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12.19.2011

[ AN ORIENTAL RETREAT ] Summer Palace, Beijing


Cast your minds back to China again for installment no.2 from Beijing. This time, a little dose of traditional Qing dynasty Chinese architecture (who said style was just about fashion anyway?) in the shape of another of the capital's famous landmarks, The Summer Palace.

Commissioned in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong as a birthday gift for his mother, the Summer Palace is apparently the largest Imperial garden in the world, and it really is a beautiful place to while away a summers day. I was lucky enough to visit in the month of September, the period of tiāngāo qìshuǎng which literally translates as when 'the sky is high and the air is fresh'. In the images above you can see the main complex of the Palace of the Parting Clouds (Pai Yun Dian) and the faux marble Qing Yan Fǎng or Boat of Purity and Ease. You've probably noticed by now that the Chinese will never 'call a spade a spade', as my mother would say. Buildings and structures all follow the philosophies of Taoism which promotes the concepts of symmetry and harmony. Each structure is built and named with symbolic accordance, meaning you get a lot of, well, identical buildings. Not so much fun after your fifteenth temple complex...

These Chinese characters look like paint, right? Wrong. Walking around the outskirts of Kunming Lake, I stumbled upon a man writing these rows of characters simultaneously, giant calligraphy brushes on long sticks, one in each hand. Now that's talent.
One of my favorite spots within the complex, the Garden of Harmonious Interests (Xie Qu Yuan, above) is evidently a place of peace and tranquility (go Taoism! It appears to be working). Thanks to the amazing climate and clear blue skies this time of year, China is a photographers dream. Look at how perfectly the pavilions are reflected in the clear, untouched lotus pond. Below you can see some of the intricate detailing painted across the ceilings and arches of the Xing Qiao Bridge , as well as some of the small boats ferrying visitors across Kunming lake, bathed in late afternoon sunlight. 
 
The Tower of Buddhist Incense, the tallest building atop of Longevity Hill (below) is probably one of the best viewpoint's i found in Beijing. From it you can see the entire landscape of the Summer Palace and the contrasting tower blocks and skyscrapers of modern Beijing beyond. Perfect!

 

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