are all those Royal Palaces and some neo-classical buildings such as this Dragon Pavillion in Long Tan Park and my uncle’s elaborately decorated new courtyard house on the right below. The potted plant in the middle is a fantastic specimen of Medinilla magnifica.
On the other hand, there are many modern buildings and structures that have no precedents, like this well-attended new church in Haidian district and this looong Coleus border at the Olympic Greens.
Of course the highlight of my trip was the Summer Villa at the city of Cheng De, which is about 140 miles to the northeast of Beijing. I will write about this garden later but here is a sneak peek of this 1400-acre wonderland.