Our travels this fall began in Beijing. I was met at the airport by a young driver. He gave me a great visual image describing the city of Beijing as a target, with successive ring roads radiating out from the center of the city (the center being Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City). Each ring progressively gets ‘newer’ as you move away from the center. We were heading for the NE section of the 4th ring – the Summer Palace which is close to where the Stanford Center is at Peking University.
We talked about a lot of things on the drive – the China Open (tennis tournament), the Olympic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium (which we passed), North Korea, South Korea, population and growth in Beijing, the cost of housing in the city, smog, traffic restrictions, the fate of young people in the city, hope for the future…
Arriving to the hotel at the Summer Palace was dramatic. About 15 minutes out, it started raining hard and the skies turned black. There was some thunder and lightning while we were still on the highway. After checking into the hotel and settling down, the rain stopped and I was able to walk the grounds that were bathed in water and soft light left by the storm. Ran into Tom, then Steve at the Stanford event. Left them and was led to a private entrance into the Summer Palace at twilight (just around the 6pm Vespers hour).
I’ll never forget being led down the dark hallways of the hotel to the entrance of the Summer Palace – felt like a labyrinth just before the sun disappears. First thing I noticed was the glowing gold leaf details on the roof of a building as it caught the light from the setting sun. Started wandering around when I noticed a cat. I followed the cat (taking me in the opposite direction that I started) down a dark alleyway and she led me to the lake where I was met by a glistening set of ripples reflecting the sunset. Breath taking. What did I feel: awe, beauty, timelessness – like all my worries and troubles could float away into the water and light of thousands of years of energy from this beautiful place. I felt it in my heart. Magic. Really took my breath away.
Day 2 was an excursion to The Great Wall after a morning stroll around Kunming Lake. We went to the less tourist visited part of The Wall which took some driving. I didn’t realize how afraid of heights I was until we got onto the gondola. My knees were shaking – guess I would not be a good skier for so many reasons – fear of heights, inability to tolerate the cold, not sure I could ski downhill without being terrified the entire time.
The highlight of the day was being able to sketch on The Great Wall – in such a historic, sacred place. Unfortunately I started having some adverse reactions to altitude sickness medication I started earlier that morning so my day came to an early end while I tried my best to get ready to ascend into Tibet the next day.