No Stone Left Unturned

Nicholas’s Quirke was making sure he got to do the things he had never got around to since arriving and was astonished to learn that there was a premier relic site in Beijing that he had not seen and on 5 July 2021 he was lifting the unturned stone. What surprised him though was that a travel site, ‘Atlas Obscura’ listed ‘The Forbidden City’, Beijing’s number one tourist spot somewhere that every visitor would see, as something ‘unusual’ to do in the city yet this ancient millionaires mansion and gardens were not named and were a far more unknown and fascinating quantity. He chose first to get his silver cross and chain cleaned for the 3rd time since he had been here. He had been using a store in a nearby mall but when he got there he discovered that they had moved. Fortunately Peng was on the case and found another establishment in the same mall and though he had to wait a while for it to be cleaned and polished it was not only worth the wait as it looked like new but he also was amazed by the cost of only 20 yuan. He was again tormented by the humidity but tried to stay calm and not too active. Though he’d ended up walking in the wrong direction when he left the mall a passer by, who it transpired was deaf put him back on the right track for him to get to Prince Gongs Mansion which was just north of Shichahai Lake. The museum is a large siheyuan-style mansions and gardens. Originally constructed in 1777 for Heshen, an official highly favored and infamous corrupt official, by the Qianlong Emperor. In 1799 the Jiaqing Emperor iaccused Heshen of corruption and had him executed and his property confiscated. The mansion was given to Prince Qing, the 17th and youngest son of the Qianlong Emperor. And was later renamed In 1851, when the Xianfeng Emperor gave the mansion to his sixth brother, Prince Gong. Since then it had been a catholic university and an air conditioning factory before being restored in the 1980”s. It was a fascinating and beautiful place to visit with unusual collapsed style buildings, a magnificent gardens in which a Beijing opera house resides which, still stages Beijing and other prominent forms of Chinese opera. To his surprise it was really crowded and noisy with tour groups being marshalled about and the occasional rouge child screaming their discontent. He was asked to take a photograph of a girl against th ‘Foreign style Gate’ who demanded that no one else be in the photo. This was an unreasonable stipulation and a time consuming one, though he finally managed to meet her command. She attached herself to him for a short period and even insisted on taking a photo for him. As always the names of the gardens, halls and pavilions, such as ‘Rain Listening room’ bought him great pleasure but the quirky highlight for him was the ‘Floating Cup Pavilion’ where a winding ditch on the floor was filled with water from a rockery and where the inhabitants would sit floating their wine glasses on the water and recite poetry. He found himself retracing steps and photographing modern day equivalents of old photographs he had seen in the exhibitions and realised it was time to depart and head for the school. It wasn’t a long cycle ride but he was soaked with sweat by the time he arrived and he was once again put into a stuffy room with no natural light. He was given a powerful AC unit which cheered him up. The class as always were mischievous but he managed to get some work done and had hit upon a rich stream when he got them to act outer various animals. He met Peng after work at Xuanwumen Hotels, outdoor door restaurant for some cold dry noodles, garlic needle mushrooms and some spicy tofu. Though they got home late there was still time for a movie and watching ‘The Man With The Answers’ rounded off the day pleasantly, though and reminded him of his own journey to the orient.It was a relaxing little drama and a perfect note to sleep on.

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