The Summer Palace

Nicholas Quirke was frustrated by China’s Social Networking policy of blocking Facebook and Twitter. He could see that he was getting messages but was unable to look at or read  any. For the entire Odyssey he had felt the presence of family and friends and he valued having that daily contact so he was starting to feel a little isolated from home. But any feelings of disconnection were dispelled by the daily adventure and the sights and experiences they would bring. The itinerary for the day started with a visit to the llama Temple but today was the final and 15th day of New Year Celebrations, the Festival of Lanterns, when offerings are made to the Buddhas in the Temple. The streets were so crowded with thousands of people going to the temple they had to change plans and go instead to the Summer Palace. This was a quiet and exquisite location with another astonishing history. He was entranced by the stories of the Garden for Harmonious Pleasure the Empress Dowager and her Eunuch lover, the imprisoned Emperor, the private opera house,  the paintings, the man made lake, the temple and the marble boat. The excesses of the Emperors kept him fascinated for the whole morning. They ate at a noodle bar before getting the schedule back on track with the visit to the Llama Temple. Sadly the crowds were still at their devotions and as much of it was shut it was difficult to play the tourist amongst such solemnity. The Confucius temple was a different story, though it lacked some credibility, beautiful as it was, as it had been razed to the ground during the cultural revolution only to be salvaged and rebuilt after the death of Mao in the 70’s. This was the end of his tour with Alex and they said their goodbyes. This liberated him for the rest of the afternoon, though this freedom was relinquished when he needed to meet Wei at the station as they would not accept a phone copy of his passport for their trip on the bullet train to Xian. His feet had taken 4 days of continuous punishment and he was intrigued when Wei suggested he have a foot massage, a common activity amongst the Chinese. For 58 Chinese yuan, approximately £6, he had his feet pedicured and pummelled, slapped and rubbed with oil for an hour. He had never experienced this before and was delighted with the results making his feet refreshed and almost youthful again. The pedicurists were intrigued to know where he had got his clothes from as they said he looked like he was in vintage Maoist wear which was impossible to find in China. They then went for supper, as arranged at a Buddhist Vegan restaurant where the food was delicious and the atmosphere relaxing. Nicholas was so grateful to have met Wei, who was showing him the authentic Chinese way of life which was a wonderful antidote to the tourist trail. He arranged a time and place to meet Wei in the morning and went back to the hotel. The massage had relaxed him so much that he fell asleep on the bed and woke at 11 pm to write and update his journal.




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