My Photographs: Top 5 The Summer Palace, Beijing.

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The Summer Palace, January 2010. I’ve always considered The Summer Palace to be Beijing’s crowning achievement! For me you can keep the organised chaos of The Forbidden City and the anticlimactic expanse of Tiananmen Square. While these places are definitely worth seeing, China’s largest royal park has way more charm, with breathtaking temples, gardens, pavilions, bridges, a huge lake and dazzling hilltop views. This shot was taken as I closed in on the top of Longevity Hill for a look in The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. Guarded by a selection of fearsome bronze animals, its focal point is a giant hardwood throne.

The Summer Palace, January 2010. As beautiful as the area undoubtedly is when in bloom during the warmer months, my defining memories of the palace came in winter when I was lucky enough to have the place all to myself. That first winter visit was magical, with Kūnmíng Lake completely frozen over! So naturally I had to get onto the ice, where I bumped into some fishermen cutting holes into the water. This snapshot is of the lake’s famous marble boat, a lakeside pavilion known as The Boat of Purity and Ease. It was erected in 1755 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.

The Summer Palace, January 2010. The palace complex is a popular venue for chess, aerobics, traditional musicians and mass sing-alongs like this one. It was quite the grand performance that day, the hunched collection of singers augmented by crashing symbols, a woman with a giant bass drum and a hip-swinging saxophonist who seemed to be pitching himself as a Chinese Clarence Clemons. I stood listening for a while, but sadly they never got round to doing Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.  

The Summer Palace, January 2015. When an old friend came to visit me some years later during my second Beijing stint, I found myself elevating The Summer Palace to the top of our to-do list. It was January again and largely deserted once more. If there’s one thing you count on with the Chinese, it’s that a spot of rain or chilly temperatures will keep them away in droves.

The Summer Palace, January 2015. Probably my favorite Summer Palace shot, the lake really is a joy when it’s like this. There were fathers and sons skidding across the ice in their sledges and pairs of elderly women sipping from flasks of piping hot tea. And then there was my friend and I gazing out over the lake from our private balcony back up on Longevity Hill. Just a couple of foreigners trying to make sense of our places in this fascinating, often bewildering country.

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