On Sunday I decided to take a bike ride to the Summer Palace. Oh, I didn’t mention I bought a bike? My first week here I got one at Carrefour because I like to be able to get around and not be confined to a sardine tin hurtling through underground tunnels all the time. The subway is an efficient means of transportation but not the best way to see a city, so I got a bike and have been riding around campus and the areas near the university. I’ve included the rather hipster looking picture of me with my bike as the guy at the store was installing the basket and lock. When I leave I plan to donate it to the organization I worked for when I was in Vietnam so that a teacher who can’t afford a bike will have a nearly new one to get around on.
Back to my Summer Palace ride, I had such wonderful timing that I managed to pick the hottest day, by far, since I’ve been here to ride the approximately 3 miles to the palace. WeatherUnderground.com said the high on Sunday was 100 F, it felt even hotter. Since I’d made sure to properly hydrate before I left, it wasn’t that bad of a ride and I got to see some somewhat older parts of the city on the route I took. As I arrived a bunch of the most miserable-looking tour groups I’ve ever seen were leaving. Apparently traipsing around like a herd following behind a tour guide on a day like that isn’t anyone’s idea of fun because they sure didn’t look like they were having any. Armed with my newly purchased bottle of ice cold water and the rapidly-approaching-100-degrees bottle of water that I’d brought with me, I purchased my ticket and entered the palace grounds.
Since it was such a miserably hot day, rather than following the sounds of hundreds of people at the lake, I decided to head the other direction and follow the path into the wooded hilly area where it was nice and shady and quiet. So quiet, in fact, that I noticed what I’d been missing the whole time I’ve been in China. Silence. There was no noise but the sound of the wind in the trees and the chirping of birds. It was lovely to just wander, away from crowds, listening to the birds as I went first on stone-paved pathways and then off on to dirt footpaths up and around the hill just experiencing nature. I think I know why the Emperors must have loved to spend their summers there, after the heat and relentless stone pavement of the Forbidden City, to head away to the Summer Palace to escape the heat by strolling in the woods must have been wonderful. I know after my hot bike ride across the city it was wonderful for me.