First Visit - November 96

I went with my mother to Beijing in early November 1996 - it was already very cold at that time of year. These photos were taken in the Summer Palace.

The Marble Boat (below)

This (below) is the Imperial Vault of Heaven, part of Tiantan Park (the Temple of Heaven), built around 1530.

Mao still watches over Tiananmen Square (the world's largest).

Second Visit - June 99

Catherine was sent to Beijing for a week in June 1999 as an examiner for the French Baccalaureate - I was already on vacation so I went along to keep her company. We stayed in the Hua Du Hotel in the northeast corner of the city, near one of the two embassy zones and within walking distance of the Hard Rock Cafe, the Sheraton and the Lufthansa shopping center. Tianenmen Square was closed for preparations for the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic (conveniently blocking anyone from commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in 89). We had a couple of clear days but most of the time the air was thick with Beijing's famous dusty pollution, which is due as much to dust blowing down from the Gobi desert as it is to industry and vehicles. The city seemed much more westernized that I remembered from my first trip - many more private cars and taxis (though still no shortage of bicycles!). Plenty of huge, monolithic buildings scattered throughout the city but certainly not a high-rise city like Hong Kong - there are plenty of traditional alleys (hutongs) left but they are disappearing fast. There are many wide, tree-lined streets (rare in crowded Hong Kong), and the two embassy zones are blessed with an even greater abundance of trees. If ever Beijing's pollution problems are fixed then it wouldn't be a bad place to live, though it is not compact like Hong Kong so we spent quite a lot of time taking half-hour taxi rides to get around town (at least the taxis are metered and cheap). You have to remember that Beijing may be the capital but it's not nearly as big as the world's fastest growing city, Shanghai.

Blue skies like this are rare in Beijing! Looking north along the ring road, near the Sheraton and Hard Rock Cafe.

Over the last couple of years, this street has become quite chic with restaurants, jazz and clothes stalls like these.

The entrance to the Lama Temple, the most colorful temple in Beijing. It used to be the official residence of Count Yin Zhen but he was promoted to emperor in 1723 and the residence became a temple. From 1744 it was a residence for lamas (monks from Tibet or Mongolia) and there are still several dozen lamas living here, studying the Tibetan language and the secret practices of the Gelupka (Yellow Hat) sect.

Below: one of the two "guard dogs" (actually lions) at the entrance to the temple. You can tell this is the female one from the baby lion under her paw.

I was surprised to see so many young people making incense offerings and saying prayers in the temple - and then I heard a guide explain why. Students of the University of Beijing were about to take their exams and were coming here for good luck!

The eaves of old Chinese buildings are often very ornate...

This man was selling cactus plants from the back of his bicycle.

It's always interesting to see what the local people are exposed to on TV. Beijing people may build their perception of Americans on programs like this one below, a World Wrestling Federation match, where this young lady called Nicole is about to enter the ring. I'm afraid I was unable to follow the Chinese commentary...

Chairman Mao and his misguided policies were responsible for the death of millions of Chinese but he is still remembered with affection by many of those that survived him. Catherine bought this statuette (above right), which shows a student (in glasses), a farmer, a worker (in blue) and a soldier all dripping with admiration.

The embassy guards would not let us take pictures of the various embassies, except this one. You can see the US embassy is still splattered with paint and broken windows weeks after the protests against the "accidental" bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Yes, I do believe the bombing was accidental, but I seem to be the only person in China that thinks this way.

By the way, the British embassy was also attacked, but not the embassies of other NATO countries.

Catherine loves to shop for antiques and bric-a-brac and "dragged" me along to this flea market on Liulichang Street.

This baby was not for sale...

This peaceful street below is typical of the embassy zone in north-east Beijing.

This is the odd-looking White Dagoba in Beihei shrine in Beihai Park. It was built to commemorate a visit of the Dalai Lama in 1651 and was rebuilt in 1741.

Beihai Park, perhaps the handiwork of Kublai Khan, was the playground of the emperors (it's just north-west of the Forbidden City). It was also rumored to be the private pleasure domain of the dragon lady Jiang Qing, wife of Mao. She was number 1 of the Gang of Four, and died while serving a life sentence in 1991.

This erotic statue of the Buddha with lover has been partially hidden behind a cloth, lest you have erotic thoughts...