The Pleasures of Parking

Nicholas Quirke was angry with himself on 5 July 2021 when the download of videos from his weekend were accidentally deleted and all he was left with was half of Saturday and 3 minutes he had shot at the start of his day on Sunday. For once though he didn’t let his inner rage show and he remained almost calm but it did take him a while to get over the stupidity of his error. Its was not a good morning, even though some new black sesame and soya cake had arrived as he had liked the. as he had planned to revisit ‘The `Temple of Heaven’ and discovered that along with all other museums it was shut on a Monday and he had to revise plans. He thought it would be a good idea to visit Zhongshan park next to the Palace museum. It also meant he could take a closer look at the 100 celebration display in Tiananmen Square before his walk in the park. Storm clouds were gathering but the humidity and heat were exhausting him and 34 degrees though too oppressive didn’t stop him from exploring. There were a lot of crowds around, more than he had seen for a long time. Security to get into the square was very simple which surprised him a straightforward check of his visa and how long he was to be there and he was walking past the giant screen and into the square. No matter what anyone felt about the CCP there was a lot of pride in the atmosphere about the display and the country’s achievement. He took the underpass to the gardens which to his astonishment was filled with people picnicking and sheltering from the sun. He got to the entrance and joined the queue only to be told at the ticket office that he had to enter via the west gate for which he had to exit the security area and walk down a side street he was initially annoyed with the detour that he had to make as a laowai, but he had never been down the street and the free entrance he was given lifted his mood. The Zhongshan Park (Ch中山公园 is a former imperial altar situated just southwest of the Forbidden City. The Zhongshan Park houses numerous pavilions, gardens, and imperial temples such as the Altar of Earth and Harvests or Altar of Land and Grain in some translations (Shejitan, 社稷坛), which was built in 1421 by the Yongle Emperor and is where the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties made offerings to the gods of earth and agriculture.n By 1914, the altar grounds had become a public park known as the “Central Park”, then further renamed in 1928 after Sun Yat-Sen (Zhongshan Park), in memory of China’s first revolutionary political leader who helped bring about the first republic era in 1911.  Many parks in China during that period also took on this name. Barely had arrived than it started to rain but the trees provided an excellent canopy and indeed were some the major features of the park itself. When he had left the UK he had started to read Paul Theroux’s ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’ but its journey seemed to startlingly echo his and he stopped reading as he did not want to be influenced by anything the travel writer may or say. He had recently picked it up again as he was coming to the next of his sojourn. A sentence in the book slightly rankled as the writer claimed that China has no old trees. This was surprising and he could only imagine that the writer did not spend much time in Beijing or in the mountains which literally crawled with ancient bark. And in particular a row of seven Cyprus trees outside the South Gate which were the legacy of the Xingguo Temple of the Liao Dynasty with a history of over 1000 years. These thick, stocky trees were magnificent and he loved to stroke and absorb their antiquity. He had visited before and through there were corners that were new to him including the view of the city from the moats edge and a pavilion sitting on the lake where a number of locals were sleeping on the benches. One gentleman said hello and started talking but he couldn’t seem to understand that Nichols was saying he was from England and settled with the fact, despite his pale features that he was from India. As he left a heavy downpour started and he took the subway to Xidan rather than cycle. In the subway the crowds were again lolling around the walls but this time sheltering from the rain. He decided to spend the rest of the afternoon having tea in Ca Coffee, whose decor was all about photography. He managed to stay dry and avoid another lightening storm that kicked off shortly after he got home. The electrical storm was the perfect accompaniment to the horror film they watched, ‘Fear Street, 1994’ which as horror films go had quite a lot going for it but as horror fils can go it dragged on a little too long. A high school teenage romp with classic gore. It was a story as far away from the ancient elegance of the park he had been to that could be imagined and it was not the mind bending murders but the days of old narrative that lulled him to sleep.

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